One woman's nearly 30-year career has given the field a new image
Forty-six-year-old Huang Chunyan has one of the more unusual jobs among other women of her age in Lu'an, Anhui province - she is a senior welder at Brainware Chang'an Electronics.
Huang picked up her first welding torch nearly 30 years ago, but it was not an easy introduction. "Welding was such hard and dirty work," she said.
During a time when graduates were given assigned jobs, Huang was offered her position as a welder after graduating from a vocational-technical school at the age of 19.
In a labor intensive field that used to be dominated by men, Huang was lucky to have a female senior welder to teach her the ropes.
"I told myself that if she could do it, so could I," Huang said.
As a novice, she often burned her arms as she practiced her welding skills.
"When I burned myself, I thought that perhaps it was not a job for women."
But Huang was not born to be a quitter, and she persevered.
"I gritted my teeth, carried on and gradually got used to the pain," she said.
Huang believes that welders, male or female, require physical and mental strength.
"Squatting for long hours, and standing and holding the torch steady are mentally and physically challenging tasks that every welder must endure," she said.
She spent hours conditioning herself by squatting in her spare time. Every morning, she would be the first to arrive at the workshop, gathering scrap material to practice her skills.
"Welding is more than just tough manual labor," she said. "It requires you to use your intellect to develop ways to improve the efficiency and quality of your work."
Huang's tenacity and commitment to learning, practicing and paying attention to detail soon made her stand out.
In 1992, two years after starting her job, Huang took part in a local welding competition, winning first prize.
In the following years, she entered numerous contests and won several prizes.
In 2015, she was presented with the National Model Worker award along with 2,967 other workers across the country.
The prize, one of the most highly regarded national honors for workers, is granted by the State Council, China's Cabinet, every five years.
"The awards have given me a sense of achievement and helped to boost my confidence," Huang said.
Summer is usually the most testing time for Huang, as the company receives a large number of orders and the temperature is "unbearable".
Brainware Chang'an Electronic makes electronic equipment, navigation radars and shelter power stations for national defense construction.
The temperature at the workshop can top 40 C in the summer as there are no air-conditioners or fans due to safety reasons.
Workers, dressed in thick protective overalls, "sweat so much that they saturate their clothing," Huang said.
In addition to the heat, being exposed to the bright light involved in welding - despite wearing a full-face helmet - has caused Huang's eyesight to deteriorate.
The brightness leads to a condition called arc eye, in which ultraviolet light causes the inflammation of the cornea and burns the retina.
"My eyes often itch at night, and it feels as if there are grains of sand in them," Huang said.
She takes comfort in knowing that if, one day, she is no longer able to weld, her knowledge and expertise will continue to thrive.
In 2010, she was appointed leader of a 13-member welding lab that the company set up to promote technical innovation and exchanges.
"I have never kept my knowledge and expertise to myself," Huang said. "What belongs to me also belongs to everybody in the company."
She is renowned for her generosity as well as her strictness. "It takes guts to be my trainee," she said. "Some younger workers avoid me when they see me."
"I'm strict for their own good, so they can learn better and faster," she said in her typically succinct manner.
Huang's first disciple, Zhang Yin, has been learning from her for 12 years. The 34-year-old man is now a welding leader at the company.
Zhang said that Huang is sometimes harsh, but that she means well. "It was under her guidance that I made the greatest progress, so I am very grateful," he said.
Looking back on her career of nearly three decades, Huang said it is hard to say whether it was the job that made her determined to succeed or whether she was born with the fortitude to be a welder.
"It's a good job; and it's not just a man's job either," she said.