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Archive for April, 2009

Women’s Group at Unity Temple

Sunday, April 26th, 2009
Historic American Buildings Survey photograph
Image via Wikipedia


I had heard much about the Unity Temple and the unique building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Susan and her two young daughters immediately took me for a quick tour and pointed out the open design, the two levels where the congregation gathered, and the wooden materials used throughout the building. Then they ushered me to a large room where tables were set up for a potluck dinner and many women had gathered in small groups, chatting. I immediately engaged in a conversation with two women who had finished reading my book.  

“Excuse me,” Susan poked her head into the group with a big smile. “I want to share you with more people,” she said, leading me away.

After a few announcements of the group’s future activities and half an hour of chatting and eating, I talked about my growing up experience in China, particularly about living through the persecution of my parents during the Cultural Revolution. Several women in the audience asked questions and made comments after the talk. One compared the similarity between China’s Cultural Revolution to her family’s experience in Cuba, and another expressed her outrage that a few Americans set up a booth at the Printers Row Book Fair a couple of years before to promote Mao who started the Cultural Revolution. Despite running late, we had long and lively discussion session.

 “I have been to China,” one woman said. “I read your book with interest and want to thank you for giving me a personal perspective. I’m very touched by the strength demonstrated by your family,” she continued, her voice filled with emotion. “I’m so happy to see you are doing well now.”

Another woman asked how each of my siblings were doing and where they were now.

Throughout the evening, I found several people in the audience had been to China or had Chinese friends. One woman had a Chinese daughter-in-law and asked me to sign the book for her in Chinese. “My daughter-in-law would love it,” she beamed at the hand-written characters in Chinese.

Once again, I’m delighted and humbled by the interest and response I received.

 Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China.



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Lessons from Columbine

Saturday, April 25th, 2009
Image by Pro-Zak via Flickr

This week marks the 10th anniversary of the tragic massacre of students at Columbine High School.  There has been much press and media coverage and a number of new books and articles have appeared.  The school was closed for a day, and a ceremony has been held to commemorate the victims and their shattered families as well as those students now in their 20’s who suffered both mental and physical traumas.

What lessons have been learned?  As is often the case, the focus has been on the issues rather than the causes.  We are told that school security has been “beefed up” around the nation.  Armed security officers are on campus, rapid response squads are in place, and our children are “frisked” for weapons or pass through metal detectors as they arrive at school.  What other country in the world has or needs these sort of protections for their children?  The answer is none.

It was interesting to read another statistic recently.  In the past six years since the invasion of Iraq, approximately 4,500 U.S. service personnel have been killed.   During that same six-year period, there have been over 100,000 victims of gun violence in the U.S.   This compares to approximately 500 victims in Japan, 750 victims in the UK, and similar totals in many other countries in the world.

Our answer to these unnecessary deaths and daily gun violence is more security, and higher levels of technology, the high cost of which is paid for by local communities and their tax payers.

Our Congress cannot and will not address the question of gun ownership and controls.  Fear of the NRA and their political clout, renders this hot topic voiceless in our legislature.  The result is we now have more guns than people in this country.  Some will say that the proliferation of guns has made it impossible to deal with or reduce the numbers.  The “band-aid” regulations on a state or national level concerning gun purchases or sales are useless and pathetic.  So much so, that it appears U.S. guns are making their way across the Mexican border and are helping the drug cartels fuel a “Civil War” with the Mexican government.  At least the Obama Administration recognizes the negative part we are playing in the drug wars and is pledging more technology to help curb both the sales of guns and the movement of drugs.

But our efforts once again, are trying to deal with the issues rather than the cause.  We are told that sales of guns have soared since President Obama’s inauguration, and that Homeland Security is concerned about the arming of right-wing-radicals in this country.  Some of these are promoting the idea of local militias and are pledging to “take back our country.”  Gun violence unfortunately is a part of our U.S. society.

All these issues warrant serious attention.  The massacre at Virginia Tech two years ago, the recent thirteen deaths at an immigration center, and the endless shooting of our children, sometimes by our children, will continue as long as we have little or no gun control laws in this country.  That is the lesson of Columbine.

So, don’t be shocked next time you hear of yet another school massacre, or some deranged individual shooting innocent co-workers.

Be prepared for some violent shooting tragedy to visit an area near you sometime soon.

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The iPod Gap…

Monday, April 20th, 2009
Image representing iPhone as depicted in Crunc...
Image via CrunchBase

Despite my advancing years, I thought I was reasonably high tech.  After all, I had my MAC Computer, my iPod where I listend to my music, and more recently my iPhone, which provides me with emails wherever I am in the world.  However, my fifteen-year-old grandson, Toby, who was recently visiting me from London, put me in my place.

