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Q & A at Harper College

Thursday, April 25th, 2013
Lisa and I with Judy, Richard and Sveta after the screening at Harper College

Lisa and I with Judy, Richard and Sveta after the screening at Harper College

It took Lisa and me more than two hours getting from downtown Chicago to Harper College in Palatine, a northwestern suburb about 30 miles away last Wednesday to attend the screening and Q & A of Mulberry Child. The constant rain turned the traffic bumper to bumper. We missed the opening of the show, but made it there in time to do the Q & A.

I was impressed that so many people showed up in this terrible weather (we’d learn later how many areas were flooded) and more impressed that the Q & A lasted an hour and a few in the audience continued the discussion at the book signing table, and the staff and faculty members at Harper College, including Dr. Richard Johnson and Judy Kulchawik, stayed with us and joined the conversations all the way to the end. The event was scheduled from 6 to 9 pm. By the time we left the campus building, it was well after 10 pm.

The audience was a mix of students and members from the nearby community. A few Chinese in the audience asked questions relating to advice on how to raise the next generation in the U.S. and pass on to them the Chinese heritage. One Chinese mother shared similar experience to that of ours, revealing an interesting situation in which her son has all Asian friends, but her daughter, all Americans. Puzzled, she asked Lisa if she has ever had Asian boyfriends, explaining she didn’t mean to probe into her personal life, but she was curious to know. I laughed, telling the audience this is why I love to do Q & A with Lisa, for I could imagine Lisa would roll her eyes if I ever dared to bring up such a question. These Q & A sessions have provided us a true venue to hear each other while we address questions from the audience.

Lisa and I doing Q & A

Lisa and I doing Q & A

Typical of Lisa, a professional in public relations, she answered the question diplomatically yet straightforward. The audience laughed and let her off the hook.

One young man from Greece shared his experience and asked Lisa if there was any negative side for being between cultures.

A middle-aged American couple who had just finished reading my book commented how the film brought everything live for them and asked about the filmmaking process.

A woman in her 30s, a student at Harper and has lived in many parts of the world with her parents during her growing up years, raved about the film and offered to introduce it to high schools in the area, stating how informative and educational the film will be to students.

As always, Lisa and I were genuinely touched. We didn’t get home until close to midnight, and Jiayu, a graduate student at IIT who gave us the ride to and back from Harper College, bravely battled the rain and traffic, and managed to get us all home safely (not without some dangerous maneuvering), including giving a ride home for two city residents who missed their last train.

Our sincere thanks to the Humanities Center at Harper College for hosting the event and the audience for their interest, support, and connection.

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

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Reading the Great Gatsby

Monday, April 1st, 2013


Our reading group’s selection for last month was Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, paired with Anita LoosGentlemen Prefer Blondes. Part of the reason for the selection was that a new film of The Great Gatsby is scheduled to come out this summer and we want to have a group outing.

I’ve read the book years before, but don’t remember much of the details except the lonely figure of Gatsby standing in the back of his mansion looking out to the green light across the water. Reading it again, I was able to notice and appreciate a lot more, including the opportunities and optimism after the WWI, the prohibition, and the conflicts between “old money” and the “newly rich”.

gentlemen prefer blondesAnita Loos’ book has nothing to do Fitzgerald’s content or perspective, but it was written in the ’20s, the same time period. I found it incredible that the stories were written by a woman – they were not only mocking men, but women as well. Both books were popular and developed into films. Loos’ book was written with tremendous humor, which probably played a key role in its success. Still I found it hard to believe Loos, a very successful screenwriter of the time, wrote something of this nature. Yet the other three women in my group, all strong characters, appeared to take in the book with good humor. The era in which it was written probably saved it.

Interestingly, The Great Gatsby reminded me somehow of China’s situation today in which the newly rich is grabbing money in unprecedented speed, and at the same time, the country is going through crisis of morality, widening disparity between the haves and have nots, and a sense of spiritual emptiness under the economic prosperity.

I look forward to watching the new interpretation and presentation of the Great Gatsby film with by group.

