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Chinese New Year celebration at DePaul University

Tuesday, February 12th, 2013

IMG_0606The Year of the Snake rang in with a big celebration at the main campus of DePaul University in Lincoln Park. From lion dance, songs, to games and raffle drawings,  a variety of festival activities cheered over 600 students, faculty, and participants from the local community, accompanied with a feast of Chinese food.

I was quite impressed by the turnout and the enthusiasm at the celebration. Among the majority of Asians sitting at the large round tables, each decorated with a hand-made paper money which symbolizes good fortune, were many Westerners and people from other ethnic backgrounds. The Chinese New Year celebration became a cross-cultural get together that enhanced interaction and connection among people without borders.

Snake is the 6th animal in the Chinese zodiac of 12. It meant this year, starting on Feb. 10, is a year of stability and progress, with attention to details. Snake is regarded as enigmatic, intuitive and refined.

At Chinese New Year Gala with my cousin Xiang.

At Chinese New Year Gala with my cousin Xiang.

The celebration of the Chinese New Year at DePaul was hosted by the University’s Chinese Studies Program and International Students Organization. Li Jin, professor and director of the Chinese language program, delivered a welcome statement that captured the spirit of the evening. The performances given by the students and some local community groups were amateur but fun. I particularly enjoyed the dance Peacock on the Tibetan Plateau and Dance of Flying Colors by the Huamulan Dance Troupe.

It was also fun to run into a few friends and watch one of a friend’s son, Aaron, work and perform on stage.

I’d like to thank and congratulate all the people and departments involved in putting together this well attended event. A friend, who was here last year, enjoyed it so much that she came again with her husband and son. Hope it will continue in the years to come.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been developed into an award-winning film by Susan Morgan Cooper and is narrated by Jacqueline Bisset.


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Chinese-American Museum of Chicago opens new exhibition

Saturday, April 21st, 2012

In the middle of Chicago’s Chinatown on 23rd Street stands the Chinese-American Museum of Chicago. After a devastating fire that destroyed nearly everything in 2008, the Museum, much like the journey of survival and triumph of immigrants in this country, re-emerged with splendor and opens with a new exhibition today.

The new exhibition “My Chinatown: Stories From Within” features the life stories of many Chinese in Chicago. The preview reception and celebration held at the museum last night drew a large crowd of community leaders and supporters, including Soo Lon Moy, Exhibition Committee Chair; Kim Tee, President of the Museum; Gary Johnson, President of the Chicago History Museum; and Terry Mazany, President of the Chicago Community Trust.

The joy and excitement of Moy and Tee were contagious. The new museum and new exhibition are the result of years of hard work and dedication.

“We re-did everything in the building,” Tee said with pride.

Mazany joked about Chicago’s history of getting “something good from devastating fires”, comparing the rebirth of this beautiful city from the fire in 1871 to the nicer Museum we have today.

In addition to My Chinatown, other exhibitions include “Great Wall to Great Lakes: Chinese Immigration to the Midwest” and “MAPPING”–An exhibit of works by students at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago that explore Chicago’s Chinatown neighborhood and its importance within the Chinese and Chicagoland communities.

Visit the Museum if you are in the vicinity. It is located at 238 West 23rd Street, 
Chicago, IL 60616. Phone: 312-949-1000. Check out more information at

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been developed into a feature-length documentary movie.

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Visiting China—“Thatched Cottage of Du Fu.” (杜甫草堂)

Tuesday, July 19th, 2011

by Jian Ping

South entrance to Du Fu's "Thatched Cottage"

The most memorable time in Chengdu is my visit to the “Thatched Cottage of Du Fu”, in Chinese, 杜甫草堂。

Du Fu (712-770) is one of the most well-known poets in China. He lived in the Tang Dynasty (618-907) and moved to Chengdu at 47.  He built a hut in the then outskirts of the city, which he fondly referred to as his “thatched cottage.” He spent about four years there, composing more than 240 poems, a most productive period of his life. I was first exposed to Du Fu’s poems when I was a child. Today, children in China start learning his poems in elementary school, if not earlier. His classical, rhymed poems are powerful, expressive, and soul-touching. Du Fu’s poems reflected everyday life and events, and he was considered by many as a “social historian.” I was struck with awe as I stood in the rehabilitated “cottage,” imagining this great poet, a genius, once walked the same ground.

