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June 28, 2010

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No issue too big or small for top problem solver

LI Qin cares about people and their problems.

The low-key 73-year-old has spent 40 years cutting through family squabbles to help married couples stay together, resolve issues between neighbors and solve property disputes.

She is widely recognized and respected within her Changning District community.

Some people compare her to Bai Wanqing, a TV personality who helps resolve family issues on a talk show. But Li is not comfortable with the comparison.

"I've rejected three invitations to appear on that program," said Li, who believes family issues, especially ones not so good, should be kept private.

Her work initially was informal, but over the years residents started putting more trust in her ability to fairly resolve disputes.

She set up her own mediation office in 2003. It is funded by the local government, which has allowed her to hire a small team of employees. She does not charge anything for her services.

She has successfully handled more than 120 disputes so far this year, or about 90 percent of conflicts brought to her office.

Sometimes people come to her asking for advice while in other cases she may approach a family if she hears there is a problem. Li likes to remain flexible as what is best in handling a dispute, thus she goes case by case.

She said in some cases she will talk to the differing sides separately before bringing them together to reach a mutually agreeable conclusion. Other times, she can talk and listen to everyone all at once.

"The most important thing for me is to be patient and not be afraid of being rejected," Li told Shanghai Daily.

Remaining patient becomes even more crucial when her advice is not welcomed.

In one case, a family was split over a property issue. They did not approach Li and when she first visited them to offer help, both sides refused to speak to her. Li used this opportunity to say a few words and ended the visit by saying, "We will come again."

This scenario was repeated another three times.

"If we are persistent and continue trying to talk to people, eventually they will open up," Li said.

One side did and when they do, Li said it is just a matter of time before a solution is found.

While Li's office usually deals with very local problems, she has also helped in a couple of cases involving overseas Chinese.

In one of these cases, a woman lived in Australia but still owned an apartment in Shanghai. Her sisters and their families here had nowhere to live. The woman's mother let the sisters stay in the apartment. The woman didn't like this as she had nowhere to stay when she visited Shanghai, which she does about once a year.

Li said she talked with all the family members, lawyers and even certain government departments before helping them reach a deal. The woman agreed to let her sisters live in her apartment while she is in Australia provided they stay elsewhere when she visits Shanghai.

When asked why she still works at an age when most people just want to spend time with their family, Li said: "Since we do not know how long a person can live, we should make full use of our time and energy."

She said she feels happy and satisfied when seeing problems solved and people getting back together.

Li's colleague Zhang Yawu, 30, said he has nothing but respect for her as he has learned so much about conflict resolution by watching her in action.

Zhang said Li will even work overtime to help resolve an issue.


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