I had already put some additional applications on my iPhone – stock market quotations, weather, etc.   But, he quickly informed me that there were many Apps that I could obtain free of charge and proceeded to add these to my iPhone capabilities – Currency Exchange Rates, MSNBC, ESPN, BBC, Google, The New York Times, movies, public radio, Google Earth, Wi–Fi Finder, and something called “Shazam,” which apparently can tell you the name of a tune that you might hear while you’re out and about but just can’t remember.  To me, these are miracles indeed.

However, Toby went further.  He told me that, in addition to listening to his iTunes, he also downloads Podcasts of news programs and other radio shows, and also purchases Audible books.  Apparently sometimes in the evenings when he’s going to bed, he prefers to listen to a book rather than music.  I found this encouraging.  Furthermore, he recommended that I should put my recent novel – “Bear Any Burden” – on Audible books, and stated that “even though it’s not a bestseller, if you price it below many of the popular books, you should get some customers.”  Probably sound advice.  I’m going to look into it.

So even though I thought I knew what I was doing with my iPod and IPhone, it appears that, as with much modern technology, there is a significant generation gap.  I’ve got a long way to go to catch up.

All this information at my fingertips is really wonderful, and I must confess that I’m enjoying it.  But even though I have now Apps galore, I wonder when will I have time to use them all?

Ellis M. Goodman, author of Bear Any Burden:

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The Power of Image

Sunday, April 19th, 2009
What more can one do?, from The Disasters of W...
Image via Wikipedia

On Thursday, April 16, the Voice Performance Program at the Chicago Art Institute featured Francisco Goya (1746-1828), the best known Spanish artist in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. As I sat in the audience listening to the life story of Goya, I was mesmerized by the images of his work presented on the screen. What struck me most, however, was not his famous works of the beautiful portraits or the royal family, but rather a series of haunting etchings titled the Disasters of War.  

Goya did these black and white prints in the 1810s. They depict the atrocities of war during Spain’s struggle for independence from France (1808-1814). As the images on the screen changed from one to another—a corpse hanging on a tree, the execution style shooting in close range, the desperate gesture of women as they were being taken by force, and the scattered bodies on the battleground—the dark tonalities revealed to us the horror of death and destruction.

Three days after attending the program, these images still linger in my mind. Like reading detailed, vivid description in words that project clear images, I feel that these images beg to tell me in words the stories of the fight, sacrifice, and loss of the people presented. Using a few words to title each print such as “Why? Bury Them and Be Patient, and That Is Not to Be Looked At,” Goya registered those moments in history that still generate strong impact on us today. I marvel at the power of words and images.

Voice Performance is a short lunch hour presentation that takes place at noon every Thursday at the Art Institute. I strongly recommend you to attend it if you live in the area or are visiting Chicago. 

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. Visit    

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Heritage and Identity

Friday, April 17th, 2009

I recently read President Obama’s Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance. I was deeply touched and in many ways, overwhelmed by his life story leading to the time he enrolled at Harvard Law School. It was a journey of discovery for me.


President Obama wrote the book in three parts: Origins, Chicago and Kenya, dealing primarily with race, identify, and heritage. The struggles he had with his mixed racial background as a young man, the discrimination he encountered and witnessed as a black, and the search for his roots were subjects that resonate and issues we can all reflect upon. He wrote with eloquence and clarity and his reflection was evocative and deep. The full circle he was able to come to in his search for identity is source of inspiration for us all.


Reading his book makes me examine the same issues of identify, cultural heritage, and roots that immigrants like me face in the US. The difference in language and culture, and the “Asian” box I check every time I fill out a form give me a sense of being a foreigner in this country despite my having been a US citizen for more than a decade. However, as a first generation immigrant who moved to the US as an adult, I managed to adapt this new culture and society without feeling the need to shed my Chinese self. I’ve encountered many difficulties in establishing myself, as most immigrants do, but in due time, I overcome the hurdles and become a professional. The differences between the two cultures sometimes collide, catching me in the middle. But I have been able to find a balance and learn to embrace both perspectives.


When it comes to the second generation of immigrants, however, I find the issue of heritage and choice can often be sources of conflict. I’ve witnessed many second generation Asian immigrants, including my own daughter who grew up in the US, struggling much harder with their identity. Besides their black hair, dark eyes and brown skin, they think and behave like their American peers and they want to merge into the mainstream. Many fight against their Asian heritage during their growing up years, from learning the language of their country of origins to observing their respective traditional customs. Only when they are in their adulthood, mostly after college, many, my daughter included, begin to search and embrace their Asian roots.


