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MPhil Multi-disciplinary Gender Studies
My name is Huaying Gu and I am honoured to have been one of the recipients of the Wing Yip Scholarship. Ever since I was very young, I have felt uncomfortable with cultural norms of what girls should be like. Having experienced many sexual and gender complexes as a girl in China, I have become more self-empowered, and I wish to fix the social norms that shame girls for their gender and sexuality. Before entering Cambridge, I was a member of the Beijing-based feminist action group. I have been part of all kinds of advocacy for women’s sexual and gender rights by using performance art in theatre and on street. Meanwhile, I was also an art history student at Peking University.
My main interest lies in the ways in which academic theories can explain the relationship between arts and humanity. At that time, I saw my study and my activism as two separate parts of life, though both significant. Thanks to the offer from Wing Yip Scholarship and Cambridge University, I’ve been given an opportunity to explore further the two tracks of my life at the Centre for Gender Studies and Churchill College in Cambridge. And I am able to come to a stimulating realisation that the two seemingly separate aspects of my life are merging into one direction, which leads me to a more sophisticated understanding of what I truly want to do in my life.
During my study here, I learnt how people in different culture view themselves and others in terms of gender and sexuality, and saw unique but similar experiences through my communication with my teachers and classmates in fighting against gender oppression. This prompted me to reflect on that part of Chinese culture which preserves a problematic view of women and queer sexualities, perpetuating taboos, ignorance, and stigmatisation generation by generation.
My supervisor and teachers at the Centre for Gender Studies have been very helpful with my academic study. Inspired by their knowledge, I realised that when culture fundamentally affects how people understand gender at the most basic level of daily existence, laws and policies in themselves cannot offer adequate solutions to gender oppression. Gender oppression must be countered at its root cause, that is, the cultural manipulation behind it. That is where I began to understand how art in culture and gender issues are closely connected. I gained an appreciation that gender could be better redefined through culture and through art—in China and across the world. Thus, for my academic project, I decided to examine art in China in gendered perspectives.
While many scholars are reluctant to touch “sensitive” topics in China, my artistic and academic explorations have shown me how gender is constructed through culture in a highly political process. This serves as a driving force behind my aspiration to make a change without compromise. I experienced first-hand how powerful arts can be in consciousness raising and empowerment.
Art can be political, because it can help elevate invisible issues to be seen and to be heard. Especially modern and contemporary art, out of a sense of modernist positivity of intervening into social issues, should find an indispensable place in the individual cultural practice of social humanity construction. Meanwhile, I believe that the ancient philosophical and cultural wisdom in China can offer possible inspirations for the mission of modern and contemporary art striving for a better world. However, the discipline of gender studies and modern arts is young and fragile in China. The free academic environment and rich scholarly resources at Cambridge make it an ideal setting for me to pursue my stance in culture and politics in life.
Apart from the academic enlightenment, I have met my Mr Right here at Cambridge from the same program I am studying, who makes me feel that I am the luckiest person in the world. We find that we are so meant for each other that we got married straightaway, as students of Cambridge University, and in this very place that has brought us such an unexpected but blessed surprise. My College Tutor and Graduate Student Administrator in Churchill College provided me with helpful guidance and advise on my marriage, and gave me their best wishes. We moved to a couple accommodation in Churchill College, and we are very grateful for the couple-friendly environment here. I was once invited to have dinner with my scholarship donor Mr Wing Yip and the College Master, who are very enthusiastic and concerned about my study and life here. Mr Wing Yip even insisted that I should pay a visit to his house and meet his family someday. All of these make me feel so supported and so warm inside.
As a woman in China, I have faced shame and stigma, an experience that has motivated me to break rigid norms and strive for gender rights and gender equality. Thanks to Cambridge Trust and the Wing Yip Scholarship, I have received so many supports both in academic and life at Cambridge to fight against social injustice. I believe this support will prepare me well for a life of scholarship and engagement with human rights and equality. I shall continue the cause with all the blessings I have had here, as an encouragement to a path full of instability and uncertainty, but no doubt worth fighting for.