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


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In the Shadow, directed by David Ondricek

Tuesday, January 8th, 2013

shadow 1

One of the best films I saw at the Palm Springs Int’l Film Festival is In the Shadow, a production listed under Czech Republic, Ploland, Slovakia and Israel. It’s a story of a capable and honest cop investigating a jewelry heist in the dark days of Cold War. It was in an era when the Soviets was controlling Czechoslovakia. As the State Security took over the case, a group of Jews were framed to be the criminals, and nothing was what it appeared to be and no one could be trusted. It was a film noir, with superb performance and a very well constructed narrative.

shadow 2Director David Ondricek appeared at the screening for Q & A. He stated he was the last generation who lived through the socialist era under the control of the Soviets, though the story was set in a period before he was born. He webbed three stories his father related to him in the film. Together with a young and talented screenwriter, they worked on various versions, and in the end, came out with 17 screen scripts. Being a writer, I’m always interested in learning about other people’s creative process, and I was touched by their dedication.

One woman in the audience expressed regret for the ending of the film in which the good cop was tortured and murdered. “You just killed your franchise,” she said.

Ondricek answered with a smile. “That’s the difference between Americans and us,” he said. “We are not pragmatic.”

Dark as it is, I must say the realistic ending is very powerful. Besides, the last scene in which the good cop’s little boy picks up a plank to defend a helpless small boy when he was bullied by three bigger kids does leave hope that the battle against injustice will continue, no matter what the sacrifice.

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

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September 6th

Friday, September 7th, 2012

Four years ago on September 6, I was on a plane rushing from Chicago to Beijing, via a transfer in Toronto, the only route I could get a seat within hours of learning the news that my father had passed away.  I was very shocked despite having seen him in Changchun, capital of Jilin Province where he lived less than two weeks before ago when I visited him and my mother and knew he was very weak.  The impact of losing him hit me so hard that I couldn’t stop the tears and couldn’t breathe without feeling the physical pain in my chest.

Four years later on the same day I was on a plane again, this time from Chicago to New York City. I was on my way to attend the premiere of Mulberry Child, the feature-length documentary based my book, at the Quad Cinema. It was a coincidence that the week-long screenings in NYC would start in early September. Personally I dedicated the occasion as a tribute to my father.

Four years have gone since his passing, but he is alive in my heart and his influence on me still goes on just as if he were still with me. I have and will always remember him as a man of integrity, a dedicated public servant, and a loving father. His passion toward life, his optimism facing all kinds of adversity, and his strength, both mentally and physically, will stay with me and inspire me forever. I cherish the memory when, as a child, I used his arm as a swing; and in his 80s, I still couldn’t beat him in arm wrestling. And I’m grateful to this day that his firm no against my joining the army before finishing high school changed the path of my life.

My father passed away on September 6, 2008 after battling with lung cancer for three years. He remained a fighter to the last day of his life. Upon learning the news of his diagnosis in 2005, he was silent for a week and then decided his way of living the last phase of his life: no operation, no chemo therapy, and no hospitalization. He wanted to control the quality of his remaining days without drugs, and he wanted to live with dignity, and with his mind as clear as he had always been. And he did, enduring a lot of pain without any complaint.

He expressed two last wishes during that time: live to see the Beijing Olympic Games and the Shanghai Expo. He was able to fulfill the first.

Many readers of Mulberry Child expressed admiration for him. I was touched and pleased. He would have liked hearing those comments. I took comfort in the fact that I was able to present a hardcover copy of my book to him in August 2008 when I visited him, and in September when I went back to attend his funeral, I saw my book on a prominent position on his desk. Longing to have the book accompanying him, I placed that copy under his pillow when he was wheeled away for cremation.

He would be pleased to know that the film Mulberry Child had been produced, well received at film festivals, with three awards under its name so far, and resonated with many viewers at theatres. I’m looking forward to the premiere in NYC, a place I had once lived for five years and my father had visited before.

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

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Another successful run in Chicago

Sunday, April 8th, 2012

Sold Out Screening at the Gene Siskel Film Center

Mulberry Child finished its second run at the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago last Thursday, with 11 screenings over a period of one week. Most of the shows were sold out, and each of the Q & A sessions lasted 45 minutes or more. I was and still am very touched and honored.

I was pleased to see some friends and friends’ friends come to the screenings; and more Asians, including many Chinese, in the audience this time. I was thrilled, like I was at the first round of screenings, that the audiences connected with the themes of Mulberry Child from various levels regardless of their backgrounds. When I saw several friends/viewers who had watched the film in January came back again, this time with their friends and family members, I was moved beyond words. Many members of

Jian Ping talking with audience after screening

book clubs, Women of the World, and the Asian Group of IWA that I had met and given talks to before also came to the screenings, some coming as far as Crystal Lake, more than 50 miles away!