Du Fu and his poem Spring View

In one exhibition hall, a life-size Du Fu stood in front of a horse-pulled cart. It was during the period of An Shi Rebellion (755-763). The eight-year war was brutal, claiming the lives of 32 million people, two-thirds of China’s population at the time. On the wall behind Du Fu was a painting of a battleground, accompanied by his famous poem about the war written at this cottage:


国破山河在, 城春草木深。

感时花溅泪, 恨别鸟惊心。

烽火连三月, 家书抵万金。

白头搔更短, 浑欲不胜簪。

Another Du Fu Statue

     Spring View

The nation has fallen, the mountains and rivers still stand;

Spring greens the trees and grasses in town.

Flower petals shed tears of sorrow;

Birds’ chirpings startle the souls at parting.

Turmoil of war goes on three months in a row;

A letter from home is worth a fortune in gold.

Scratching the white locks makes them thinner;

A hairpin can hardly be held in place.

Du Fu's poems writen in caligraphy along the hallway

I remember reciting the poem as a child and revisiting it numerous times as an adult. But standing there next to Du Fu’s statue, I felt the power of the words and the emotion of the poet more than I had ever before. Tears welled up in my eyes.

I wanted to check out every pavilion, garden, exhibition hall and pagoda surrounding the “cottage,” an area of 59 acres. Three hours later, I was still walking back and forth. I captured many photos of tall bamboos, ponds full of golden fish, and well-kept bonsais, along with hangings of Du Fu’s poems in beautiful calligraphy and huts and cottages built in the style of the Tang Dynasty. As the time came for me to leave, I found myself very reluctant to go.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. Visit, for more information. Mulberry Child has been turned into a feature-length documentary film by award-winning director Susan Morgan Cooper and will be released in 2011.

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Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

By Jian Ping

Amy Chua’s recent Wall Street Journal article “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior” created a lot of controversy. The day it appeared in the paper, I received two emails from my Chinese friends, with one telling me his son called Chua “a monster,” and the other, a mother, saying she was enraged that Chua calling her “extreme disciplines and demands” in bringing up her children the “Chinese way.”

“Where is the feeling of love?” my friend asked.

I was also astonished, despite my understanding to a certain extend. Many Chinese parents are strict with their children and push them hard to realize the parents’ high expectations. I must say I was no exception. However, even I found Chua’s behavior disconcerting.  

There are traditions in different cultures when it comes to educate the young. In the Chinese culture, since our ancient sage Confucius’ time, education has been highly valued and emphasized. But the education was not just academic studies—it has always included the components of self cultivation—including virtues, morals, love, and respect.

“I grew up in China,” my girlfriend Jing said. “My mother never pushed me in my studies when I was young. If anything, she was always worried that too much study would ruin my eye sight. She kept reminding me to take breaks.”

Another Chinese, a father in this case, made the comment to me: “She (Chua) is making a more stereotypical comparison between Chinese and Western parenting. In my opinion, the goal of parenting is not to produce winners—there can only be so many winners, but to nurture individuals who are contributors to society and live a happy life while doing it.”

These are views of Chinese parents, too. More balanced, in my opinion.

Parenting is a complicated task to which there is no preparation. It is a privilege, a blessing, and a challenge. No matter a Westerner or an Asian, we all cherish aspirations for our children. The key is to learn parenting in a way that is loving and nurturing.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. Visit, for more information. Mulberry Child is being developed into a feature-length documentary film by award-winning director Susan Morgan Cooper and will be released in 2011.

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Talking to A Korean Rotary Club

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

 By Jian Ping

Jim Hahn and me, photo by Dr. Jae Ro

I visited several Rotary Clubs in the greater Chicago area recently, talking about my memoir Mulberry Child and today’s China. Elizabeth, a club member at Barrington, introduced me to Jim at the Korean Club after my appearance at her club.

I exchanged a few emails with Jim and set the date on July 19th. Jim was very detailed oriented and extended his hospitality by picking me up from the Metra Train Station at Arlington Park. We chatted on our way to Woo Lae Oak, a Korean Restaurant where they had their meetings. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that nearly a third of their members were Korean women.

Rotarians at other clubs I had been to were mostly casual. I was amazed to see all the Koreans, men and women, appear in formal attire—men all had a jacket, and some even a tie, in this hot summer day. Each of them came over to make a self introduction as they arrived and addressed me as Ms. Ping. Apparently, they had been well informed of today’s program. I was impressed. I also noticed how extremely polite and friendly they were, not just to me, their guest speaker, but also to one another. One woman, Rose, told me she was not a member, but came specially to hear me talk. We chatted and compared notes on raising children in the U.S.—we certainly had similar experiences.

