While growing up in China, Meiling Jin never imagined that she would one day live in Chicago and report on LGBT stories for Chinese media platforms. A senior at Columbia College, Jin's LGBT stories are now seen by millions of Chinese people around the world.
Her unlikely story began 22 years ago in the Liaoning Province located eight hours north of Beijing on the border of North Korea and Siberia, Russia. When she was 2, her parents got divorced and because her mom was a migrant worker Jin lived with her maternal grandparents. For the first 15 years of her life, Jin was only able to see her mom once a year during the Chinese New Year holiday when all migrant workers were able to take time off. Jin has never had any contact with her dad and doesn't have any memories of him.
"I always wondered why my dad never wanted to know me and it was hard to see other kids with their dads. I also missed my mom and when I would talk to her on the phone I would ask her about my dad. She told me that my dad hated me and wanted to kill me because I wasn't a boy," said Jin. "Before I was born my biological father beat up my mom, knocked her to the ground and kicked her in the stomach to try and kill me. My mom is almost totally deaf in her left ear because of that."
School was very important to Jin's grandparents and she had to spend all day studying. Her grandpa also gave her assignments to complete on top of her schoolwork and insisted that she arrive at school before any of her classmates. One day while walking to school she was robbed and almost killed by a man with a knife. The stress from school, where student's grades and class rankings are announced publicly, was overwhelming for Jin and she lived in fear of her grandpa's wrath over her grades. "I just wanted to live an average life and be able to watch TV at night after I finished my homework," said Jin.
Jin's grandparents were very conservative and wouldn't even let her have body lotion with a scent. She wasn't allowed to date anyone or look pretty and had to think about studying all the time. "One time when my mom visited she took me to a hair salon and I got my first hair cut. My grandpa noticed my ponytail and questioned why I had sharp tips along the edges of my hair so he cut it off. My grandparents were good to me but I had a hard life in China," said Jin.
Not only was Jin's life consumed with schoolwork and studying she was also bullied as a child. She was constantly told by people that she was ugly including her gymnastic/dance teacher who said that because of her looks she wouldn't survive in the dance world. Jin was seven at the time and shortly after that she stopped dancing.
"When I was 11, I tried to commit suicide but I had already been thinking about it for a long time. One day during the lunch/tutoring hour at school I left the building and went to a secluded area behind the school building. I was looking at my wrist and looking at the knife and thought I could cut myself," said Jin. "Now I see how naive I was to think about giving up on life.
"No one would even know I was dead and I'm glad that it didn't work because now I am here in Chicago. I was so lucky that a teacher and two students came to look for me. It was freezing outside that day and my mind was frozen too. They took me to the school doctor and after that they helped me, especially the teacher that found me. He took time to talk to me and when I asked him not to tell my grandparents he respected my wishes. My grandma noticed the wounds on my wrists and started asking me questions. I never told my grandpa but my grandma and mom know that I attempted suicide. Now I do charity fashion shows to raise awareness about suicide."
Jin's life changed forever when her mom met her American stepdad on an online dating site. "When they decided to get married we were able to get visas and come to America when I was 15 ( in the middle of her freshman year in high school ). They married each other on Valentine's Day in Manteno in Kankakee County, Illinois ( where they moved ) a month after we arrived in America," said Jin.
Coming to the States was a shock for Jin and her stepdad helped her transition process by telling her about U.S. culture. "It was really interesting to see both cultures while I was going through puberty. I was still trying to learn English so it was hard for me at first but I joined as many clubs as I could at my public high school because I wanted to learn the culture. I was also a National Honor Society student during my first year in school," said Jin.
While Jin was still in high school she set up a page on QQ.com ( the Chinese version of Facebook, with 800 million registered users ) and started posting stories about her high school life in the United States. QQ.com has a dual function, social networking and topic pages for news stories. The site is linked to 350,000 other websites and is the seventh-largest website in the world.
"Because my stories were about American high school life and 90 percent of the users are in China word started spreading among my friends who were also on QQ. Since enough people clicked on my stories QQ editors contacted me about writing more content for them. They said they would put the stories on the news page which they did. Once my numbers got big the editors wanted my stories on the front page of the QQ website. Over time my writing became more professional and I began to go out and look for other stories to write about," said Jin.
