Chinese Masseuse Overcomes Prejudice in Pursuit of Dream

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By David Arnott

In the Chinese city of Zhengzhou, trainers from a leading massage company are putting 60 students through their paces.

Being a masseuse is a noble career, the trainees are told, and it can also be lucrative. If they work hard, they could earn around 10,000 yuan ($1,634) per month. And like doctors curing the sick, they will be improving people's well-being.

A student practicing hand massage presses down on the wrist of a fellow student, halting the blood flow into her hand.JASON LEE / Reuters

Reuters photographer Jason Lee followed one of the trainees, a young woman named Wang Feng, as she progressed towards her goal.

Wang, the mother of a two-year-old boy, told him she had been forced to leave home and be away from her infant child to earn enough money to support her family.

Lee asked her how she felt the first time she touched a stranger's feet, and she said she didn't feel anything. "I tend to not think too much, my only purpose of doing this is to earn more money for my family and my kid," she said.

Sometimes, the photographer recalls, he caught her murmuring to herself during a break, "I miss my son."

Wang Feng rests on a bed before she leaves for work at a Liangtse Wangjing store in Beijing.JASON LEE / Reuters

Many people in China are prejudiced against the occupation, Lee says, because they associate it with the sex industry. Wang is from a small city in Henan province, where the culture is traditional and quite closed-minded. Even some of her relatives disapprove of her new profession.

Despite these obstacles, Wang Feng earned herself a job at a prestigious outlet in Beijing after completing her training. Her hard work, and her sacrifice in leaving her son behind, looked like they were beginning to pay off.

Wang Feng working at Huaxia Liangtse's store in Beijing.JASON LEE / Reuters

See more of Jason Lee's images at the Reuters Photographers Blog.