Wu Qing: A Global Citizen

May 13, 2014
Editor: Sophia Zhu
Wu Qing: A Global Citizen
Wu opened her speech with her statement on the importance of human rights.[Women of China/Sophia Zhu]

The first time I met Professor Wu Qing was last month at a conference for female social entrepreneurs. Wu was invited as a guest speaker; I had never met this well-known professor before, and assumed she would talk about how she started her charity school for rural women, but to my surprise, she chose the topic of being a global citizen.

Human Right Activist

Wu is a well-known public figure, human rights activist and English language professor in China. Before she retired in 2001, she taught English and American Studies for 40 years at Beijing Foreign Studies University.

Since the mid-1980s, Wu has been active in promoting human rights and women's rights. She has served as a gender specialist with the Canadian International Development Agency since 1989. Wu became a Deputy to the Haidian People's Congress in Beijing in 1984. In fact, Wu is perhaps one of the most influential Deputies ever; she carried around the Chinese Constitution with her whenever she attended meetings and freely criticized the government.

"I was a thorn in many government officials' side," she smiled," I always criticized them for not doing enough or for whatever they did wrong, and I have evidence and the constitution to back me up, so they couldn't argue back."

Wu has received numerous awards, including the Ramon Magsaysay Award, presented by the government of the Philippines, been named an "Outstanding Individual of 2007" by the Changping District Education Committee, and a "Top Cover Personality" by Chinese Senior Citizens' magazine; and was nominated by the Schwab Foundation Network as one of the World's Outstanding Social Entrepreneurs of 2003.

Global Citizen: Democracy Just a Process

Wu opened her speech with her statement on the importance of human rights "We are all human beings first, therefore we all have human rights. Every single person should enjoy human rights, regardless of their gender, ethnicity, education, social-economic status, age, etc."

The term "human rights" was added to Article 33 of the Chinese Constitution in 2004 and stated that "The state respects and guarantees human rights."

Adding the phrase "human rights" to the constitution represents progress, but it does not mean Chinese citizen's jobs are done.

"To help make change is a citizen's responsibility. I want to do my part, to fulfill my responsibility as a citizen, especially as a global citizen. People want peace, social justice and democratic governance, it is a slow process. The world is becoming smaller, we are not alone, this is why I say we should become global citizens."

"Democracy is a process. No government can be 100% responsible for its people all the time, so it needs supervision. Likewise, no individual can be 100% right all the time, therefore self-reflection is vital," said Wu.

"As citizens, we should always be legally alert, we should love, listen, learn and eventually we can laugh. That makes a responsible citizen," as she spoke about how to be a responsible citizen, Wu wrote down the traditional Chinese character "聽" (which translates as listen) on the board, the character is comprised of several Chinese characters, meaning love, ear and virtue.

Wu Qing: A Global Citizen
The traditional Chinese character "聽" (which translates as listen), the character is comprised of several Chinese characters, meaning love, ear and virtue.[Women of China/Sophia Zhu]

"I am a verb, I want to change the country and other people, then I need to act, so I am a verb. Nothing will change if we just sit there and complain about it," Wu said firmly.


Whenever people speak about Wu, there is one name that can never be avoided, Bing Xin (Xie Wanying, 1900-1999). Most Chinese people grew up with that name, the famous author Bing Xin and studied her well-known essay To Young Readers (1926) in primary school, an essay aimed at encouraging the youth to read and think. Wu is the youngest daughter of Bing Xin and Wu Wenzao (1901-1985), China's first anthropologist and sociologist.

Bing Xin and Wu were both educated in the United States when they were young. Wu grew up in a democratic, liberal and academic family atmosphere. She said her parents always taught her to be a rational, honest, loving person.

"My parents suffered greatly during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), once they sent a journalist to my home and asked my father if he had suggestions for the Party, my father honestly gave some suggestions, but immediately he was labeled as a right-winger. They came back a few days later, asked my mother to divorce him and to make further reports about my father's "crimes". She refused, she said, 'How can I divorce him, I completely agree with him.' Then, both of them were labelled as right-wingers," Wu said.

"My parents always considered honesty an important virtue and I feel very lucky to have been  brought up in a family like this, I have gained so much from them," she added.

All-Girls School

Wu is now 76 years old, but she is as passionate about teaching as always, only she no longer teaches English or American Studies. She now teaches human rights to her girls and women from poverty-stricken rural areas in the school she proudly founded in Beijing.

The second time I interviewed her, Wu took me to the school outside Beijing, an all girl's school intended to empower rural women and teach them skills.

Wu believed she could help rural women improve their lives while helping her country. "Education especially women's education, can change everything, it is women who give lives, it is women who raise children." she said, "They are the first teachers to their children, if they are well-educated with gender and legal awareness, then the whole family benefits."

Wu founded the school to teach literacy and job skills to women and girls from rural areas and the school sometimes help them look for jobs. After an hour drive from her place, we arrived at the school in Xiaotangshan, on the outskirts of Beijing.

At the entrance of the school, at the back of the school name stele, Wu's mother Bing Xin's famous motto was displayed: With love, we have everything.

Nothing in the school was fancy. Everything, from the buildings to the teachers' desks, was donated by individuals or charity foundations, and all of them were carefully labeled.

"Transparency and auditing are important in the charity work we do here. People who donated money should be clearly informed where the money went," Wu insisted on the policy of making sure their auditing reports are made open to the public.

Teaching Constitution

Usually whenever new students arrive, Wu comes to the school and gives them an inspirational speech.

Wu's lessons differ with the age groups of her students, but one thing is always mentioned: the importance and the function of the constitution. In fact, students are required to bring a copy of the constitution to class.  During the two classes I attended, Wu showed her students pages and pages of the rights guaranteed to them and protected by China's constitution. Wu asked her students if they had any problems at home and demonstrated to them how their issues could be solved by using the constitution.

"Basic human rights are guaranteed and protected by the constitution, we should all learn about them," she said.

Even though it is an all girl's school, Wu kept stressing, "We are all human first, then women second."

"Human rights first, women's rights are part of human rights," she explained.

(Women of China)

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