My first teaching job in China was in 1988.  Over the years and with continued visits to China, my contact with my students and their families deepened into lasting friendships.  During my last visit in May of 2007 and updating for 2008, I have written a personal portrait of several of them covering the tumultuous years of change in China during which their lives took divergent paths.  Looking at these particular Chinese students gives a broader picture of the choices and decisions made by the Chinese students of the 1980’s, who barely allowed themselves to dream of a fate different from their parents, and then surpassed their dreams with varying degrees of happiness and self-fulfillment.  The names are fictitious; the people are real.


     Lawrence was a very intelligent, intense young student when I was his teacher back in early 1989.  He stood out in his efforts to speak to me whenever he could.  His life had been a hard one from what I could gather.  He had estranged himself from his parents and had a strong desire to make his own way.  There would be no connections to soften his way.

     Although he took quickly to learning English, he had no desire to work in what the government had decreed for him — to be an English teacher.  Teachers, although respected by Chinese culture, held jobs that were very poorly paid.  Therefore, after graduation, he decided to pursue a higher degree in English translation.  His years as a graduate student in a northern province were memorable for the poverty and bitter cold he endured.  But his English improved greatly.

     Back home in Hangzhou, he took another direction into banking because he thought that would offer him economic opportunities.  Banking turned out to be only a temporary stepping stone to what became his main goal — becoming a businessman in international trade.  He switched jobs into the world of textiles, and sold sweaters.  He was good at it and liked it.  His wife and young son added a family to his life and he re-established ties with his mother and father.

     Life was good, but he was on his way to being his own boss.  Around 2003, he took the leap with some of his clients into his own export sweater business.  His business consumed him, and he divorced as he dedicated all his time and energy into building up his own sweater business.

     In 2007, he picked me up in his new Mazda and once again took me to an unusual restaurant in Hangzhou.  It had become a tradition over the years to bring me to ever newer, more modern, more exotic restaurants.  His sweater business is firmly established now.  He owes his business success to his personality of greeting challenges and solving problems as they come up.  He definitely represents the emerging innovative businessman in China who is thriving on his ingenuity and the open market.

     His thoughts are turning to starting another family now that the pressure of building his business is easing.  He has turned to a matchmaking agency to find a suitable match in his middle age.  He remains intelligent and ambitious, but is less intense and much happier than when I met him in his college years.


  1. What a wonderful site. Written beautifully and inspiring enough to make me feel like I have been to China with Suellen.
    Great Job .Good Blog. However does she do it?
    Jan Marshall

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