Lessons from the past, hopes for the future
Li Mi is an Executive in Rouse’s Beijing office, providing IP legal services and strategic advice to a wide range of clients.
Pick up almost any newspaper or journal of substance and sooner or later you’re likely to read about the effect of rapid economic and technological development on traditional Chinese culture. It’s something that Li Mi is acutely aware of in the context of her own family. The changes from one generation to the next have been great, and yet some important traditional and cultural values do seem to be surviving. Family is just as important for Li Mi as it would have been for past generations, but roles within the family have changed, along with the aims and ambitions parents have for their children.
Li Mi grew up in a small town in the north-east of China where winter temperatures could be as low as minus 15 degrees centigrade, and possibly 80% of the town’s population, including her father, were engaged, directly or indirectly, in an SOE in the steel industry. She remembers it as a happy time; partly, she says, because she was the only girl and probably spoilt by her father. He travelled quite a lot and always brought her a small gift when coming back home - things like candies, books, pens, and shoes. And going with him, during school holidays, to the factory where he worked was always enjoyable and relaxing. She had almost nothing to do, except reading, chatting and walking around between breakfast and lunchtime, and again after lunch until work finished at 4pm. Her father’s memories of life at the factory may well have been different, but for Li Mi these were magical days.
Her mother, an intelligent woman, worked as a clerk in the government, but, typically for the period, was intensely involved in every aspect of her children’s lives, leaving little room for individual inclinations or preferences. She impressed on Li Mi and her older brother, from the time they were quite small, that education was the way to change one’s life and that they must have a university education.
It was clear from the outset that Li Mi would do that. She always did well at school, and even at primary school knew she would eventually go to University. She still remembers a promotional cartoon from those years that said the world would belong to those who studied Science and Technology. It was a message she took to heart, possibly because she was naturally good at Maths, and by the time she was in Middle School, she had decided she would study Science and Technology when she left school. And that is what she did, obtaining a BE in Chemical Engineering from Tianjin University, one of China’s top universities in chemistry.
On graduating, she found a job in an oil company, but it didn’t take her long to realise it wasn’t the place for her. She needed a different career path and instinctively turned to education as the best way of finding one. A friend who was studying at Peking University at the time suggested two courses offered by the University: International Relations and Intellectual Property. Li Mi wasn’t remotely interested in the former and chose IP, without, at that stage, having the faintest idea what it involved.
She enrolled in an LLB course at Peking University and moved to Beijing. It was a huge step for her and one that completely changed the direction of her life. Beijing was a big city, much less conservative and much more open than anything she had ever known. Looking back, she wishes she had gone there sooner.
As it turned out, the decision to study IP was inspired: she loved it. It was the perfect way of putting her interest and background in Science and Technology to use in a different field. These days her professional life is both interesting and demanding. She takes a close interest in the development of new technologies and is enjoying being an active member of the firm’s recently formed Climate Change Group: climate change and the development of technical solutions are issues very close to her heart. When she is not working, her main focus is family. She says she’ll be very happy if she can succeed in both areas.
She is determined to be the best mother she can be to her 9 year-old son, Bruce, which does not mean being involved in every aspect of his life, or having fixed ideas as to his future, as was the case when she was growing up.
She thinks a lot about his future, but is more concerned to teach him sound values and generally influence him in the right direction. As long as he is a good and responsible person, he should be free to follow his dreams. Before he does that, however, there is one thing she would like him to do: study Science and Technology. This is because she is convinced that technology is going to have an ever-greater impact on our lives, and that, as a result, technology companies will become ever more powerful. Without an understanding of technology, one is likely to be intimidated, overwhelmed, and disadvantaged. She’s already begun teaching Bruce about climate change and environmental issues, but at the moment he’s passionate about Space – ask him anything about the size or temperatures of the planets and he’ll be in his element.
Parenting is not always easy, but Li Mi says she hopes that lessons learned from her own childhood are helping her prepare her son for the future in the best way possible.