Ex-cheerleader defies stereotypes
Liu Wenwen was barely 22 when success as a soccer cheerleader compelled her to leave Wuhan for a shot at stardom in Beijing. With a sense of adventure and a thirst for fame, she fought her way into numerous modelling gigs, acting roles and television hosting jobs.
But Liu is not just another 'young girl with a pretty face', as she describes women like herself. She recently wrote her first novel, Bain Nan - in English, 'to become a man' - about a woman's need to be as tough and aggressive as a man to survive. She has also received praise and some criticism for speaking out about the pressure on aspiring young women to find rich husbands or enter the sex trade to find wealth.
Now, approaching 29, Liu reflects on her career, her goals and her anxiety about finding a way to provide for her parents back home without giving up who she is, and the creative life that she loves.
How did you become a cheerleader? Cheerleading is just my way of expressing my love for soccer. I was so into soccer cheerleading that I entered a CCTV cheerleading competition in 2006 and was named a CCTV soccer cheerleader. That helped me appear in many TV programmes and get national exposure. From there, I have made forays into acting, modelling and TV hosting. I quit my office job several months after I arrived in Beijing in July 2006. I have been a freelance model and TV host ever since.
Tell us what you have done so far.
I have appeared on many TV shows as a commentator or a guest host over the years. I hosted a sports programme a couple of years ago. I've also featured in a number of print and TV commercials, including one for Pangge, a brand owned by a food firm in Hunan . I also published my first novel in October and am a member of the Hunan Provincial Writers' Association.
In which field would you like to build a career?
I would rather become an all-round person. So I want to cultivate all my talents for a while, instead of specialising in one particular field. But in the long run, say, in another five years, I would like to become a playwright and even a film director.
What was your toughest experience since moving to Beijing?
I might be a bit lucky. I didn't go through the same hardship as many other drifters coming to the capital for a better life. Many of them end up living in a cramped basement room and struggling to make ends meet. I was, however, unemployed for four months after I came to Beijing. I am far from being financially sound, and still live in a rented home. For me, the challenges I have to deal with every day are not material well-being or financial constraints, but peer pressure and the internal struggles of an aspiring model and entertainer. Most of my cheerleading teammates, and other young girls with a pretty face like me, have chosen to either find rich husbands and settle down or trade their bodies for fame. I'm kind of left behind, simply because I do not follow their examples.
What do you mean 'trade their bodies'?
As more people came to know about me as a cheerleader and actress, I was approached in 2007 by some people acting as middlemen. They asked me to join clubs where they introduced pretty young girls they recruited to some rich guys. Out of curiosity, I agreed around that time to join a company boss for a dinner set up by the middlemen. They kept telling me how fond the company executive was of me, and how he would give me 20,000 yuan (HK$24,600) for a night with him. When I turned the offer down, the middleman continued to harass me, as if I was trying to get more money. He later got back to me saying the executive was willing to pay me 100,000 yuan a night.
What was the reaction after you spoke out about this experience?
Public opinion was very much divided, with some offering me support for doing the community a favour, and others accusing me of being hungry for publicity. I was once attacked on the internet by a group of young female writers for speaking out, because they were worried that I implied they had also traded their bodies for success.
Do you worry about that day when you realise you might never become famous?
Of course. I'm almost 29 years old. I have reached an age where I have become one of the so-called leftover women, who should be more desperate to get married. But, once again, I don't give a damn how people look at me because I firmly believe that a woman must be independent, with a career of her own. I do worry. Sometimes I am so worried that I can't fall asleep all night. However, I'm not so worried about myself , but my parents back in Wuhan, and how I could not be there for them as their only child. Sometimes I ask myself if I have been too selfish over the years, and think that it might not be a bad idea for a pretty young girl like me to find a rich man, because he could at least take good care of my parents.
Ever think about calling it quits and going back to a regular job?
No! Because I believe life is about enjoying the process of living. If you get something too easily in life, you might just miss a lot of pleasure along the way. If you take some sort of shortcut to get what you want, you are bound to miss many experiences. I don't care how I'll end up or if I'll succeed, as long as I continue doing what I enjoy doing. But I don't know if I am still the young girl I used to be, because I am increasingly drawn to the idea of buying a house before I'm 30 to help take care of my parents. I remember how much I used to dislike that idea just a couple of years ago. Sometimes I am really scared by these changes.
Does this reflection help you?
Yes. Some say that the biggest problem for Chinese people is that we don't have faith, but I believe the issue is that few of us take the time to reflect upon ourselves. And your strengths?
I will continue cultivating my talents in modelling and TV hosting, but I'm thinking of a career in filmmaking. I'm on the right track, as my book is being scripted for a film, and the first 10,000 copies have nearly sold out.