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Qi Jing, a township-level Communist Youth League leader, poses for pictures by a lake in Wuhan, Hubei province, China, September 26, 2017. Picture taken September 26, 2017. REUTERS/John Ruwitch


By John Ruwitch and Anita Li

WUHAN, China (Reuters) - In the mid 1980s, as a wave of economic reforms swept China, Qi Jing's parents fled the poverty of their farming village to seek opportunity in the bustling city of Wuhan.

Her father found a job as a glass cutter, and later as a security guard, while her mother took care of their home.

Thirty years later, in a country transformed, Qi headed in the reverse direction in search of her own future.

Soft-spoken and rail thin, Qi grew up a city girl whose only inkling of the hardship her parents and grandparents knew came during annual trips back to their village in Henan province.

In college, Qi majored in English and grew to love romantic British literature. One of her favourite books was Jane Austen's "Emma". She was attracted by the main character, a woman of strength and individuality.

She wanted to study sociology in graduate school, but failed to make it into the school of her choice. Instead, she applied for a programme to turn fresh graduates into rural officials.

She had been a red-scarf-wearing Young Pioneer as a child - like almost all her classmates - and then a member of the Communist Youth League in her teens.

When a college professor suggested she take the next step and join the Communist Party it seemed like the logical thing to do. As did going to work for the party.

"I've all along been in touch with what my advantages are, where my abilities lie," she said. "And in going through certain experiences," she added, "I've discovered what kind of profession I'm suited to. This is how my dream has become more and more clear."

Qi moved from Wuhan, in central China, to a nearby village to be the assistant to the local party boss. It was an eye-opening experience, with a heavy work load and problems far more complex than she'd imagined.

Two years later she moved to Putuan, a rural township further afield, to run the local branch of the Communist Youth League, the organisation in charge of cultivating future party members.

"I really wanted to explore the flashpoints of humanity. In college it was all theoretical."

The villagers posed complicated challenges, but sometimes so did her superiors in the system in which she worked. She felt she had a more open mind, and more creative ideas than some older officials up the chain of command.

Last year, she helped the township organise its first lotus flower festival to attract tourists. She contacted a photo studio and spent her own money and a weekend having photos of herself taken in traditional robes, hair extensions flowing, among the lotus fields.

She posted the photos on the messaging app WeChat. Local media picked up the story, dubbing her the "goddess party secretary" - and the pictures went viral.

But five years into her new life in the countryside and approaching the age of 30, Qi feels like she's nearing a crossroads.

She would like to find a boyfriend and get married, but her attempts to date rural boys haven't panned out. A long-distance relationship with someone in Wuhan, an hour away, doesn't seem practical.

"I used to be fairly optimistic, but now I'm neutral," she said. "At a certain age, one's opportunities get fewer and fewer, especially for women when it comes to your work and family choices. You must face them all."

(Editing by Philip McClellan)

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