For the first two years of college Jin went to Olivet Nazarene University ( a religious college near her suburban home ) because her parents didn't think she was ready to leave home. Jin wasn't happy at the college due to the restrictive nature of the campus and their socially conservative mindset. The motto was leave a little space for Jesus meaning no close contact romantically among students. They also didn't like any of Jin's modeling work.
Originally, Jin considered majoring in English to help her improve her speaking and writing skills but she didn't want to study literature so her English teacher at Olivet sent her to the media department. Jin realized that she need to seek out additional media opportunities and Olivet wasn't fulfilling her needs so she ended up transferring to Columbia College after her sophomore year. She moved to Chinatown in Chicago. Her parents followed her and they live nearby.
"After high school I started writing about topics beyond my school experiences and my stories on QQ grew to 300,000 page views per story. It was the popularity of my QQ writing that made me decide to go into journalism. I was studying video production at Olivet but when I transferred to Columbia I switched to journalism. When I moved to Chicago in the summer of 2012 I reported on my first LGBT storythe Pride Parade." said Jin.
"When I was living in the suburbs I didn't know there was a huge LGBT community in Chicago and while exploring I found out that Boystown is the center of the LGBT community. It was really interesting because I had never heard anything about the LGBT community when I lived in China so I visited the bars in Boystown to experience the culture," said Jin.
In her reporting about the LGBT community, Jin shares with her Chinese readers that not everyone dances on floats at the Pride Parade and LGBT people are just like everyone else. Jin noted that dancing on floats is the only thing that the mainstream media in China reports about the LGBT community.
Her curiosity about the LGBT community drives much of her reporting. Jin noted that she also shows her face in her video stories and that is unheard of in China. Chinese reporters don't want their faces shown when they report on any hot-button issues, Jin explained. "As an LGBT ally my goal is to educate readers and viewers in China about the history of the LGBT community and open up their minds about who LGBT people really are," said Jin.
Jin shared that her first bilingual video story "Out of the Closet" about a gay binational couple ( Asian and American ) led to the couple's engagement. Her reporting has also led to interviews with LGBT icons Wade Davis and Lana Wachowski. Jin also did an on-camera HIV test for World AIDS Day to raise awareness and lessen the stigma of HIV/AIDS among her Chinese readers. To date, she has written over 375 stories and has had 100 million page views for her stories.
Not only does Jin's work appear on the QQ site, but she also has a presence on Danlan.org ( the largest gay male website in China ). Danlan sends out select stories to its WeChat portal, which is like Twitter ( gay WeChat has 2 million users ) and Jin has had four front-page storiesthree of those stories were sent to WeChat users. Her stories have also appeared on smaller Chinese media outlets.
"I am the first reporter to cover LGBT video and essay stories for the Chicago Chinese news outlet Eacast Media and they are always headline news. I also write about other topics for them," said Jin.
Due to her LGBT reporting, Jin has had people tell her they love her reporting and others who say they hate it and are going to unsubscribe from her site. She has also heard from CLGBT people in China and here in Chicago via private message who they tell her about themselves and ask her for advice. " It's very rare for a Chinese journalist to write about LGBT stories so when they see me reporting these stories they feel like they can talk to me," said Jin.
"I became a celebrity journalist because of my first-person account reporting on a variety of stories and my modeling career," said Jin. "Celebrity journalists in China have different specialties and mine is American culture." Jin is also a local celebrity in the Chinese community in Chicago and as a result of her fame only her close friends and family have access to her private contact information. She has many followers and gets between 1,000 and 2,000 private messages a day.
Along with finishing college and continuing her reporting Jin is also a runway, print and promotional model and has modeled at some of Chicago's largest fashion events. Jin was also selected by Tiara Magazine as one of the 100 most influential and beautiful people in the American fashion industry. She always volunteers her modeling services at LGBT events.
Outside of journalism and modeling, Jin's other passions are yoga and video production. She will be graduating in December, and plans on continuing her career as a journalist and building her brand.
See www.youtube.com/user/meilingjin1314 and www.facebook.com/meiling91.0720 for more information.