Han Suyin was born in Beijing in 1917. Her father was a Chinese railway engineer and her mother a Dutch lady. She is a physician and the author of many works, including A Mortal Flower, which tells of the experiences of the author and her family, both in and out of China. This excerpt describes the author's experience of looking for her first job in the early 1930s.
A Mortal Flower
1 The day after meeting Hilda I wrote a letter to the Rockefeller Foundation, applying for a job.
2 (1) Neither Father nor Mother thought I would get in. "You have to have pull. It's an American thing, Rockefeller Foundation. You must have pull."
3 Mother said: "That's where they do all those experiments on dogs and people. All the Big Shots of the Nanking government also came here to have medical treatment, and sometimes took away a nurse to become a new wife."
4 It made sense to me, typing in a hospital; I would learn about medicine, since I wanted to study medicine. And as there was no money at home for me to study, I would earn money, and prepare myself to enter medical school. I had already discovered that a convent-school education was not at all adequate, and that it would take me at least three more years of hard study before being able to enter any college at all. Science, mathematics, Chinese literature and the classics . . .with the poor schooling given to me, it would take me years to get ready for a university.
5 "I will do it," But clenched teeth, decision tearing my bowels, were not enough; there was no money, no money, my mother said it, said it until I felt as if every scrap of food I ate was wrenched off my father's body. “我要上大学，”可是，咬牙切齿痛下决心是无济于事的；家里没钱，根本没钱，母亲说的，整天这么说，让我觉得自己吃的每一小口东西仿佛都是从父亲身上撕下来的。
6 "No one is going to feed you doing nothing at home." (2) Of course, one who does not work must not eat unless one can get married, which is called: "being settled at last." But with my looks I would never get married; I was too thin, too sharp, too ugly. Mother said it, Elder Brother had said it. Everyone agreed that I should work, because marriage would be difficult for me.
7 Within a week a reply came. The morning postman brought it, and I choked over my milk and coffee. "I'm to go for an interview. At the Peking Union Medical College. To the Comptroller's office."
8 Father and Mother were pleased. Mother put the coffee pot down and took the letter. "What good paper, so thick." But how could we disguise the fact that I was not [even] fifteen years old? I had claimed to be sixteen in the letter. In fact, said Papa, it was not a lie since Chinese are a year old when born, and if one added the New Year as an extra year, as do the Cantonese and the Hakkas, who became two years old when they reach their first New Year (so that a baby born on December 31st would be reckoned two years old on the following January 2nd), I could claim to being sixteen.
9 "You look sixteen," said Mama; "all you have to do is to stop hopping and picking your pimples. And lengthen your skirt."