A Presentation on Mulberry Child

The club meeting started with the ritual of the National Anthem, followed by a pledge, which I always found touching. Then the language changed from English into Korean, beginning with a prayer. I watched Jim take center stage and assumed he was making announcements of their activities. Suddenly, the familiar sound of Jian Ping, Jennifer Hou Kwong, and even Tsingtao Beer caught my attention. I realized he must be introducing me. I smiled. The foreign syllables sounded like music to my ears. I was no stranger to conversations that I couldn’t understand—and they were not even conducted in a foreign language. Over the last decade, my husband and I had spent our Christmas with my in-laws in San Francisco. They spoke Cantonese and Tai Shan dialects, and I spoke Mandarin. Since they knew little English, and my understanding of Cantonese or Tai Shan was next to zero, we smiled and gestured, but couldn’t talk without an interpreter. I learned to fit in without the help of language. The benefit? No conflicts, ever!

At this Korean Club, most of the members knew about the Cultural Revolution or had experienced China firsthand. So I rushed through my talk and left some time for questions. I nodded to the first gentleman who raised his hand. “One, what compelled you to write the book?” he said. “And two, is Tsingtao Beer really started by Germans in China?” Everyone laughed, including me. The two-way dialogue became casual and easy afterward. “Why is it titled Mulberry Child?” “What’s your daughter’s reaction to the book?”…. We carried our conversation over dinner.

I also learned quite a bit about them and their culture. James, who sat next to me, told me about how he learned Chinese characters when he attended school in Korea. “A total of three thousand words,” he said, writing down “天”“heaven” and “地” “earth” in Chinese, but pronounced them in Korean. Brian, who sat across the table asked me the meaning of my name and wrote the correct Chinese characters on a piece of napkin—his handwriting indicated a good training in calligraphy and was much better than mine! Again, I was impressed.

I was honored to sign copies of Mulberry Child for the attendees and found my book bag nearly empty when it was all said and done.

A few members walked me to the door. Rose came over to bid farewell.  “I’m so honored to meet you,” she said, her expression genuine and touching. She had asked me to sign a copy of Mulberry Child to her daughter. We shook hands as if we had known each other for a long time. “Send me an email,” I said to her as we parted our way. “I will,” she said, waving.  

Jim, thank you and your club members for having me. I really enjoyed the unique experience. 

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

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Poetry Reading at Brothers K in Evanston

Sunday, February 28th, 2010

By Jian Ping

From left to right: Sylvia, Linda, Angela, Vince, me and Steve

Last Friday, I arrived at Brothers K Coffeehouse shortly before 6 P.M. for a poetry reading. I could see the room was full of people through the large windows from the street and was pleased to find Steve Schroeder, a poet and instructor at the University of Chicago, beckoning to me as I walked through the door. Steve had asked me to join him at Rhino’s monthly poetry reading at Brothers K. He had selected four Chinese women’s poems. I would read the Chinese, and he, the English. I said yes without hesitation. Only afterward I became concerned. I had done many book readings before, but never poetry. Not to mention that I am not a poet, and reading poetry is a form of art, a performance.

In fact, I had never been to a poetry recital before. The only experience I had close to it was the last day of my residency at Ragdale, an artist retreat center in Lake Forest, Illinois. Ragdale has a tradition that the artists—writers, poets, and playwrights—read a selection of their work at the end of their residency. There were two poets among the 20 artists during the time I was there. While Rachel, a poet from the Chicago area, read her work which was filled with humor and satire, Eric, a poet from Minnesota, recited his. He stood in front of the group who lounged all over a large living room and gave a stunning performance. He stomped and waved, his voice up and down, faster than a rapping singer. I was mesmerized.

Recalling the impact Eric’s recital on me, I used my early morning exercise time on the treadmill or elliptical machine to recite the poems. I had not tried to memorize a poem since I was a child and was surprised how easily the four poems registered in my mind. Their rhythms, flow of words, and unique structure seemed to sing on their own.

The poetry recital started with open mike. Then Steve and I began the scheduled program. I joked about my relief to see that there was no other Chinese among the audience, so nobody could tell if I made a mistake. There were approximately 50 people in the Coffeehouse, with 10 or so standing in the back. I was totally surprised by the full attention from them as I recited the poems in Chinese—their eyes gazed into mine, and the room was so quiet that I could hear a pin drop. I stumbled once and had to take a look at the printout of a poem, and later, read the eight stanza classic poem by Yu Xuanji, a Tang Dynasty poet. Steve followed me with the English version.  

