This story is part of Sixth Tone’s five-year anniversary project Changemakers.

Sisi doesn’t wear women’s clothes anymore. It’s too dangerous.

The 20-year-old meets Sixth Tone outside the factory where she works in Dongguan, the southern Chinese export hub. Emerging from a crowd of workers clocking off the day shift at 8 p.m., she looks completely different from the girl we interviewed five years ago.

You can listen to an audio version of this article via “China Stories,” a SupChina-produced podcast sharing the best writing on China. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Her hair is…


Header image: EyeEm/People Visual

“I used to enjoy having dinner with my friends, but since my son died, I no longer want to go,” says Wang, a woman in her early 60s who lost her only child in a car accident four years ago. “People my age like to talk about their children,” she explained to me during a sit-down interview in 2019. “My son was a very good child. How can I go to these dinners and listen to my friends talk about their kids?”

As Wang spoke, she showed me a photo of her son taken at his graduate school commencement, not…


Students attend a team meeting prior to a basketball game at a school in La Canada, California, U.S., Jan. 28, 2020. MediaNews Group via People Visual

The summer Zhang Lingli turned 14, she left her family in the southern city of Guangzhou behind and began a new life at a private high school in Virginia.

It didn’t go according to plan. Zhang — to protect the identities of my research participants, I have given them all pseudonyms — quickly found that making friends with Americans was not as easy as she’d hoped, and that she had no interest in the parties or American football games enjoyed by her classmates. …


The Award for Excellence in Feature: Camera Above the Classroom

Sixth Tone received two Awards for Excellence and three Honorable Mentions at this year’s Society of Publishers in Asia Awards.

Here is a list of our award-winning stories and the categories for which they were awarded:


An elderly woman stands on a street in Shanghai, May 1, 2019. Zhou Quan/People Visual

SHANGHAI — Huang Ernan knows the live-in caretaker she hires to look after her elderly mother isn’t really up to the job.

At 73 years old, the woman is only a few years younger than Huang’s mother, who is 85. And she often lacks the focus required to provide good care to a patient who has suffered multiple strokes over recent years.

On one occasion, the caretaker left the house without locking the door, allowing Huang’s mother to wander off down the street. …


A still from TV series “Nothing but Thirty,” 2020. From Douban

Late last month, a reporter with Sixth Tone’s sister publication, The Paper, reached out to me for comment on China’s latest televised hit: “Nothing but Thirty.” The recently concluded show centered on the lives and struggles of three 30-something women, but it was Gu Jia, a high-powered businesswoman-turned-housewife, who arguably attracted the most attention.

I listened, somewhat puzzled, as the reporter explained Gu’s appeal. …


A domestic worker cleans a window during a government-organized skills competition in Hefei, Anhui province, Dec. 16, 2018. Wang Jun/People Visual

There are an estimated 35 million domestic workers in China. Mostly clustered in large urban areas like Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Xi’an, they perform valuable services including cleaning, cooking, and caring for children and the elderly.

Yet for all their ubiquity, they are easily overlooked amid the bustle of China’s cities. Most urban residents seemingly either don’t understand or don’t care about their lives, struggles, and futures.

My co-workers and I at the Beijing Hongyan Social Work Service Center want to change that. In addition to trainings, lessons on salary negotiation, and other practical support measures, we organize weekly cultural…


As Preslava Pavlova waited to begin her thesis defense for her undergraduate program in teaching Chinese as a foreign language, the 24-year-old felt nervous. Her nearly five years of studying at Xiamen University in eastern China could be for nothing if something went wrong over the next couple of hours.

The Bulgarian had good reasons to be anxious: She’d not only have to present her research in Chinese, she’d also have to do so via video call at 3 a.m., in a kitchen with a patchy internet connection.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been extremely disruptive for students all over the…


China’s health authorities plan to remove pangolins from the country’s list of approved medical ingredients, effectively banning the use of the scaly mammals in traditional Chinese medicine, local media reported Tuesday.

The move comes just days after the country upgraded pangolins to “ level one” protected status. It also follows weeks of debate within China about how the country should regulate the Chinese medicine industry — a major driver of the country’s wildlife trade.

According to Health Times, a publication operated by the state-run People’s Daily, pangolins will be one of several ingredients omitted from a new edition of the…


I’m part of what’s known in China as the “reform and opening-up” generation. Born between the late 1970s and early 1980s, just after the Cultural Revolution and decades of antagonism with the Western world, we grew up worshipping the United States. Many of my peers spent their college years preparing for the TOEFL or GRE exams in the hopes of going stateside for school. From there they planned to find a job and settle down in the most economically, technologically, and politically advanced country in the world.

In short, the U.S. for us has always seemed like a beacon of…

Sixth Tone

Fresh voices of everyday China: Bringing you stories of life in contemporary China through the eyes of those living it www.sixthtone.com

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