Desperate to find somewhere she could live and work as she wished, Xiaolu Guo moved from Beijing to London in 2002. But from the weather to the language and the people, nothing was as she expected
By the time I reached my late 20s, I was desperately looking for a way out of Beijing. From 2001 onwards, the city was consumed by preparations for the 2008 Olympics. Every bus route had to be redirected. Every building was covered in scaffolding. Highways were springing up around Beijing like thick noodles oozing from the ground, with complicated U-turns and roundabouts. The city was surrounded by a moonscape of construction sites. Living there had become a visual and logistical torture. For me, as a writer and film-maker, it was also becoming impossible artistically, with increasing restraints placed on my work.
The opportunity to leave came sooner than I could have hoped. I heard that the Chevening scholarship and the British Council were looking for talent in China. I had never heard of Chevening. Someone told me it was a large historical mansion in Kent. My mind was instantly filled with images from The Forsyte Saga – one of the most-watched English television programmes on the Chinese internet. The wealthy housewives of Beijing in particular loved the fancy houses and rich people dressed in elegant costumes riding about on white horses. So I applied as a film-maker.
Now I realised there had been some truth to my own country’s communist education: the west was not all milk and honey
The use of ‘I’ requires thinking of yourself as a separate entity in society. But in China no one is a separate entity