Meanwhile, Nina Metz’ at the Chicago Tribune released a coverage on Mulberry Child the day the film opened its screening. The half-page write up was accompanied with a large photo of my daughter, Lisa, and me and gave a very good idea of what the film is about.

Many heartfelt thanks to you all for your interest and support!

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been developed into a feature-length documentary film by Susan Morgan Cooper and is narrated by Jacqueline Bisset. The film just finished its second run for a week at the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago.

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Mulberry Child Returns to Chicago

Saturday, February 18th, 2012

After three sold-out screenings in the “Stranger than Fiction” documentary series in January, Mulberry Child returns to Chicago with 11 screenings from March 30 to April 5 at the Gene Siskel Film Center, in partnership with the Chicago Public Library’s One Book One Chicago spring program.

My heartfelt thanks to you all for your support! The responses I’ve received are overwhelmingly touching. I’m thrilled and humbled.

Please help us spread the word of the upcoming screenings if you have seen the film. For those who couldn’t make it in January, hope you can join us this time. Once again, we strongly recommend obtaining your ticket(s) in advance.

My daughter Lisa and I will do Q & A after the last screening each day except Wednesday, April 4.

“a powerful and touching film,” stated Roger Ebert who gave the film 3 ½ stars.

Read full review.

I had a discussion about the film with Phil Ponce on Chicago Tonight Show, WTTW.

Watch the interview.


Directed by Susan Morgan Cooper, USA, 85 min. Narrated by Jacqueline Bisset

This many-layered documentary saga begins in Chicago with a disconnect between Chinese-born Jian Ping and her thoroughly American daughter Lisa Xia, and journeys into the heart of China for a personal history of one family’s trauma and eventual triumph over Mao’s Cultural Revolution. Through colorful reenactments, historical records, and moving interviews, director Morgan Cooper (AN UNLIKELY WEAPON) follows the trail of Mulberry Child, Jian’s powerful memoir of growing up amid the hardship and injustice of the Cultural Revolution, and traces daughter Lisa’s gradual understanding of family love. Presented in partnership with the Chicago Public Library’s One Book, One Chicago program, which features Gold Boy, Emerald Girl by Yiyun Li this spring.

Screening schedule: (Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State, Chicago, tickets are now available at the box office or the Ticketmaster)

Fri, Mar 30th at 8:15pm

Sat, Mar 31st at 3:15pm; 5:00pm; and 7:45pm

Sun, Apr 1st at 3:15pm; and 5:00pm

Mon, Apr 2nd at 6:15pm and 8:00pm

Tue, Apr 3rd at 8:00pm

Wed, Apr 4th at 6:15pm

Thu, Apr 5th at 8:15pm

Hope you can join us at one of the screenings if you are in the vicinity. Thanks.

Jian Ping, autor of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China

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Mulberry Child Movie

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

Mulberry Child, the feature-length documentary based on my book Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, is finally coming to its completion! Last week, Jacqueline Bisset did the voice narration for the film and this week, the filmmakers are working on the final sound mix and color treatment. I can hardly wait to see the final cut!

I’m delighted to learn about the involvement of Jacqueline Bisset. Not only because she is a well-known actress and will bring more appeal to the film, but also the fact that she replaced much of the narration which was given by me. I must say that I’m much relieved, although my producer and director have been most supportive and encouraging about my voice and accent.

I very much enjoyed the film making process and loved working with the crew, especially Susan Morgan Cooper, my director. However, I also realized my limitations. One of the most humbling experiences was my struggle with the pronunciation of certain words.


Susan interviewing Jian Ping

I still remember vividly a roomful of people helping me say “a long gown,” which somehow, became something like “long gone” when I said it. In the end, we had to change the word to “long robe”. We laughed about it so hard that Susan and I were literally in tears.

I did learn to speak slower and clearer, which is of tremendous importance to me, for I’ve given and continue to give frequent talks about my book, China in the 60’s/7-‘s and today, and other social and cultural issues related to China at schools, organizations and book groups. I even gave a few motivational speeches to large groups, sharing the resilience demonstrated by my family–the mulberry children who survived and thrived like mulberry trees–to encourage people to overcome the hurdles in their lives. And I’ve learned just as much from many people in the audience by our interactions and conversations.

