Under a woman's watch

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Increasing security concerns among China's nouveau riches are creating a niche market for protection services - specifically for female bodyguards.

Yu Xiaomei, a 24-year-old bodyguard whose one-year service contract will be auctioned at a starting price of 180,000 yuan ($27,300), practices on a training ground for a contest in Beijing on Dec 28.

Yu Xiaomei, a 24-year-old bodyguard whose one-year service contract will be auctioned at a starting price of 180,000 yuan ($27,300), practices on a training ground for a contest in Beijing on Dec 28.

When the hammer falls on Jan 18 at an auction in Beijing for people who can supply special services, 24-year-old bodyguard Yu Xiaomei will put her one-year service contract under the hammer at a starting price of 180,000 yuan ($27,300).

It wasn't a position she expected to be in until she mowed down 25 other competitors in a pre-auction contest on Dec 28.

"I didn't compete for fame or money. I just wanted to test my professional standards and see my market value," Yu said.

Yu scored the highest on a series of tests including kickboxing, wrestling, secretarial services and, yes, even knowledge of the law.

Simply put, when people sense a threat but have no evidence, security authorities, by law, cannot intervene. So they hire bodyguards to protect themselves.

In contrast to male bodyguards, who often look imposing and can draw attention to themselves, female bodyguards look less aggressive and don't stand out in the same way - and that has earned them a growing popularity among China's low-key nouveau riches.

"When our clients are in danger, as bodyguards we respond immediately," Yu said. "But usually our clients also expect us female bodyguards to be their personal assistants, helping with secretarial work, legal problems and issues concerning public relations."

Yu studied wrestling from 1999 to 2001 at the People's Liberation Army Sports Institute, a military school in Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong province. She then spent five years in the army in Beijing.

Most of the friends Yu made in the army and from the military school became fitness trainers. Yu is one of the few who preferred a life "full of challenges" and chose to become a bodyguard.

Yu joined the Beijing Genghis Security Advisor Limited Company in March 2009, and took up the gauntlet for two female entrepreneurs.

In her company, only one in five bodyguards is a woman, a ratio that is even lower in other companies. But in general they earn 20 percent more than their male colleagues.

It's a salary that they don't earn without risks, however.

In 2009, when Yu accompanied a client to a deluxe shopping mall in Dalian, Liaoning province, they were jumped in an underground parking garage by a gangster who tried to grab her client's purse.

With one move, Yu overpowered the gangster only to see another emerge from the darkness.

"Legally, I wasn't supposed to hit the first gangster anymore because I'd already arrested him," Yu said, "but I wouldn't have a spare hand to cope with the second if I'd kept holding the first."

So Yu kicked the first gangster to the ground - putting him out of the action - while she bowled over the second.

As quick-thinking as her actions seemed, Yu had 2,000 yuan deducted from her salary that month.

"Most of the mission is regarded as a failure if a bodyguard could have prevented the danger from happening in the first place," Yu said.

For every client she has, Yu carefully investigates his or her daily itinerary. Based on that, she figures out several possible driving routes, memorizes every detail on the route - from police stations to convenience stores - and keeps alert to any possible hidden dangers.

Yu recalled one night in 2010 when she discovered they were being followed as she was driving a client home.

"With the counter-reconnaissance training I took in college, I picked an unusual route and tried to get rid of the tail," Yu recalled.

Yu remembered that there was a police station on the way. She drove the car into the backyard of the police station and waited until a patrol car came out, which she soon followed.

The tail gave up, thinking Yu and her client were under police protection.

The client was very grateful because the next day she heard that a company director had "schemed something bad" for her on account of an ownership dispute.

However, not every case involves actual combat.

In fact, she was surprised during training when they were ordered to keep smiling for eight hours a day - a skill she wouldn't come to understand the importance of until later.

"In most cases, when two parties are facing each other and a fight is about to break out at any moment, a smile from us can easilydissolve the tension," Yu said.

She has even persuaded her parents - understandably worried about her safety - to support her decision to become a bodyguard.

"I tell them about the many other perspectives of my work that people don't normally relate to being a bodyguard," Yu said.

For example, Yu said, she learned to help her CEO client draft a bidding document because the CEO wouldn't trust anyone else in the company.

"To be trusted by my clients gives me a sense of achievement," Yu said. "I try my best to help them solve any problems they encounter. It's my greatest reward if they feel safe with me."

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