We sat back and enjoyed the rest of the recital in the evening. Sylvia Shirley Malinton, Linda Kelsey, and Angela Narciso Torres, together with Vince Nguyen, did their bilingual reading in English and Javanese, Arabic, and Tagalog respectively. I had never heard poems in languages I didn’t know before and was surprised by the joy of focusing purely on the sound, the musical ring of the words and their rhythms in their original form. What an eye-opening and delightful experience!

I thanked Steve, Ralph Hamilton and Moira Sullivan of Rhino for the wonderful evening. And yes, I readily agreed with Steve that I would love to do it again.     

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

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“Lost in Translation”

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

By Jian Ping

I recently helped my friend Martha of Living Earth Television to translate a documentary film from Chinese into English. I used to do film subtitle translation when I was working in Beijing in the mid 1980s. At that time, I also translated some short stories from English into Chinese. It was a pleasure to go back to my old profession and chew on each word, both in Chinese and English, again.


The film we worked on is about children, therefore, the language was quite straightforward. However, there were times we had to utilize our interpretation and select language that made better sense in English—we were faced with the challenge that every translator has to deal with. That is to stay true to the original text via a process of recreation.

Incidentally, at the Asian Classics classes I am taking at the University of Chicago, we have been reading translations of some best known Chinese classics: the Grand History by Si Ma Qian, Analects by Confucius, and Tao De Jing by Lao Zi, to name a few. I have to admit that for me, reading the English translation in today’s

 language is much easier than reading the original in classic Chinese! Only occasionally, I check the Chinese original.

Two weeks ago, we started reading Shi Jing (诗经), translated as the Book of Songs, or the Classic of Poetry or the Odes. Unfortunately, none of the title translation transcends the “essence” of the word Jing. Since Shi Jing is a collection of classic folk songs and poems, I decide to read the Chinese and English side by side, sometimes check more than one translation. I am shocked by the drastic differences in each version.

For instance, in Airs of Chen, there is a poem titled 泽坡. Its first stanza in Chinese is as follows:

澤陂: 彼澤之陂、有蒲與荷。

James Legge translated it as: 

Ze Po: By the shores of that marsh, there are rushes and lotus plants. There is the beautiful lady; I am tortured for her, but what avails it? Waking or sleeping, I do nothing; From my eyes and nose the water streams. 

Arthur Waley’s translation:               


Swamp’s Shore:          

By that swamp’s shore, grow reeds and lotus.  There is a man so fair—Oh, how can I cure my wound?  Day and night I can do nothing;   As a flood my tears flow.

It is acceptable that translators select different words to convey the meaning in the original and try to have a poetic ring in English. But to take the gender of “ 美人”differently? That is hard to take. The word “beauty” in Chinese usually refers to women. I wonder if it is because later in the poem, the description of the “beauty” includes words like “majestic,” and “big” that Waley decided it must be a man.

This is just one example. Numerous different interpretations in the translation sometimes make it even hard to trace the elements and meaning embedded in the original. Of course, part of the beauty of reading poetry is that a reader can decipher it whatever way he/she find resonating. But when it comes to translation, the responsibility and liberty a translator takes would not only stand for one person, but would impact all the readers, especially those who cannot read the original in a foreign language. I, as a translator, support the approach of staying true to the original text versus free interpretation. I wonder what other translators or readers prefer and appreciate.  

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

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Arbitrary Rules

Monday, October 26th, 2009
Chinese children salute cars

Chinese children salute cars

In today’s New York Times, there is article “Salute All Cars, Kids. It’s a Rule in China.”

At a glance, it appears funny: a group of kids saluting to a passing car, with their hands raised and smiles on their faces. The “rule” is created for the safety of the kids by their school—an attempt to catch drivers’ attention to the kids who walk on the winding mountain roads without sidewalks. One adult expressed concern when two vehicles from opposite directions came at the same time, the implementation of rule might generate more danger for the kids as they turned their attention to one side.

The point of the article is not so much about the effectiveness of the measure, or the right way of setting up road bumpers or school signs on the roads. It is more about the arbitrary rules that administrators at various levels took the authority to set up and enforce. The examples listed in the article are all ridiculous rules that had been implemented at different locations and circumstances.