As for the film, there are many personally important and moving moments for me: re-enacted scenes on my grandmother, Nainai, a woman with bound feet but boundless love, my father, Hou Kai, who passed away right after the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, and my mother, Gu Wenxiu, who was stoic and strict when I was a child and a wonderful and loving mother and grandmother today at 83.

After the hard work of a year and a half, a feature-length (86 minutes) documentary has been produced by a strong, professional team. The result of collective efforts, with the vision of a creative director. I feel very fortunate to have their belief, support, and dedication!

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China., Mulberry Child has been developed into a feature-length documentary film and will be released in 2011.

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Asian Trip (6)

Monday, November 15th, 2010

By Jian Ping

Enjoy a hearty meal with Tao, Yan and Mom

We arrived at Changchun about 7 P.M. My sister Yan and her son Tao were waiting for us at the train station. Tao had bought a Volkswagen earlier in the year and had been providing generous transport services to our extended families in Changchun. This evening, he was the designated driver again.

A table of food was waiting for us when we opened the door to Mother’s apartment. I was so happy to see Mother as energetic and high spirited as I left her in May. She, however, frowned at me as she saw me limping.

“You should have waited to come back until your knee is healed,” she said.

“Don’t worry, Mom,” I said. “We have a family doctor.”

It turned out Mother was right. The infection on my knee got worse. Still, I didn’t take it seriously. Limping around, I went to the “Blind Men’s Massage Parlor” the next day and bought a 20-visit massage pass. A full body massage cost 40 Yuan, about US$6, and I couldn’t pass up the treat. In fact, when I fell badly off my bike in Chicago, I was on my way to a gym for a massage. I was in a hurry and fell at a high speed two blocks from my destination. Now, as always

Yan is getting ready for a massage

when in Changchun, I urged my sisters to go with me for massage. My sister Ping and her husband Zhicheng also came from Shenyang. We went to the parlor together and chatted away while enjoying the treat.  In a neighborhood massage place like the one we went to that was run by four blind men, each room had three or four beds and the masseurs worked on their fully-clothed clients, using a small towel over the areas they worked on. They were thorough and strong. Despite the simple setting and condition, the deep tissue massage was quite good!

On the 3rd day I was home, Wen became more concerned about my infected knee and took me to the hospital she worked at. I didn’t argue—I was in pain and would travel again soon. The doctor put me on an antibiotic IV injection right away. For the next six days, I received two IV injections every day. Wen played doctor and nurse at the same time.

“You know you are not young anymore,” Wen said, struggling to put the thin needle into a blood vessel on the back of my left hand. “I don’t think you should ride your bike anymore.”

A sweet moment with Wen, Yan and Mom

“I promise I’ll be more careful,” I said. I meant it. But I didn’t tell her that over the summer, I rode my bike on the trail along Lake Michigan in Chicago for nearly 20 miles four or five times a week. I loved it and would definitely continue to do so.

Because of my knee, I spent most of the time with Mother at home. I had a great time chatting, playing mahjong, or watching television with her and my sisters. Over the last two decades, I had visited them two or three times each year, but seldom stayed for more than 3 days each time. This time, I stayed for 10 days, a record.  

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

Mulberry Child is being developed into a feature-length documentray film by award-winning director Susan Morgan Cooper and will be released in 2011.

Asian Trip (5)

Thursday, November 11th, 2010

By Jian Ping

It was a relief to get back safely to Beijing. The first thing I did after checking into my hotel was to take a long, hot shower. For three days, I only sprinkled cold well water on my face for a wash. The running water felt incredibly good.

Beijing Train Station--Waiting Room

The next day, I met my sister Wen and my brother-in-law Mingfu at the train station. The old Beijing Train Station located in the center of town appeared to be from an earlier era, so different from the sparkling new South Beijing Station. Travel by train is still the main means of transportation in China and the station was packed. After elbowing my way through security checks, I was swept forward in a stream of humanity into the No. 2 Waiting Room. 30 feet into the large hall, I found myself grounded on a spot the middle of nowhere, with no space to move forward or backward. As I was wondering how on earth I could find Wen and Mingfu in this crowd, I saw Wen slowly make her way forward in the main “walkway,” searching left and right with each step. She must be looking for me! I raised my hand and waved frantically to her. Miraculously, she saw me and gave me her usual calm smile. It took her five minutes to cover the 10-feet between us.

