Grandmother in China Ditches Bad Marriage, Hits the Open Road

Six months ago, Su Min left her unhappy marriage and has been exploring China by car ever since. She’s become a role model for millions of Chinese women.

Leaving behind endless housework, arguments with her husband, and the oppressive norm of being a wife in China, one woman has embarked on a six-month road trip that has gone so well that she says it may take her years to complete it.

Su Min is a 56-year-old retired grandmother from Henan Province in central China. Until recently, she was a dutiful woman who spent years fulfilling her marital and motherly obligations. Over time, as her unhappiness turned into a deep depression, the stress and anxiety of her husband’s verbally abusive engagements even caused her blackouts. Su longed for the freedom that she recalled witnessing in her childhood.

Born in Tibet, Su would sometimes walk 12km between home and school, marveling at the freedom of the truck drivers who occasionally passed by. She longed to one day experience sitting behind the wheel of a vehicle, but owning one seemed impossible. At 18, Su moved to Henan. She met her husband just a few times before marrying him.

In China at that time, it wasn’t unusual to marry so early or quickly. Even now, although equality has evolved, an unequal footing exists between men and women.

Su shouldered the weight of domestic duties and caring for the family. When her daughter gave birth to twins, she lovingly cared for them. But all the while, the freedom of exploring by herself niggled away at her.

She saved her $300 monthly pension and combined it with her savings to buy a white Volkswagen Polo hatchback. She researched everything she could about traveling on a budget — which apps are most helpful on the road, tips to save money — and when the twins started school, she fixed a rooftop tent to her car and hit the road.

Leaving Zhengzhou last September, she has covered more than 13,000km and has visited some of China’s most famous sites — historical Xi’an, mountainous Sichuan, the old town of Lijiang — and is currently on her way to Guilin, famous for its lumpy karst hills and cormorant fishermen. She’s been traveling for more than six months.

Her husband, who ridiculed her decision, has not seen her since she left, and while Su shudders at the thought of their eventual reunion, she is relishing her freedom.

Su Min plans to see the entire country before returning to her husband.


To save money, she chooses backcountry roads over toll highways and showers in public bathhouses. She films her journey and posts it online, which has been viewed by millions. Last October, one of her videos went viral.

“Why do I want to take a road trip?” she sighed. “Life at home is truly too upsetting.”

“Before, I thought I was the only person in the world who wasn’t happy,” Su said. But after seeing how many people identified with her videos, “I realized there were so many people like me.”

Su Min is blunt, honest, and shows no remorse for taking a stand against the inequality she and other Chinese wives face.


Mostly, she is admired by women for boldly doing what so many others wish they could. But sometimes she encounters hostility. Even China has its trolls. One man commented that if he ever met her, he would beat her for airing her family’s dirty laundry online, she replied, “Good thing I haven’t met you.”

The luxury shopping website, Net-A-Porter, even featured her for International Women’s Day.

There are limits to her protest, though. If she were to divorce her husband, it would mean her daughter then becomes his primary caregiver, which is a burden she’s not willing to pass on. For the time being, there is a lot more of China to cover before returning home and she plans to see it all, without her husband snatching her car keys.

In recent years, the already demanding role of wife in China became crippling with the easing of the one-child policy in 2015.

To contend with high living costs, parents often ask grandparents to care for their children while both of them work, in what has become a vexing issue for the country. Referred to as laopiao (elderly drifters), the grandparents often unhinge their lives, moving across the country to meet the daily needs of their grandchildren and the extended family’s domestic duties. Grandparents are increasingly unable to cope with the exhaustion and stress of caring for young children.

Although Su enjoyed helping care for her twin grandchildren, her solo adventure has afforded her unparalleled happiness.

She eats her meals in a parking lot, curls up alone at night in her tent, and has seen her daughter and grandchildren just once in the last six months. But Su couldn’t be happier. “It took me so many years to realize that I had to live for myself,” she says.