Monday, February 29, 2016

Peace Begins At Home

Author Margaret Zhao struggled through her childhood to attain education, and achieved the impossible when she was accepted into university and received her teaching certificate. She came to the United States in 1989, returning to China once every five years. In China she saw great changes--more cars, bigger buildings, elegant foods--as well as great challenges: pollution, quality concerns, corruption. (see earlier posts one, two, three )
Margaret said that the U.S. and China shared many of the same challenges—corruption, pollution, moral decay. “For the U.S.," she said. "The changes have been more gradual. But before, you probably said, ‘Mrs. And Mr.’ Now you don’t have that. This western society is getting worse because you’re emphasizing on self. You have no respect to adults, authorities. You work on your rights.“
She gave an example of the issue. A woman came over and complained that a tree on Margaret’s property was dropping leaves in her yard. Margaret's husband was not concerned. In fact, his initial reaction was to tell this woman to take a hike. Surely he wasn't responsible for where a tree dropped its leaves. It became a stand-off of over who was right.
“But what is necessary is trust. How do you have trust? Religion. It doesn’t matter what religion. The authentic religions all have the same goals. The only answer is education and spirituality—and to get back to the nature and morality.”
In the instance with her neighbor Margaret remembered her religious teachings (a mixture of Christianity, Buddhism, Taoism, etc.), looked beyond the immediate issue, and asked, “What does the neighbor want? How can we help her?”
Margaret found a tree trimmer to take off the branches hanging in the neighbor’s yard, and asked her husband to go over to clear out the leaves that had fallen. Peace reigns.
“It could have gone a whole different way. That is how it starts—from your family, from your neighborhood, from your world. You create the ripple.” 
“We are humans and we are one. We are all from the same ancestors.  When we understand this, we are going to have a harmonious world.”
(Next: Fireside Chat with Previous Ambassadors to China)

Sunday, February 28, 2016

An Aqueduct of Many Colors: Margaret Returns to China

Chinese-born intellectual Margaret Zhao moved to the United States with her husband in 1989. While she had been a highschool English teacher in China, she soon realized that she could not just slip into the same career in the United States, and struggled not only to put food on the table, but to find her place in American society. (See interview part onepart two)
Margaret returned to China for the first time in 1996.   
When I stood in the crossroads at the center of town I couldn’t remember the direction anymore. It was changed.There were more cars. It was much bigger.   We had so many vendors on the street now because it was a free economy.”
Margaret returned again in 2001, then 2006. She noted that people were living in luxury she never knew as a child. She pointed to a photo of a large round table piled high with all kinds of specialty dishes: braised duck and beef and chicken, handmade dumplings, dishes of oysters and fish.
“You notice the change in life. The luxury. Before we wouldn’t have this kind of banquet.”
In addition to the wonderful changes--of which there were many each time she went back-- she noticed some challenges. 
“When I arrived to my brother’s hometown and was walking to the house, the trash was piled against the house and along the street. I asked, ‘Why is there so much trash piled here?’  He said, ‘Welcome home.’  

"And the water—I saw the aqueduct where I used to carry water from. They don’t use it anymore.  Alongside of the bank of the aqueduct is full of trash of all kinds of colors. The pollution was the worst this last time. It was unbelievable." 
To her siblings, who still live in her hometown, things have become expensive.  She said that they worry about the quality of the products on the grocery shelves and, as much as they can, grow their own food. Their biggest concern of all, though, is corruption.

“It’s everywhere. Even the doctors and teachers are corrupt. You want a good education? You have to give money to the principal. Then you are allowed in the school. If you want to be better treated, you give a red envelope (filled with money) to the teacher. When you go to the hospital to get a surgery procedure, you not only pay for the procedure, you still have to give a red envelope to the doctor to do a good job. That’s very tragic. So people have lots of anger."
I asked what could be done.
"How can you get rid of it? Working from the bottom up.”
( be continued. Next: Peace Begins At Home)