It’s an exaggeration to claim “Salute All Cars” as “a Rule in China.” However, I believe that there are many arbitrary rules that are set up at will at various levels. As China moves forward with its economic reforms and emerges, with each passing day, as a world political and economic power, the society needs to change. Such arbitrary “rules” are a reflection of the traditional “people” ruling, “人治,” versus “law” ruling, “法制.” It’s high time to stop “autocrats” from making rules.   

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

A Child without Aspiration

Friday, September 4th, 2009

Asian children, especially Chinese, are known in the U.S. as academic high achievers. They come from cultures that value education and consider college degree a ticket to advance in life.

A recent encounter I had with a young man, Ning, the nephew of Mei, a close friend of mine, took me by surprise. Ning grew up in China. Last year, his parents sent him to the U.S. to pursue his college degree. Ning, the only child, showed no interest in study. Reportedly, he had failed every grade school he attended. Each time he reached a dead end, his parents would mobilize their network of connections and transfer him to another school. Knowing he could not get into a reputable college in China, Ning’s mother entrusted him to the hands of Mei.

Ning failed all three courses in his first year at a university.

“Life in the U.S. is too hard,” he lamented and begged to be allowed to go back to China.

His mother insisted that he stay and get a bachelor degree.    

Ning resisted passively. He wouldn’t register for his classes if my friend, his aunt, didn’t take him to do so. He couldn’t take care of himself either—he didn’t feel comfortable to go out to eat on his own and was upset that his aunt set him up in a school dorm instead of letting him stay in her home and taking care of his daily needs, including transportation. Out of compassion and family duty, Mei checked on him frequently. More often than not, she would find him sleeping in his dorm in the middle of the day, skipping his classes.  

“I don’t care if I sweep floors as a janitor in China,” Ning would say.

Ning’s mother, who had never been abroad, would not hear any of that. She begged Mei to help out her only son. Mei coached Ning, hired tutors for him, and even offered to accompany him to study in the library together, all to no avail.

“I’m at my wit’s end,” she said.

I stopped by Ning’s dorm once with my friend. He turned away before I could say hi when Mei introduced me.

“My room is a mess,” he mumbled.

I watched the unmade bed, the littered floor with socks, pants, t-shirts, instant noodles and water bottles. He blocked the sun by lowering the window blinds, and the small dorm was semi-dark and suffocating. I observed him from the doorway. To my surprise, he was tall and handsome. If I could ignore the brief one or two word syllables he uttered in responses to Mei’s questions, I would say he appeared very smart.

The deadline for class registration for the fall had come and gone, but he didn’t do a thing.

My friend gave a deep sigh when we reached her car.

“I’ll call his mother and ask her to send him to the military for some good training,” she said.

“Is this an example of the little “emperor and empress” generation?” “What can parents do if their child has no aspiration for life?” I wondered. “And how much is Ning’s problem resulted from his parents’ over protection and indulgency?” Seeing Mei’s anguish, I didn’t utter a word.

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

Evolution of Language

Friday, June 12th, 2009
Image by Getty Images via Daylife

 During a recent trip to China, I picked up a few new phases that were created with new phenomenon of life in today’s China. I was talking about the westernized commercials and pursuit of luxurious life style in China with my sister Wen when she used the term 月光族”, pronounced “yue guang zu.” “Yue” could mean month or moon in Chinese, and “Guang” could mean depleted or bright, pending on the context, and “zu,” race or group. Seeing the puzzled look on my face, Wen laughed and said: “The phrase refers to those young people who spend their salary completely each month.” “That would be living from paycheck to paycheck in English,” I said. I liked the Chinese pun and humor much better.  

 Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of meeting with two reporters from Jiefang Daily, a large newspaper in Shanghai, China. Over dinner, we talked about the wired culture and internet lounge in China and they used the term “宅男宅女,literally translated: house men and women. I had to ask them to explain.

 “That refers to those who are addicted to internet. They glue themselves to the computer screen, order food and interact with others via internet. They don’t leave their house or apartment.”

 I saw such people at an “internet lunge” when I was last in China. I went in to send some emails with attachments that I cannot handle with my BlackBerry. It was cheap—2 yuan for an hour, about 30 cents. Most of the people there were young and were playing video games. They smoked and ate at their station, and I was told, they could pay a minimum fee and sleep overnight at the lounge as well. They had their headphones on and appeared oblivious to their surroundings. I was chocked by the smoke from their cigarettes after half an hour and had to flee as soon as I sent off my files.

 It is definitely intriguing to see the evolution of language with the change of culture and way of living. Now that I’ve started to contribute articles to newspapers and magazines in China, I begin reading more in Chinese so as to be abreast with the changes of language!

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


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