3 Min Read
BEIJING (Reuters) - Punching, kicking and having bottles smashed on her head are standard daily fare for Sun Yiyao as she pursues her dream of becoming a bodyguard.
The 22-year-old is one of a small, select group of Chinese women training to become protectors for wealthy businesswomen and their families as demand grows steadily in the face of a widening wealth gap, which makes safety a prime concern for some of China's richest citizens.
"In China, the market for male bodyguards is growing steadily. However, a social and market preference for female bodyguards has increased since last year," said Chen Yongqing, manager at the Tianjiao Special Guard and Security Company in Beijing.
"Many female entrepreneurs, celebrities and pop stars -- as well as their family members, children and parents -- all need female bodyguards for protection. So we are particularly focusing on training female bodyguards from this year."
Around 30 percent of China's millionaires are women, according to the Hurun Report, which publishes an annual China rich list.
In testimony to the rising profile of female bodyguards, Faye Wong, a pop singer from Hong Kong, was escorted by both male and female guards at a recent Beijing charity event.
Sun is one of 10 women picked from 20 candidates for a four-week initiation course at the Tianjiao school, which also offers eight-month courses of stamina training, martial arts, reconnaissance, escorting skills, language and business etiquette.
The women, dressed in camouflage, practice sparring and kicking and learn how to disarm attackers wielding guns or knives.
Stoically, they stand in a line as an instructor smashes bottles over their heads as part of endurance training. Glass flies, but the women barely flinch.
Trainees must also hone their driving skills, Chen said.
"To protect an important person, special driving skills are indispensable. Driving takes up to 40 percent of the time during our missions, because the person we protect is always linked to the car when they are not working or resting," he added.
Graduates of the course can look forward to a well-paid career with a minimum monthly salary of 5,000 yuan, often earning much more than their male counterparts.
Pride also plays a role, with Sun saying she was eager to break stereotypes.
"In China, women are seen as a vulnerable group, and society always looks down on them," she said.
"However, almost everyone looks at a female bodyguard in a different way. As a woman, I'm very proud to be able to protect a man or even a group of people."
Writing by Elaine Lies; editing by Paul Casciato