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Wu Qing, Chinese People's Deputy Also Advocate for Civil Rights

Wu Qing is serving her seventh term as an elected representative in a district People's Congress in Beijing, yet she is not a typical people's deputy. In a country where political dissent is censored and human rights activists are often detained, she carries around a copy of the Chinese constitution and feels free to criticize the government.

In this week's installment of VOA's Making a Difference, we report that the people's representative also works as a teacher to empower rural women and bring the country close to the rule of law.

Retired university professor Wu Qing is 72 years old, but she still knows how to command the attention of a class. On this day, she teaches women who want to start or expand their own business, at the Rural Women Training School in Beijing.

The 48 women in this room come from 12 different provinces. Eight have opened their own businesses before. All but one are mothers.

Wu Qing founded the school to teach literacy and job skills to women and girls from the countryside.

She believes she can help rural women improve their lives while helping her country. "If rural women of all ages can go to school and find jobs and be treated with the same respect as people from the city, only then can problems with China's legal system be resolved," she said.

Wu Qing's lesson is partly a motivational speech and partly a civics class. She shows her students they have many rights guaranteed by China's constitution. She says citizens must "supervise" their government. "If someone is watching me, then I have to proceed carefully. That's how an official should behave," she states. "But too many people in China keep their eyes closed, so the government is free to do as it pleases."

Wu Qing has been a people's deputy, an elected member of the local legislature, for the last 25 years.

She almost lost her seat after supporting the student movement of 1989. After her local party leader asked her not to run for re-election, she was nominated directly by the voters.

She holds open hours every Tuesday afternoon at Beijing Foreign Studies University, her alma mater where she taught English for 40 years.

This woman says she came on behalf of an entire village located within Wu Qing's district. She tells Wu Qing about the harassment her neighbors face when they protest the demolition of their homes to make room for commercial development.

Another man claims the company next door to him broke into his office and stole from him. He spent the last half-year waiting for the police to investigate his claim.

Wu Qing asks them to bring back more evidence and promises to investigate herself.

Speaking so openly is not easy in China. The government once kept Wu Qing from leaving the country for three years after she spoke overseas about human rights.

She attributes her courage to lessons learned from her mother, Bing Xin, a famous writer who raised Wu Qing to value equality. "My mother told me beginning when I was very young, I'm a human being first and a woman second," she explains.

And Wu Qing urges others to dedicate themselves to what she calls the "long march" towards equality.