Guo Hong Yu nodded acknowledgment and absently gestured for Xin Tong to take the seat directly in front of his desk. He took a few minutes to finish writing his conclusions on the report in front of him. Satisfied, he signed off on it and placed it in his outbox to be passed on to his superiors.
He turned his full attention to his granddaughter and attempted an unbiased critical assessment but conceded to himself that this was impossible. He loved her too much and was probably far too proud of her though he took pains to conceal it.
Tall, athletic, and beautiful in an unabashedly tomboyish manner, Gao Xin Tong was the epitome of the new Chinese young woman. In a country where many girls looked helpless just chasing a cab down in high heels, she competence and confidence.
She was at the fore front of the most educated generation of women in Chinese history. Xin Tong had graduated with honors from his own alma mater, Tsinghua University, one of the top schools for science in the country. Girls had been so rare there at that time that their dorm was nick named Panda House. A domicile for rare sensitive beauties.
She was an accomplished gymnast though she had been too big to compete nationally here in China which had some of the best gymnasts in the world, so she had turned her natural athleticism to martial arts and had won the title of women national kung- Fu champion her senior year in college. She kept her skills sharply honed to perfection but had stopped competing in public after entering the shadow world of Guoanbu, the Chinese Secret Service.
His granddaughter was graced with smooth skin that was a shade darker than the typical Han and a beauty and athleticism that wasn’t typical anywhere. Hong Yu attributed this to the Mongol ancestors in earlier branches of their family tree.
Xin Tong represented the best of a generation in which never had so many women been in college and never had their ratio to male students been more balanced. It was a benefit of steady Chinese economic growth, heavy government spending, and a third factor that he had anticipated from the start but that few others realized even today; the one child policy.
Statistics eventually confirmed what Hong Yu had suspected would happen but had to wait like everyone else did in order to verify.
In 1978 women made up only 24.2 percent of the student population at Chinese college and universities. By 2009 nearly half of China’s full-time undergraduates were women and 47 percent of graduate students were female.
1979 was the year the party decreed that nearly all urban families were denied having a second child. One reason Gao Hong Yu could predict what would happen across China with such accuracy was because he personally witnessed the results up close and personally from the moment Xin Tong was born.
Xin Tong’s grandmother had been bitterly disappointed when the wife of her only surviving son bore a daughter. The pressure on Xin Tong’s mother to bear a male heir for the family had been immense. His granddaughter’s birth had literally split the family into two hostile camps, both led by stubborn women.
Xin Tong’s mother declared that her daughter was as worthy and capable as any male heir she might have had, but the grandmother, Hong Yu’s wife, had considered mother and child irredeemable failures and took that sentiment with her to her grave.
Hong Yu, though inwardly disappointed that his only grandchild was a girl, remained staunchly on the sidelines with his son while the women battled for the direction the future of the family would take. He reserved judgement. It was nobody’s fault that the child had been born a girl. One had to assume the ancestors knew what they were doing. Time would show the girl’s true worth and ability.
He watched as his daughter-in-law spent what was at that time unheard of amounts for Xin Tongs education and development. This was a groundbreaking shift from centuries of traditional Chinese thinking which had discriminated against girls without apology as a matter of course.
This traditional viewpoint was represented loudly and as often as possible by Hong Yu’s wife, who scoffed at the huge financial outlay for her granddaughter’s education and constantly repeated the age-old precept that spending money on girls was a waste of resources. After all, when it was all said and done, a girl would only take that expensive education to enrich her husband’s house when she married.
The husband’s family would be the only ones to benefit from the Gao family investment in Xin Tong she moaned. Hong Yu had grunted and offered no opinion most times when his wife expressed her outdated peasant views. Later in his life, he would sometimes wish he had corrected the old woman.
He watched his granddaughter and her female peers grow up with tutors, after school classes, computers, and all the other things that contribute to a child’s success, male or female, in the modern world. Long before his wife died he warned her to keep her views to herself and he set the example by treating Xin Tong just as he would a grandson that he was extremely proud of.
It should have been clear to everyone that the child was exceptional even someone dead set on maintaining the old ways, but his plea for equal treatment fell on deaf ears. His wife could never hide her feelings from the sensitive and perceptive child and most times didn’t even bother to try. Instead of eventually healing, the generational rift between grandmother and granddaughter grew ever wider until, as old people are prone to do, the old lady died.
The very fact that Xin Tong sat here before him today, proud, competent, ready and eager to use her impressive skills and first class education in the service of the country was all the proof Hong Yu needed that his wife had been wrong.
Xin Tong had risen high in the military and the party, and after graduating university, she had chosen to emulate her grandfather and serve the nation.
She enrolled in an elite and vigorous training program, sponsored by the Intelligence community, code named the Supergirl project, a project specially designed to fully utilize this new generation of women.
Hong Yu considered this generation a valuable resource and Xin Tong was the Supergirl program’s most accomplished graduate and her grandfather’s most valuable and cherished operative. He mentored her but never went easy on her; in fact, he went out of his way to give her the toughest, most important assignments. He constantly tested her resilience, pushed her limits, and encouraged her to grow. She always came through with flying colors.
The incursion into India was a perfect example. There had been a moment as he read her debriefing when he had trembled in fear as he realized he had almost lost her. Sometimes the urge to coddle her was almost overwhelming but he knew she would resent that so he quashed those feelings and accepted worry and anxiety as the price he must pay for having someone so dear to him involved in this dangerous profession. He sighed and shook himself from his musing.
