Jian Ping's column
A Time for Reflection
by Jian Ping
Sitting across a table from three Chinese graduate students at a recent Thanksgiving dinner, I
couldn't help but think about the days when I first came to the U.S., at about their age. As we
shared our stories and expressed our gratitude for the opportunities we had, I found myself
reflecting upon my own journey, especially in 2011. As the year was coming to its end, it felt more
appropriate to be reflective.
This year has been very special and exciting for me. First of all, Mulberry Child, the feature-length
documentary film based on my book, was completed after nearly two years of production—a
milestone for my family and me. Secondly, MoraQuest, the company I founded in 2008,
established an alliance with a major publisher in China and has released four books in English
in the last few months and more titles are on their way. Last but not least, I have participated in a
local university's Advanced Career and Education program in which I work with and help
international students, in my case, three students from China, to gain work experience in the U.S.
The Thanksgiving dinner that I invited them to was an effort to get to know them better. It was also an effort to make them feel at
home at a holiday when they were far away from their families in China.
All these experiences have been very rewarding.
In October when the film was completed, Mulberry Child had its world premiere at the Heartland Film Festival in Indianapolis,
with a sold out screening and a standing ovation from the audience. I felt very encouraged and touched by the overwhelmingly
positive response from the audience. Mulberry Child is the result of the joint efforts of many people. Director Susan Morgan
Cooper worked extremely hard on the project, spending several months selecting cast for re-enacted scenes, traveling to
China, and going back and forth between Los Angeles and Chicago. Editor Sean Valla combed through mountains of footage
to select sections that were not only visually effective, but also had clear pronunciation—a challenging task since some footage
Susan liked contained words that I didn't articulate clearly.
"If I have problems in understanding them," Susan said. "My audience will, too. That won't do."
Susan was meticulous. I became aware of the few vowels and consonants that I had difficulties with. Susan took it with good
humor, and we had a lot of laughter despite the frustration. I must admit, however, sometimes it was quite humbling. But I did
learn a lot.
Then, shortly before the final editing was over, Jacqueline Bisset came on board. She became the narrator for the film. We were
In 2012, Mulberry Child will start the year with screenings at several major film festivals, including its premiere in Chicago
where my daughter, Lisa, and I live. I love interacting with my readers and audience directly and look forward to attending these
festivals in the coming year.
On the publishing side, the release of new books is also very exciting. My publishing endeavors started when I began giving
talks about my book and China to various groups and organizations. I soon found that China, despite its emerging status as a
world economic and political power, was still very foreign to the majority of Americans, even those who were very interested in
the country. I decided to be a cultural ambassador and bridge gaps in understanding by publishing books on China.
I was lucky to start publishing by establishing a business alliance with a major publisher in China. I released several books in
English that had been published in Chinese earlier in the year, including China in the Next 30 Years; Seeking Changes:
Political Development in Contemporary China; Seeking Changes: Economic Development in Contemporary China, and The
Twelfth Five-Year Plan for National Economic and Social Development of the People's Republic of China. Before the end of the
year, I plan to release another book titled Democracy in China.
Moving forward, I hope to expand the categories of books I publish to include contemporary Chinese literature and books on
cross-cultural issues, not necessarily focusing only on China.
As for working with these newly arrived students from China, I also very much enjoyed the experience. The three students—two
male and one female—are working on their master's degrees in finance and marketing respectively. They've all entered
graduate school fresh out of college from China and have no real life working experience.
They remind me of the days when I first arrived in this country, wide-eyed and lost.
I still remember my first day on campus at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. Rosemary, my professor George's wife, took me to
school for registration. I was shy and very conscious of my Chinglish. I hid behind her, grateful that she acted as my
spokesperson. My most embarrassing moment came when we went to Burger King for lunch. I had never stepped into an
American restaurant before and had no concept of fast food. The long lines before each register and the animated
conversations among students amazed me. These young American men and women chatted away and laughed in such a
loud, care-free manner that the entire world seemed to be their stage. I became fully aware of the constraints that I had grown
I was speechless when a young girl asked me what I would like to order. I could see the pictures of food on the brightly-lit board
above the registers, but had no clue what they were. I had never heard the term "Whopper" or had a "hamburger" in my life.
Looking at Rosemary, I wiped the sweat off my forehead and told the girl I would have what Rosemary would order.
She looked at my flushed face and shrugged her shoulders.
Compared to me, the students I'm working with today are much more sophisticated and smart. Despite having been in the U.S.
for only a few months, one had traveled from the West Coast to the East; another has been living with an American host family,
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gaining first-hand exposure to American family
life; and another is renting an apartment in
downtown Chicago. They speak fluent English,
though not without traces of Chinglish, and they
are all skillful users of Microsoft Office. They are
also catching on to LinkedIn and Facebook
quickly—social media which are banned in China.
But they are still very new to this culture, this
working environment and this country. There are a
lot for them to learn and to adjust. I'm glad to have
this opportunity of working with them. Over the last
25 years since I've been studying and working in
this country, I've received a lot of generous help
from my colleagues and friends, both Americans
and Chinese. I would like to play the same
mentoring role to them.
Another year is beckoning. I look forward to more
exciting endeavors and new oppportunities.