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A tea toast to the women of China
The slow warm-up to spring promises not only multitudes of cherry blossom and other flowers, but it also heralds International Women's Day
By Pamela Tobey  ·  2021-03-12  ·   Source: NO.10 MARCH 11, 2021
 
Performers dance at the International Women's Day reception held by the All-China Women's Federation at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 7, 2019 (XINHUA)

The slow warm-up to spring promises not only multitudes of cherry blossom and other flowers, but it also heralds International Women's Day, March 8. Each year before COVID-19, the All-China Women's Federation used to hold a reception at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing in celebration of China's women and their accomplishments. 

My first invitation to the reception came in 2016 and I joined a large group of diverse women from all over China as well as a diverse group of foreign women, from diplomats to experts. Many of the Chinese women were in Beijing in connection with the Two Sessions, the annual meetings of the top legislature and top political advisory body. They often came attired in beautiful traditional dresses from their home regions, as did some of the foreign guests.

Just walking up to the Great Hall of the People is inspiring, with the grand columns perched atop large stairs that lead into areas filled with beautiful Chinese art and porcelain. The large room where the reception was always held is similar to many banquet rooms around the world in its size and decor, but the ceiling truly sets it apart. A curving design that harkens back to classical Chinese cloud art embellished with lighting and soft colors, it makes the room feel special. The traditional accompaniment of high-quality green tea and delicate cakes sets an elegant mood before the official greetings and introductions begin. 

Each year has a theme and assorted performances, from dance and song to traditional acrobatic feats and music. My first year, they had traditional Peking Opera and ended with a fashion show that presented an ensemble of Chinese designs that outsiders don't really get to see outside of the country. From gorgeous silk brocades to modern touches distilled from traditional historical dresses, it was a pleasing change from the usual Western fashion fare.

My most memorable Women's Day reception was in 2017, when our table was next to one with several distinguished Chinese women in military uniform. During the introductory speeches I learned they were with the Chinese space program and one of them, Liu Yang, was the first female Chinese astronaut in space.

A veteran pilot with the People's Liberation Army Air Force, Liu served on the crew of the Shenzhou-9 manned mission to China's space lab, Tiangong-1, in 2012. After the Women's Day program, this accomplished and famous woman was gracious enough to talk to our group and pose with us for a picture. She was the first astronaut I'd ever met.

The last Women's Day reception I attended was the 2019 one, and I enjoyed the ethnic dances and the beautifully embroidered traditional costumes worn by the performers, as well as the songs using traditional instruments. Although there is much to celebrate in China's innovative modernity, I love learning more about traditional culture and the practices of different regions. It gave the day a special feeling of traditional culture.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 halted the 2020 celebration of Women's Day and even if the reception had been held, some of the foreign women would have been unable to attend as they went home at the beginning of the global pandemic. They are hoping to come back once the vaccination drive creates confidence.

On March 8, I drank a toast to all the interesting and accomplished women I have met around China, raising my tea mug in my home near Washington, D.C., filled with green tea carried home from a tea farm near Hangzhou in east China. I hope next year I will once more be celebrating China's women with them in person in China.

Copyedited by Sudeshna Sarkar 

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