Wu Hongfei is one of the few to admit that she lives a somewhat double life.
"None of my colleagues and bosses know I am a singer," said Wu, who works at a State-owned publishing house in Beijing.
Off stage, the 27-year-old has a gentle and quiet look on her face, barely noticeable among a crowd of people. On stage however, she's a different person.
"I was almost torn apart by her voice. Finally, her piercing scream filled my eyes with tears. Her voice faded away gradually, giving way to the noisy electronic sounds. Her silence was powerful, staring at every soul," wrote one of her friends watching her perform.
Wu is also a writer. She hopes to soon publish two books, one a collection of her novels and the other an essay collection.
"She is a very interesting young woman," said Chu Zhiyong, a reporter at Beijing Youth Daily who has been a close friend of Wu's for years. "Sometimes she is very traditional and ordinary, other times she acts in such a modern and unique way that she surprises even those who are very familiar with her."
Passion for Music
On a wintry night Wu sat down to talk about her life at a rock bar on a quiet hidden street in northern Beijing.
Drinking milk, she spoke about her band, Happiness Street, that she created in 1999.
"It was the result of my passion for music," Wu said.
At that time she was still a student at Tsinghua University, one of China's top universities.
Prior to that, she had been scribbling dozens of songs at Tsinghua and held a solo concert which she said was a failure due to bad audio.
Wu was born in a Dong family, an ethnic group in South China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.
However she said that her ethnicity did not have much impact on her because she has always been surrounded by Han people.
One important thing she did receive from her culture was her love and talent for music, she said. Many Dong people are gifted folk singers.
But Wu's songs are far from Dong folk songs. The five-member band gathers for rehearsals every week.
"Happiness is the feeling that one stands on the ground stably," she said.
Sometimes bars invite them to play. But the pay can be very low -- 100 yuan (US$12) for each musician is considered good. More often than not, they only receive 40 yuan (US$4.8) per person. But they cherished each opportunity as it allows them to have more exposure, she said.
The band hopes to cut an album. Wu has contacted many record companies. She's often refused.
Many Chinese don't like rock music, she said. They like pop music from Hong Kong and Taiwan and that's why most record companies don't want to sign rock bands, she added.
She said she loves rock because she could express deeper feelings. Pop music from Hong Kong and Taiwan is too shallow for her.
But her hard work has paid off, she nearly gave up before she was finally able to get a contract from a record company with promises of an album early next year.
Her Routine Job
After graduating from Tsinghua University with a master's degree in contemporary literature and two bachelor's degrees this summer, Wu, during the daytime, proofreads manuscripts at a publishing firm, which she declined to name.
She earns less than 1,500 yuan (US$181) a month, quite a low salary for a university graduate, but said she enjoys her easygoing life.
Wu admitted that she does not spend much time looking for a better job.
She holds down the job mainly because of her mother, who was laid-off years ago.
When she was accepted into university, her mother was so excited, so now she doesn't want to disappoint her mother, Wu said.
"I told my mother that I will earn money for her. I want to make her proud of me," Wu said.
She also earns money writing essays and holding shows at bars.
The job also gives her a sense of security, she said. Living alone in the capital, thousands of kilometers away from home, she admits to feeling lonely.
She said she feels best when she sings.
Wu said she had a gift for literature when she was very young. She read Lady Chatley's Lover at the age of 11 and was moved by Jean Christophe at 15.
It was through reading that she developed a love for writing.
She publishes many of her works on www.paowang.com which is not known to most people but is frequented by many of China's most famous Internet writers. At this website, she has a small group of followers through her unique works.
Several publishing houses have also contacted her after reading her novels. One wanted to repackage her as a writer similar to Mian Mian and Wei Hui, two widely known women writers. But Wu refused, believing that her style, simple but filled with emotions, was quite different from Wei Hui and Mian Mian whose works contain a lot portrayals of sex.
Finally she selected two publishers which she considered responsible.
Her works, Xiaolong Fangjianli De yu (When the Fish Loves Xiaolong), a collection of short novels, and Ah Fei Gu'niang De Shangban Riji (The Work Journal of Ah Fei), a collection of essays, will soon be released.
"I am now eagerly waiting for my books and album," Wu said.
(China Daily December 19, 2002)