Over the weekend, Snow Dragon (雪龙), China’s Antarctic exploration vessel, left port from Shanghai to go on its six-month long journey to the South Pole and back. It’ll be the 26th such expedition China has undertaken since 1984. But this trip is different from the others thanks to one of the helmsmen… or more specifically, the helmswoman.
27-year-old Shanghai native Xie Jieying is the first woman in China’s South Pole exploration history to helm a ship – and the only female out of the four pilots. In fact, she joins a veritable sausage fest: Of the 251 scientists, workers and logistics staff on the Xuelong, only 12 are female.
Jiefang Daily had a great interview with Xie, whose a graduate of the prestigious Shanghai Maritime University. According to the paper, Xie has “coveted this opportunity for a long time!”
This is not the only time Xie has made a breakthrough for women. Before the turn of the century, Shanghai Maritime University’s technical skills expertise division had been all men. In 2000, she was part of the first group of 18 girls ever to enroll in her major. By the third year of college, she had begun participating in ship navigation internships – Xie took a route through Southeast Asia, where she then stayed to teach.
“Several people think that life on the sea is pretty bitter, but I think that sailing is quite an interesting thing – it’s a manifestation of the spirit of freedom, hardship feels secondary. You don’t know what kind of places you’ll run into, what kind of people… it’s the joy of the sea,” she said.
Xie admitted she had been attracted to the mission because of a certain romantic element – “This is a place where ordinary people can’t reach… I really wanted an opportunity to go and look for a little bit.”
She said her father had initially been reluctant – she only dared at first to tell him that she would be gone two or three months. Thinking his daughter would be able to come back for Spring Festival, he agreed to let her go. When he realized she wasn’t getting back to Shanghai until April, he resisted. Luckily, her husband stood behind her, saying “If I was offered the opportunity, I would leave for it immediately.”
Ah, just like a good Shanghainese husband should. We wish the best of luck to Xie and the rest of the crew as they make their way to the South Pole and back.