“We came early and Mingfu is waiting in front,” Wen said, equally relieved to find me.

It was challenging enough for her to move through the crowd without any luggage. There was no way I could join them. She decided to meet in our train carriage.

Our train moving at a speed of 242 kilometers per hour!

“Watch out for your belongings,” Wen said. She always worried about my carrying the bag on my back. Pocket picking was common in public places.  

The rush to go through the ticketing gate was another drama. I used to warn my American colleagues that if there were three people in front of a ticket office in China, they’d elbow their way to the front instead of forming a line. With at least a thousand people, the scene was chaotic. I grabbed my carry-on and backpack and simply moved with the flow. By the time I found my carriage and eventually reached my seat, I was sweating as if I had just finished a five-mile run.

Wen took over my luggage and placed it on the overhead rack, a space that she had taken for me with her handbag. 

“Sorry,” she apologized as if it were her fault. “I know you would have flown to Changchun if it were not because of us.”

Wen and me on the train

That was true. After a six-hour bumpy ride on a bus the day before, I was not looking forward to another six-hour train ride.

“I’d rather be with you,” I said.

Wen gave me the window seat and took out all kinds of snacks for me to munch on. I leaned against her shoulder and gave her hug. I already felt close to home.

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

Mulberry Child is being developed into a feature-length documentary film by director Susan Morgan Cooper and will be released in 2011.

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Memoirs, Documentaries, Docudramas and Feature Films.

Thursday, January 15th, 2009
Scene of Viet Cong in Saigon, Republic of Vietnam
Image via Wikipedia

I’ve been attending the Palm Springs International Film Festival all this week.  This is now the largest Film Festival in the United States. This year, they are showing 208 films from 74 countries, attended by over 125,000 people.

Now in its 20th year, the Palm Springs International Film Festival has proven itself to be the source of many an Oscar-winning Best Foreign Film, discovery of new talent – both acting and directing – and of course an insight to numerous cultures through the medium of film.

The Festival always includes some high-quality documentaries. These days, we see on the screen not only documentaries, but dramatization into feature films of what previously may have only qualified for a documentary.  This year’s possible Oscar nominee – FROST/NIXON – is an example.

Yesterday, I saw a wonderful documentary – AN UNLIKELY WEAPON ( – beautifully directed by Susan Morgan Cooper about the professional career of the American photo journalist, Eddie Adams.  It was his 1968 photograph of a Viet Cong prisoner being shot in the head that profoundly influenced public opinion and changed the course of the Vietnam War.

Adams won a Pulitzer Prize for the photograph, but he expressed regret about this image throughout his life.  He felt it was unfair to the shooter in the photograph, Saigon Police Chief, General Nguyen Ngoc Loan, who was demonized for this event, even after immigrating to the United States.  It transpired that the victim had shot and killed the General’s assistant and his family a few minutes before having his own life terminated.

It is often said that a “picture is worth more than 1000 words.”  In this case, a picture was able to rouse the American public into finally demanding an end to the Vietnam hostilities.  Later, Eddie Adams photographed the over-crowded boats of Vietnamese refugees as they were turned away by other southeastern Asian countries.  His images eventually resulted in the United States granting amnesty and immigration status to 250,000 Vietnamese.

During Eddie Adams long career, he covered thirteen wars and then moved into celebrity photography, producing beautiful lasting images of six American Presidents and most of the major celebrities over the past fifty years.

Hopefully, this wonderful documentary will receive the wide distribution it deserves. It could have followed other examples and been made into a docudrama or feature film, but would have undoubtedly lost the impact, understanding, and reality of Eddie Adam’s personality.  He was a perfectionist who was never really happy with his work and suffered by his own admission from wide mood swings.

As a photo journalist in the Vietnam War, he was in the thick of the fighting, on helicopters, rescuing the wounded, and crawling through the undergrowth, all part of his striving for the perfect image.

As a former Marine, he was tough and gruff, but devoted to his profession and his photo journalist peers.  Perhaps, his mood swings might today be described as post-traumatic stress syndrome from his experiences in Vietnam, which he was unable to shake off for the rest of this life.

Ellis M. Goodman, author of Bear Any Burden:

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