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Don't tie the knot yet

Updated: 2012-07-31 10:38
By Yang Guang ( China Daily)

Don't tie the knot yet

Joy Chen with her husband and two daughters. The Chinese-American shares her secrets of a happy marriage and successful career in her book Do Not Marry Before Age 30. Provided to China Daily

Former deputy mayor of Los Angeles Joy Chen advocates choosing life partners slowly and wisely in her new book. She shares her thoughts with Yang Guang.

While young women in China are pressured to marry early for fear that they will be termed as shengnu or "leftover women", former deputy mayor of Los Angeles Joy Chen suggests otherwise in her new book, Do Not Marry Before Age 30.

Chen, a 42-year-old American-born Chinese who married her real estate developer husband at age 38, says the central message of the book is how to make choices in life and how to fill it with security, love and happiness.

To convey the message, she recounts in the book the journey she has traveled from being a shy second-generation immigrant to a successful businesswoman.

For the past two months, Chen and her family have traveled across China to promote the book.

She's clearly used to taking control and asked her husband to take their two daughters upstairs while our interview was conducted, before asking the waitress at the Lee Garden Apartment in Beijing to bring two bottles of water, cold for her and warm for me. She didn't ask.

Chen's parents emigrated to the United States in the early 1960s to further their education. They didn't make much money, but saved up as much as they could to buy a house in a good school district.

Don't tie the knot yet

They didn't allow any TV at home and didn't allow Chen and her brother to socialize with American children, because they were worried their children could be led astray by the "immoral aspects of American culture".

"In the 1970s, the world viewed China as backward and insulated. And the way my brother and I behaved, reflected exactly how the world viewed China," Chen says, adding that she and her brother wore cheap clothes and thick glasses, and didn't speak English well.

"Even after I started keeping up in school, the hardest part was after school when kids were talking and joking about TV and movies.

"I had no idea what they were talking about. On the very few occasions when I could come up with something to say, it was always 60 seconds too late," she explains.

A casual talk with her father one Christmas Eve, however, changed everything.

Her father told her he didn't go to the corporate Christmas party because he never knew what to say to the white people around him. Listening to him, Chen says she had one of those epiphany moments.

"I realized two things: First, my father can never achieve the success he should achieve in his career; second, the reason for this is that he didn't know how to socialize with the white people, just like me."

This gave her the motivation to closely observe and blend into American society.

At 31, she became deputy mayor of Los Angeles and was responsible for education and workforce development for the second largest city in the US.

She left politics in 2007 and later founded her own head-hunting firm. At the same time, she wrote a blog to provide career tips to talented young Chinese.

In 2010, Chen received an e-mail from an editor from China Citic Press, asking whether she could write a book to guide young Chinese women on how to be successful in their career and life.

Chen had to decline the invitation as she was too busy. A year later, she received the same request - Chen had just given birth to her second daughter then.

"I started wondering how my two girls should face this world when they grow up as young women and whether I could write anything meaningful for them," Chen says. "And I decided to do a little experiment."

She wrote a blog piece titled "Do not marry before age 30", and it caught on Twitter immediately after it was posted.

"Suddenly, my blog was overwhelmed with so much traffic that the server crashed after six hours," Chen recalls.

The experience prompted her to stop her headhunter work. For a whole year, she focused solely on researching and writing the book.

Chen says the fear of being labeled an "old maid" forces many women to marry too early and divorce too quickly, as evident in the high divorce rate of up to 57 percent among the post-1980 generation.

"We should not just try to find a 'Mr Right Now', but a 'Mr Right Forever'," she says.

Chen says she especially cherishes her internship under Yue-sai Kan, the Chinese-American TV producer and entrepreneur whom Time magazine called "the Queen of the Middle Kingdom".

"Before meeting her, all adult Chinese I knew were scientists and engineers working at the most basic levels in laboratories," Chen explains.

"And then I met Kan, a Chinese like me and a woman like me, and she's changing the world."

"Meeting Kan opened my eyes to the possibilities in my own life. A generation later, my hope and aspiration for this book is so that it will help this generation of Chinese women open their eyes to new possibilities in their lives."

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