Domestic helper Gao Dongmei suddenly couldn’t distinguish between the sound of the TV and human voices. It was in 2015 when she had just arrived in Beijing and, due to her poor Mandarin, spent half a year as a “mute.”
Gao Dongmei’s hometown is in Yuncheng, Shanxi. She worked in the fields during spring, summer, and autumn, growing wheat, apples, and traditional Chinese medicinal herbs like pinellia ternata. In the winter when there was no work in the fields, she stayed at home making cloth shoes and clothes. Some women would gather together, holding shoe soles, chatting while working.
Gao Dongmei didn’t like the lively atmosphere, so she often kept the company of the television. When she came to Beijing and suddenly heard her employers speaking Mandarin in the living room, she thought it was the sound coming from the TV: “Her mind went blank, ‘Oh, this is the voice of real people.'”
This became the opening scene of the dance performance “Doppelgänger” at the 3rd Beijing Home Economics Art Festival. The setting of the television and living room disappeared, simplified into a chorus of cuckoo and whistle sounds, coming and going. On stage, the domestic helpers wore white uniforms and circled around, reciting lines:
“Why don’t you respond when I talk to you?”
“I didn’t hear.”
“I thought it was the sound from the TV.”
On April 8, 2023, “Doppelgänger” completed its first performance. Over a year ago, the Beijing Hongyan Social Work Service Center (referred to as Hongyan), a nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering the domestic service industry, invited a group of women engaged in domestic work to collaborate with artists in creating this dance piece.
“Domestic workers will not be confined to the corner of the kitchen; they shine on the stage as well.” Hongyan described “Doppelgänger” in an introductory article. The dance integrates the daily work routine and life experiences of these domestic helpers, who are both performers and creators.