Archive for the ‘interview’ Category

M and Mx Interview with the China Daily Cartoonist: LuoJie

Sunday, February 28th, 2010

luojie06We sat down with LuoJie over e-mail a while back and talked about what some people might not understand:  Chinese Political Cartoons.  LuoJie recently started selling his comics on Daryl Cagle’s Professional Cartoonists Index.  Of course living in China and reading China Daily I had already heard of LuoJie (English name: William) a long time ago.  I was pleased to see that he was getting more and more press around the world.  His clean art and humorous style makes him on par with any Western political cartoonist today.

We asked him 11 questions:

1.  Where are you from in China?  请问您是哪里人?

我是南京人。 I’m from NanJing.

2.  How did you get this job at China Daily?   您是怎么找到中国日报这份工作的?  

当时任中国日报社的美术部主任的张耀宁先生在网上看到我的漫画后,认为我非常适合政治漫画创作,所以经他撮合,我加入了中国日报,专职画政治漫画。
The former director of Art Department of China Daily, Mr. Zhang Yao Ning read some of my comics online and he thought that I would be a perfect fit to start drawing political cartoons for the paper. That is how I came to the China Daily and I became a professional political cartoonist!

3.  Do you do other cartoons or only political cartoons?  Why Political cartoons? 您除了画政治漫画之外,还画其他主题的漫画吗?为什么选择政治漫画?

除了画政治漫画以外,我偶而也给出版物画一些插图,我有一个四格连环漫画系列,叫“一只愤世嫉俗的鸡”,在我的博客里有:blog.sina.com.cn/luowill。算是不属于政治漫画,不过由于职业习惯,我的四格多少会跟时事挂上点勾。
为什么选择政治漫画,是因为天生很喜欢老外画的政治漫画:智慧、幽默、夸张
讽刺,让我有一种模仿的冲动,我总是期望我能画出跟美国政治漫画家们一样水平的漫画。
Besides political cartoons, I also draw some illustrations for some publications. I have a comic (4 frame cartoon series*) on my blog : bog.sina.com.cn/luowill, named “Cynical Chicken”. I guess I wouldn’t say that “Cynical Chicken” could be considered a political cartoon, but since I enjoy politics then my 4 frame cartoon series actually is connected to some of the current issues of the day.
Why did I choose political cartooning?  I guess the reason I chose political cartooning is because I really enjoy foreigners’ political cartoons.  They seem full of wisdom, really very humorous, often exaggerated, and ironic. When I saw those kind of cartoons I just wanted to learn from them and imitate them and I hope that one day I will be able to draw as good as those American political cartoonists!

*4 frame cartoon series- this is the literal translation.  Mx told me that usually in China, comics come in a series of 4 frames, either in a row or 4 frames creating a square.  I asked, “All comics in China are 4 frames?”  She said, “Not all but nowadays the 4 frame comic series is pretty popular.”  I then used my American “buck the system” attitude, “What if there just three frames?”  She then went on to tell me about how in China balance and harmony are important and 4 frames, 2 on top and 2 on the bottom, are balanced well and work well.

4.  You said that your boss saw your work online, how?  When was that?  What did you use (website, personal blog) so that he could see your work?  Do you still use a personal blog? 你说你的老板在网上看到你的卡通,那是什么时候? 你是不是用个人网站或者博客的方式来让大家看到您的作品?您现在还用个人博客吗?


那大概是2002年时候。那个时候个人网站不太多,博客好像还没出现,我是把我的作品放在了一个漫画网站上的(我朋友开的)。
我的博客有两个,一个是新浪的:blog.sina.com.cn/luowill。一个是腾迅的:http://user.qzone.qq.com/404991
My boss saw my work back in 2002 and at that time there were very few people using personal websites in China.  Come to think of it, I don’t think there were even blogs back then!  I put my work on one website which was started by a friend of mine. Now I operate 2 blogs, one is a SINA blog blog.sina.com.cn/luowill and the other is QQ http://user.qzone.qq.com/404991

5.  Who are your  major western influences?  2 major Chinese influences?  哪位西方人对你的影响最大? 哪位中国人对你的影响最大?

影响最大具体到某人是很难说的,只能说是文化影响了,中国现代的年青人一般都受到美式文化与中国传统文化的双重影响。
说影响不如说喜好吧,比如政治家来说,像美国,奥巴马就是我很喜欢的,在中国,周恩来总理是我所喜欢的。
就漫画家来说,对我影响最大的就是以下几位:Macnelly,Jeff Parker,Steve Breen,Steve Sack,Michael Ramirez
Oh, wow, it’s pretty hard to give you a specific person who has influenced me but I can tell you which culture influenced me most.  For most young Chinese I think American culture and Chinese traditional culture are two major influences.  In terms of influence though, I can also say which politician I like most.  Like in America I like Obama and in China I’ve always liked Premier Zhou Enlai.  For political cartoonists, I guess the ones who have had the most influence on me is as follows: Macnelly, Jeff Parker, Steve Breen, Steve Sack and Michael Ramirez to name a few.