Saturday, February 27, 2016

A Lazy Toad Attempts to Eat Swan

Chinese-born intellectual Margaret Zhao was thwarted from education from the 3rd grade onward as she was labeled the 'enemy of the state.' She continued to learn where she could (the odd book here, test papers confiscated there.) So, when leader Deng Xiao Ping opened the universities in 1979, she was ready to take a shot at one of the highly-coveted spots. (Less than 1% of applicants received an acceptance.) Margaret did not receive much support--many proclaimed she was "too old" (23), calling her a 'toad attempting to eat swan.' This is an old Chinese saying suggesting a person is dreaming of the impossible. (See Zhao Interview part one. ) 
Margaret forged ahead anyway. 
“I just wanted to go and just believed in myself and made my effort." She spent every free moment before the university entrance exam preparing--reading books, taking lessons from her educated brother-in-law, listening to the English programs on the radio. As she had declared that English would be her major, she didn’t have to test for Physics and Chemistry.
“The Chinese education system is different from the U.S. In China when you take the test you have to choose what major.  Also you pre-decide what college you want to go to. You fill out the application and decide what three colleges you want. Then you take the test. It depends on how much score you have, whether the school will take you or not.
“The national entrance test was very severe—a serious test. You had only one chance to succeed.”
photo courtesy
The test took three days, and included politics, history, geography, Chinese, and English. Margaret did not get into her first choice. She did not get into her second choice. But she did succeed. She was accepted into E Xi Normal College in Szechuan province."To the local people it was like a miracle. For many years the local schools used me as an example, saying, ‘If you work hard, you can succeed like Really Enough.’"
Upon graduation she became a high school English teacher. She met an American man, married, and came to the California in 1989 “where she was immediately struck,“by the waste of food, and the use of paper and water. It was amazing to me. Overwhelming.” At the same time, she was equally amazed by all the lovely possessions people had. And she couldn’t believe that people mocked the President openly. Or used the word “sex” on the radio. But the hardest adjustment for her was English.
“I thought my English was good –I was a high school English teacher--and I would fit in well. But immediately I understood that when people speak their normal speed I could not understand but every other word. I watched TV, and didn’t know which was the program and which was the commercial. Suddenly I felt like I could not work anywhere. I felt very helpless.”
Still, Margaret went about looking for work—as a cashier at Taco Bell (although she'd never eaten Mexican food), a clerk at UCI Medical Center, a stand-up Comedian--anyplace that would give her a chance. She went to night school to improve her language skills. When she did find a job, she still found herself isolated.
“The coworkers didn’t pay much attention to you. What do you have in common to talk? I didn’t know about shopping. I didn’t know about make up. I didn’t know about men. These daily life things."
She persevered and eventually found her niche as an author and speaker, sharing not only her story, but her thoughts on life, community, world peace.
( be continued. Next: An Aqueduct of Many Colors: Margaret Returns to China)

Friday, February 26, 2016

Author Zhao Given Right to Schooling

Like Min Luo in Interview One, author Margaret Zhao is a member of the intellectual crème of the crop. Although not a government-sponsored student from China, she represents the top one percent of the Chinese population able to grab one of the coveted spots at university in 1979. She migrated to the U.S. in the 80s, is a poet, teacher, and the author of Really Enough: A True Story of Tyranny, Courage, and Comedy. She now devotes her life to sharing the message of peace.
Margaret originally came from Hubei Province in south central China. Hubei lies along the Yangtze River and is surrounded by mountains on three sides. It is historically a farming province, and is famous for its oranges.
She was born “maybe in 1956.” People didn’t keep clear records in her village back then, she explained. Her Chinese name was not Margaret, but what translated to Enough Complete Happiness. When Margaret was born as the youngest of five--her older siblings being named Double Happiness, Repeat Happiness, Little Ox, and Complete Happiness--her mother wanted to repeat to the Gods that the family was overloaded with happiness. This was Enough Complete Happiness--really--for, by this time, Margaret’s family was enduring more than just the struggles of a large family.
“When the Communists took over China in 1949,” said Margaret. “The rich people, educated people, successful people were labeled enemies of the state. My mother was particularly educated. And my family had a factory and had a department store and land and was considered to be successful.
“How could they be successful without exploiting people and hiring people to work for them? That’s why they were considered the enemy. So we didn’t have rights. We needed to be reformed and punished. So many people were shot. My parents were lucky.”
Margaret and her family had all of their family treasures confiscated (hand-sewn silk bed coverings, a rosewood dining set, a finely carved dragon clock, an intricately-carved chest, ceramic stools, a portrait of great grandfather, a library of books, etc.) They were kicked out of their house, and reduced to finding odd jobs/scavenging to stay alive. Margaret, who had just finished second grade, was pulled from school, as those who were enemies of the state were not allowed to attend grade school/ high school. At this time, all colleges were shut down.
Margaret laid bricks in a factory, planted rice in the fields, and cooked in kitchens (although she knew nothing about cooking.) She risked her life stealing food from the fields. At the same time, she studied old test papers from the school where her sister worked. (She then used those papers as toilet paper.) She secretly read “yellow books” from “Ocean Devils” like poet Robert Burns that her brother-in-law—who was of an approved class-- owned.
In 1979—after Chairman Mao had already died--Deng XiaoPing instituted a reform that opened the colleges and allowed even enemies of the state to attend. “I had the right to go to school.”
Despite the right, Margaret received pressure from all around. At age 23, she was told she was, “too old , too uneducated, too far behind to ever catch up.
“The Chinese have a saying: ‘a lazy toad wants to have the pleasure of tasting swan,’ meaning something is impossible.”
That’s what people thought of Margaret attempting, along with the other 5.7 million people, to compete for one of the coveted 230,000 spots in university.
( be continued. Next: A Toad Attempts to Taste Swan.)

