About Hua Dan

At the core of Hua-Dan… an idea…theatre for transformation

Hua Dan uses the power of participation in theatre as a tool for personal and social transformation. We have a particular focus on working with China’s migrant worker population.

We do this through participatory theatre-based workshops that a) develop knowledge and awareness around issues affecting migrants, (job applications, entrepreneurship, gender equality etc) and b) develop the life skills of self-confidence, leadership, communication, creativity etc needed to build a new home in the host community.

Millions of rural dwellers are migrating to the eastern seaboard cities of China, in search of jobs on construction sites, factories, hotels and restaurants.  Work opportunities abound and exploitation is high.   Wages are minimal by urban standards but provide opportunities to supplement rural incomes with remittances that support children’s education and higher living standards than have previously been possible.

But the challenges are many: workers rarely receive contracts for their work, often working 7 days a week, with 12 – 16 hour days; they have little or no social security benefits; wages are paid late and often not at all; and there are few opportunities for education for their children or meaningful ways for them to escape this cycle of poverty and demeaning work.

Female migration is on the rise which poses both opportunities and challenges: escape from the restrictions of rural life with its expectations of early marriage and childbirth present the chance for young women to experience adventure and economic independence, but this can also be coupled with the risk of harassment and prostitution, loneliness, and a growing uncertainty surrounding a woman’s future role.

At Hua Dan, we have a model that trains the migrant women themselves to lead and facilitate the workshops and, since our inception, have trained 10 women to work with over 32,000 women and children across China.  We also have earned-income initiatives that help sustain our work. More information can be found at http://www.hua-dan.org.

Hua Dan was set up and founded by Caroline Watson in 2004 and this site is dedicated to sharing her remarkable story of setting up Hua Dan as a young woman in Beijing.

2004: creation of the first Hua-Dan workshops, en route for success


Our workshops use the theatre process as a way to explore the issues that migrant workers face in their lives and to support them in the self-exploration necessary to overcome those issues. We don’t put forward any ideas ourselves about what this should look like but believe in facilitating a context for people to uncover what they, in their own hearts, believe is possible and desirable for their future.

Workshops typically cover issues around marriage and family life, the pressures of migration, expectations of women’s lives, gender discrimination, sexual harassment, conflict amongst friends, personal leadership and self-assertiveness, creative development, conflict resolution, communication skills, to name a few.

Since our first workshop, the vision of Hua Dan has blossomed to encompass a range of programmes that serve both adult and children migrants, as well as victims of the Sichuan earthquake.

2004-2019: Hua-Dan transforming the lives of more than 32,000 women and children in China and more…

HD Logo November 2011

Since 2007, Hua-Dan has delivered performances, theatre programmes and workshop sets to over 9000 migrant children in partnership with schools and community centre, helping children learn and practise key life skills such as self-awareness, confidence, communication and leadership and providing training to teachers on how to integrate creative and interactive learning into existing curricula.

Some comments by participants:

“The classes have given me a new start! Before I was very shy, but now I am outgoing.”

“[Hua Dan] gave us so many interesting experiences, and taught us how to trust our classmates and have a better understanding of one another.”

“Thanks to [Hua Dan] teachers for not being mean, I feel completely safe with them!”

“[Hua Dan] teachers gave me so much knowledge, and helped me be able to laugh out loud!”

From 2006 to 2011: Women’s Empowerment Training Achievements, 2006 to 2011. Hua-Dan delivered workshop sets to over 4000 migrant women based in Beijing.

Some comments by participants:

“I’ve learned a lot from this class. In the past I was only concerned with working and didn’t think about things that much. Taking this class has helped me discover what type of life I really want, and has shown me that I can contribute to society. I will work hard to make my dreams become reality. I will work hard to improve myself.”

“I can proudly say that Hua Dan’s classes have taught me how to respect other people, and how to get other people to respect me.”

“Taking these classes has made it easier for me to communicate, has taught me how to discover my own strengths and the strengths of others, and improved my self-esteem. I no longer feel inferior.”

From 2008 to 2011, Hua-Dan has run the Sichuan Earthquake Rehabilitation Programme. The programme built the confidence, communication and leadership skills of over 2500 women and children through participatory arts so they could rebuild their homes, communities and lives.

Some comments from beneficiaries:

“Participating in this activity by Hua Dan has benefitted me much and left me with a different perspective from before…it has been particularly meaningful, because this is exactly the type of training practitioners in arts education need. I wish there could be a much greater abundance of these activities in the future, so that we may have an even greater impact in the community.”

“Art is the best language and form of expression, it can overcome the unconscious, eliminate emotional trauma.”

“I learnt that we need to work as a team. It is only then that we will be able to do even better things.”

“You’ve helped me learn self-confidence, and how to become a person with a loving heart. I now believe in myself and my strength.”

“I will never forget our story, we turned it into something alive and real; this improved my learning.”

“[During the workshop] was the first time anyone had told us how much we were valued.”

In 2011, Caroline was selected as Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum as the Founder of Hua-Dan

In 2012, Hua Dan Consulting started, offering theatre-based workshops to businesses and other non-profits, to aid in factory health and safety training, confidence, teamwork and global leadership.

In 2013 Hua Dan took part in Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

In 2014, Hua Dan won the Scotsman Fringe First Award for performance Hand Made in China

In 2015, Scheherazade Initiatives was launched as a sister organisation to Hua Dan, to develop the model of the work done in China to a global audience, encompassing projects with migrants, refugees and displaced populations around the world.