The last scene in President Obama’s book leaves a deep impression in my mind. After spending weeks with his extended family in Kenya, he returned to his grandmother’s hut. As members of his extended family enjoyed the gathering together, he walked to the backyard where the tombs of his grandfather and father lay. He sat down between the two and wept for a long time. He didn’t reveal the emotion or thoughts he had at the moment, but stated that he felt he had come full circle. Perhaps he meant that his two worlds, black and white, African and American, locked into full circle at that moment for him, and that the connection he reached provided the firm footing he needed to come to terms with his roots and make him feel whole.


We all take journeys of our own to find our footings in society. Only when we are mature enough to embrace the heritage and roots of our past and accept the culture of the present, we can truly accept ourselves as who we are and establish our footholds. 



Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. Visit for more information.

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To Kindle or Not?

Thursday, April 9th, 2009
Amazon Kindle Back cover
Image via Wikipedia

I was recently in Tucson talking to a small book club group about my novel, “Bear Any Burden.” I received many of the usual questions.

Was the main character, Sir Alex Campbell, partly autobiographical?  Did my descriptions of the Second World War relate to any of my personal or family experiences?  How did I develop the characters of Maria and Anna and their lives in a Russian labor camp?  Had I visited Poland during the Cold War, and was I there at the time of the emerging Solidarity Movement?  And, did I work for the British Secret Service?

We had a lively discussion about much of the above, but we then somehow got onto the question of who uses Kindle.  It turned out that five of the eleven people attending my book discussion, owned Kindle and were avid supporters.  They were enthusiastic about the ability to download books at reasonable prices, and even download magazines.  They loved the idea of being able to travel the world with all their anticipated reading materials in one slim tablet, and they enjoyed the ability to change the typeface and some of the other little tasks that Kindle can do.

The other side of the debate, however, proclaimed their love of owning a book itself, the paper, the typeface, the cover, the “feel” of turning the pages and, of course, finally having a book on the shelf in their personal library.

I think I fall into two camps.  First of all, my book will shortly be available on Kindle, so I’m definitely a supporter of the technology.  I love the idea of being able to take one’s anticipated reading materials across the world in one slim tablet, and will be using that for my vacation reading requirements. I do not own a Kindle, but I’m able to share my wife’s, which is an excellent arrangement.

On the other hand, I’m sympathetic to those people that really enjoy the “feel” of a book.  I also take joy in the design of the cover, the typeface, the quality of the paper, and the ability to look at the books on my own private library shelves, and sometimes revisit those that that I’ve enjoyed and are worth a second or third read.

I’m sure there will soon be millions of Kindle readers.  What will this do to the book shop chains, or even the small independent book shop?  I hope that, modern technology does not eliminate the aesthetic joy of owning a book.

Ellis M. Goodman, author of Bear Any Burden:

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No Information…in the Information Age

Thursday, April 2nd, 2009
CHICAGO - DECEMBER 8:  Flags wave in the wind ...
Image by Getty Images via Daylife

It is alarming to see the demise of so many long-established newspapers.  We are told that, in this fast paced electronic age, the general public and particularly those of the younger generation do not have time to read newspapers.  Incredibly in this country, which has a population in excess of 300 million, our one and only national newspaper – The New York Times – has a declining daily circulation, which is now less than one million copies per day. (The Wall Street Journal, which is still considered a financial newspaper, is not far behind).  In the UK, where I lived until 1982, there are a half-dozen newspapers with more than a million copies circulation per day, serving a population that is only 20% of that of the U.S.

Long-established regional newspapers are falling by the wayside at a rapid pace.  My own regional newspaper – The Chicago Tribune – is in bankruptcy and has been slimmed down to such an extent that the ad pages dramatically outnumber the print pages.  The world’s news is presented in the form of little “sound bites” taken from AP (Associated Press), Reuters, The New York Times, and other news bureaus. One can still find local information – murders, rapes, arson, scandals – and solid sports and entertainment sections, but as to a source of information to the general public on what is happening in our world or even in our country, this is not the source.

Many of the newspapers are rushing to provide their editions on the Web.  So far, they are battling to find a financial model that works.  The Web has certainly brought the world to our feet, but there is a difference between seeking specific information and having it fed to us on a daily basis.

I know many people who say they “read” The New York Times on the Web.  But really this is not the case.  The New York Times in newspaper form consists of fifty to sixty pages of international, national, business, arts, sports, and science news.  To consume this information in anything like a comprehensive fashion, takes at least an hour.  The average Web reader will review the headlines and perhaps delve into the background of one or two articles, maybe spending a maximum of fifteen to twenty minutes.  The result is that the average American – never one to earnestly pursue information on our world – is now becoming even less connected.

Can the U.S. truly be a world leader, when our people know so little about the rest of the world, its challenges, its cultures, economies, and religions?
Ellis M. Goodman, author of Bear Any Burden:

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