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.


     Even as a young student, Harold had style and sophistication.  After weathering several failures in business and love, he achieved in only the three years from 2004 to 2007,  all the five “zi’s” in Chinese – wife, son, house, car, wealth.  He was the perfectly contented self-made man.  Everything in his life was going well.  His wife and son were his delights.  His business was booming, and he was wealthy.

     2008 has been a harder year because the weak American economy has affected China, and his wayward brother brought trouble and worry to the family.

     Harold is still a careful thinker before taking action, but he took his own advice to himself some years ago that only being a thinker wasn’t as practical and successful as being a doer.

     He understands the Chinese system well, knowing how to use it to his advantage.  He doesn’t think China will ever excise guanxi (connections) and bribery from its mentality, but he believes the abuses will lessen with time and more widespread economic success.  He dashed my trust in CCTV 9’s programming (the English channel in China) by explaining that the places and people “featured” had actually paid their way on the air.

     “Confidence, honesty, and wisdom” are the self-proclaimed keys to his success.  But he hopes he will have the ability to flow with changes and the wisdom to know how to stop when he’s made enough money.  He realizes life is not all about money.   He’s generous and even offered to pay a translator to translate my book, Memoirs of a Middle-aged Hummingbird, into Chinese solely because the book matters to me.

     He has come far from the pensive boy he was at the tourism school where he pushed himself to learn more English so he could talk philosophy with me.  He told me his father had been too harsh in raising him, but said he learned self-discipline because of it.  From his first government-assigned job after graduation, he knew he wanted to be his own boss.  Each year I returned to China, he had a new office and a new business until he found a business that clicked and began to be profitable – and then extremely profitable.  He has steadily progressed from the young man who took out a mortgage several years ago to buy an apartment after an earlier girlfriend had dropped him saying, “You have nothing.”

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