Thursday, February 25, 2016

What Chinese Wish the Trumps and Carsons of the World Understood

Min Luo is a representative of China’s intellectual elite who has spent over half of his life in the United States.  He was kind enough to spend two Saturday afternoons with me (for which I'm very grateful) sharing history, explaining aspects of the culture, offering his candid opinions on challenges facing both countries.  (Follow Interview from part one.)
“China is a big country,” Min continued. “Recently China has a lot of problems because it's changing so much and a lot of people have problems….pollution…trying to make money regardless. There’s a lot of bad things happening in China, but many good people in important positions in China.”
Min said it was important for the Chinese to realize that they are not just a factory, that they have their own technologies. He also said China needs to protect its own land, which sometimes leads to a conflict of interest with nearby countries (and with the U.S.) “Foreign countries don’t want China to grow too fast. To me, the challenge is how to continue to have a peaceful life and still grow together.”
Moving forward, he said China and the U.S. both have a challenge to understand each other. “I see a lot of presidential debates and I just laugh."
"Those people know nothing about China. They make comments that are unbelievably stupid to get votes. Recently they were saying that the Chinese military was in Syria."

(That was Ben Carson in one of the early Republican debates.)
On the other hand, Min pointed out that Chinese high-ranking officers are very open-minded, and they’ve visited the U.S. many times to try to learn and understand.
“The Western world is very interesting. In the Western world, you’re either good or bad.” 
(i.e. Japan is good. North Korea is bad.)
“China has a history of compromising. We say good things have bad parts. Bad things have good parts. Chinese try to work things out. Chinese culture emphasizes face. If you treat me well, I’ll treat you better.
“Very soon China is going to have the #1 GDP in the world. It’s time for the U.S. to understand China, and learn how to grow next to China, how to accommodate this new superpower. You cannot just ignore them. It’s going to grow regardless of what you do. You try to prevent them from growing, it may be two years later. If you try to cooperate, it might be two years sooner. That’s all it takes is cooperation. We have to learn from each other and understand each other to make a peaceful world.” 
(This concludes Interview One. Next: Author Margaret Zhao)

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The U.S. is Great, but...We Need A Plan

Chinese-born American Min Luo has lived in the U.S. almost three decades. As such, he has solid opinions about the challenges facing America. I asked for five. He mentioned the knee-jerk reaction to the “bad guys,” poor media coverage of important worldwide events, a wasteful society, and a lack of manufacturing. (See Interview part sixseveneightnine)
Min continued: “Number five: the U.S. doesn’t have a plan."

(To give an idea of what Min might be talking about, take a look at this little ditty from my husband's Chinese news feed: China's 13th 5-Year Planning Session. Be sure to press the arrow and watch the video...there might be a delay before the song begins.)
"We tend to be reactive rather than pro-active," said Min. "People have just been enjoying the life. Today, of the 100 people who come to study in the U.S., fifty go back to China. Maybe ten years later, all of them will go back. The U.S. needs to ask itself, ‘How can we attract the best people to stay here?’
“It’s just a matter of time—a matter of time before the whole world is going to be changed. If you look at it GDP-wise, growth wise, the world is going to be rearranged. It has to be. There’s no choice. So how are we going to have new thinking to make a more peaceful world together? That’s the challenge. How can we have less war? Less terror?
“I think, fundamentally, we need to understand each other better. For example, when you go to China before and compare to now, you probably got a shock. A lot of things are so much different. China grows so much. If more people understand certain things, they can understand each other better. So, in the future, when there’s a conflict, at least we can elect the good leaders because people have more understanding.”
“What I’m saying is that we need to respect people. After the fundamental of getting a good leader, getting people educated, we need to understand each other, we need to be more rational, we need to move together to make a better world. More collaboration instead of, ‘I help you to create a conflict for my own benefit.’ I think in the long term the whole world will move in a good direction when we understand each other. People will know what to expect.”
(…to be continued. Next--and final post--for Interview One: What Chinese Wish the Carsons and Trumps of the World Understood.)
Please add your voice to the discussion by leaving your comments below.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The U.S. is Great, but...What Do We Bring to the Table?

Chinese-born American intellectual elite Min Luo enumerated several challenges he saw facing present-day America: an inability to think of the end-game before implementing drastic solutions, an ethnocentric media, and a wasteful society. (See Interview: part sixpart sevenpart eight.)
Min continued:
"Number four: I’ll be very candid. If you produce something, you create value. If you don’t create something, you don’t create value. The U.S. has been very happy not creating, but having a very good life.
"For example, in the service sector—my numbers may not be right—70% of the GDP is from the service sector. Service sector does not really create a value. I’m thinking developing countries, like China, more than 70% is not in the service sector."
(According to the World Bank, approx 80% of the U.S. GDP is from the service sector. In China, that percentage is close to 50%.)
diagram courtesy of
“In China, when they are doing the service sector," Min said. "They probably make like 1/5th of what the people in the U.S. make, even though they work much harder. So, in a way, you look at the world and say, ‘Why are other people working so hard and they don’t have a good life?’ I’m thinking we’ve been blessed living in the U.S. We’ve been blessed being a superpower.
“Still, a true superpower needs manufacturing. Other than the internet, what is the U.S. contributing to the world?”
(…to be continued. Next segment: The U.S. Needs a Plan)
**I have received several comments, which I’ve posted in the relevant sections. Please feel free to post your comments directly to the blog as well. Thank you.