This new assignment would be easy by comparison to her last one, and in the long run it might prove every bit as important to the nation’s future. She had clearly earned the right to an assignment that didn’t require her to trek through untamed wilderness and wrestle vicious dogs to the death.
“How’s your English these days? Have you been keeping it at a decent level?”
“I’m still fluent.” she replied in her perfect North American accent. “We can continue this conversation in English if you want to check it.”
“Good, then we will. I need practice too.” He tossed a folder onto the desk in front of her.
“I have a new assignment for you.”
She opened the file and started reading.
“His name is Leonidas Lambros.”
“That sounds Greek.”
“It is, but he’s Canadian, second generation. We believe he has developed a formula that enables him to predict currency fluctuations with pinpoint accuracy.”
“Is that a big deal?”
For a moment, the old man couldn’t recall the meaning of the idiom. Big deal- important.
“Yes. It’s a very big deal. I won’t go into the details. You can study the report as you prepare for the assignment. Learn everything you can about Forex trading and currency theory but most of all memorize everything in that folder. The man is the key to the formula.”
“OK. If you say it’s important that’s good enough for me.” she gave him an impish grin that told him that she didn’t know why it was important but would strive to find out for his sake. He smiled back.
“Let me put this into perspective for you. With this formula, we could bring America to economic chaos and ruin. A direction they are already headed in, granted, but we could speed the process considerably. On the other hand, if they got the formula, it could stop our growth in its tracks. Another immediate downside for us would be America climbing out from under its mountain of debt in a matter of months. We wouldn’t like that. It would give us far less influence on them. It has taken decades for us to maneuver them into a position where we can basically do what we want, within reason, and not have to worry about their criticism or interference.”
She nodded in appreciation. For a moment, she had worried that this was a candy assignment, that he was giving it to her to keep her out of danger for a while. After all, she was 26 and the family was anticipating marriage and a child soon. Her mother worried that she didn’t even have a boyfriend. Some things never changed in China.
“What do you want me to do?” Her eyes gleamed as she anticipated a new challenge.
“Get the formula by whatever means necessary. If you can’t steal it, then get him here. We have people who can get it from him if we can get him on Chinese soil”
“OK.” she repressed a shudder. She knew about those people and those methods.
“I leave method and planning up to you. All the resources of the Party are at your disposal on this one. All you have to do is tell me what you need.”
“Wow, I’m becoming more impressed every minute.”
He grinned. “As I told you. It’s a very big deal. That’s why I’m entrusting this assignment to you, and not others of lesser ability.”
She practically glowed at the compliment. She felt humbled, proud, and flattered, all at the same time. It was one of those rare moments where she knew and felt without a doubt, that her grandfather loved and appreciated her, and didn’t resent the fact that she wasn’t a boy.
Her mind went back to a day in her childhood when she had eavesdropped on a heated exchange between her mother and her grandmother.
“Look at your daughter!” the old woman had railed. “She wastes her time on sports and other tomboy activities that are useless to a girl! You waste the family’s money teaching her foolish skills she will never use. Teach her to be a proper Chinese girl so that she might at least get a good husband and you get a decent son-in-law!
But no! You encourage her in this foolishness! You should have aborted her like I told you, but then, you have turned out not to be such a good daughter-in-law yourself!”
It took a while before the young Xin Tong learned the exact meaning of abortion or understood the exact implications of that conversation. All she knew was that her mother had stormed out of the house that day and from then on her contact with grandmother had been limited and constrained.
Later, after she had a fuller grasp on what the words had meant and the difference in the way boys were treated as opposed to girls, she had confronted her grandfather and asked him point blank if he felt the way grandmother did.
Some conversations are pivotal in a young life.
This conversation had been one of those for the young Xin Tong. Her grandfather had explained the situation carefully to her. She remembered it so clearly. His sentences had been simple and direct so that her young mind might fully grasp what he was saying, but not condescending. He explained the implications of the generational shift which was in fact also a culture clash that was not limited to just their family but was happening all over China. She carried his final words from that talk with her always and they had comforted her at many difficult times in her life.
“We do not choose the times we get to live in or the place we are born. We don’t even get to choose our family. We can only choose who we will be and who we will love. I have watched you Xin Tong. You always choose to be excellent. This pleases me to no end and never fails to make me proud. I choose to be the kind of man who loves his granddaughter no matter what. I like to think that the blood of all our ancestors, from the beginning of time until now demands this. I think I owe my family that kind of love and loyalty despite the requirements of the times.”
Xin Tong had never managed to be close to her grandmother again though she strove to fulfill the demands of blood and tradition. The gulf had just been too wide and the old woman too stubborn and set in her ways.
But grandfather was everything a child could want in an ancestor. She lived to make him proud. The thought of shaming or disappointing him or the family was anathema to her.
The two continued to talk in the privacy of his office, their voices low and intimate, the voices of grandfather and granddaughter, as opposed to decorated General and young Captain. They talked about the former mission, the new one, and the implications of both for China. They also talked about the family.
She was free to take a long-extended visit home as she prepared for the new assignment abroad. Her mother was especially excited about her daughter going to graduate school in Canada. Xin Tong left her grandfather’s office smiling and brimming with energy. She was ready.