6.  What is your opinion of cartooning in China?  Past and present and future.  (is it a good business, is it just a hobby, is there a future?)
你对中国卡通的看法是什么呢? 过时了, 现代, 未来的。有没有很好的市场呢? 或者仅仅是个人的爱好?漫画在中前途吗?
在中国卡通分几种,1是传统漫画,包括讽刺漫画,市场有,但不规范,不注重版权,不景气,从业人员少,大都是业余美术爱好者,光靠画讽刺漫画能生活的人极少极少。
2是现代漫画,我们叫动漫,是给青少年看的,比如日韩类,美国动画大片类的,中国青少年很喜欢。中国政府好像在投资搞动漫产业,做国产漫画大片,进程不太清楚,希望能好。
我觉得整体来说市场是有的,不过要加强规范,加强版权保护,提高从业人员收入,有前途的。In China you can divide cartoons into a couple different catergories: First is the traditional cartoons.  These use satire and irony.  There is a market for these kind of cartoons but highly irregular and nobody takes the copyright seriously.  On top of that, those kind of cartoons are not so popular right now plus there are few people who do those kind of cartoons, just a few amateurs and people who do it as a hobby.  There are very few people who rely on only this kind of cartoon for a living in China.  The second kind of cartoons in China is what I call the “modern cartoon” or “animated cartoons”.  Kids all over China love these animated cartoons whether they are from Korea or Japan.  They also love the big animated movies from America too.  All Chinese kids just love those!  The Chinese government has recently invested a lot into our domestic animation industry here in China.  Soon we’ll see animated movies that are made in China!  At this point I’m not sure how the investment and development is going but we have high hopes for it!  I guess in end there is a market in China for cartoons and comics but there needs to be more effort in some of the rules, protection of copyrights, we’d also like to see the income of these cartoonists go up but all in all the prospects are looking good! 

7.  Do you encourage young people in China to work hard in their art and cartooning? 你是不是鼓励中国在艺术方面有天赋的年轻人向艺术方面发展?

当然鼓励。中国有才华的人很多,只是缺少平台展示。

Of course I encourage the young people in China!  We Chinese are a very artistically talented bunch!  The only thing that is lacking is the proper platform to be able to showcase our talents!

8.  Webcomics (comics only on the web, making money through printing books and other things) are pretty popular in the U.S.  Do you think that could be popular in China?
网上漫画(自己出书销售)在美国很流行,你觉得在中国怎么样,一样流行吗?
中国网上漫画一样很火,也有从网上火到出书赚钱的。
Yeah, in China Webcomics are also pretty popular and yes there are some who do Webcomics and then publish books and make money.
9.  Do Chinese people like comics?  你觉得中国人喜欢漫画吗?
中国人喜欢漫画,不过中国人不喜欢被讽刺,哈哈,中国人爱面子。说别人可以,说自己有点难度,哈哈。

Yes, Chinese people do like comics.  But, Chinese don’t like to be mocked.  HA HA Chinese people love “face”(Chinese people are proud of their reputation).  If you want to talk about other countries or other Chinese people that’s ok, but if you want to mock and make fun of yourself, Chinese don’t like that.  HA HA.

10.  Can you introduce to our readers some other modern cartoonists in China that you like? 你是否可以给我们的读者介绍你所喜欢的中国现代漫画家?

说实话,我对中国大际现代漫画家还真不太了解,我想 猫小乐应该算一个,我喜欢的还有 黑贝,像中国台湾的river,彭永成,朱德庸,蔡志忠都很喜欢
I have to tell you the truth, I’m not very familiar with many modern Chinese mainland cartoonists.  I mean, I guess one could be Mao XiaoLe.  I also enjoy HeiBei, similar to Taiwan’s “River”.  Peng YongCheng is another one.  Zhu DeYong is also one.  Cai ZhiZhong is a famous cartoonist from Taiwan who retells old Chinese classics.  All those I really enjoy.

11.  How do you get your ideas for your cartoons? 你画漫画的灵感是从哪里来的?

嗯……怎么说呢,可能我看的美国政治漫画比较多,看多了就自然而然地形成了一些固定的“创意库”,还有就是喜剧电影动画片什么的。

Oh… how can I say this… I always look at lots of American politcal cartoons.  After looking at a bunch of these comics then automatically in my head there forms this storehouse of creativity!  I also use comedies and animated movies for inspiration.

For more of LuoJie’s (William Luo) political cartoons please go to Daryl Cagle’s site or China Daily.

Interview with the Author of “Survival Chinese Lessons 生存汉语” @jkpittman

Saturday, July 16th, 2011

We’ve done a bunch of interviews here on MandMx.com (Slow Chinese, Chinese with Mike, China Daily Cartoonist, Learn Chinese Everyday) but I think this non Chinese person has the most experience living and working in China that I’ve ever seen.  I met Joanne Pittman years ago when I first began teaching English in China.  She taught all of us teachers a bit about China and the Chinese language and I’ll never forget some of her stories.  She urged us as we live in China to study the language because nothing is more fun than chatting up a taxi driver in Beijing about politics!  That became my goal in life.  So I was surprised when I saw that she put a book together from all her lessons to help those who are just starting Chinese.  Her classes those many years ago were memorable and I’m sure these lessons will give you a great foundation in Mandarin Chinese.

Don’t forget to check out her site here.  And follow her on Twitter which she is very active on!  Here’s a post where she mentions her book!

Now, to the interview:
MandMx: How long have you lived in China?

Joanne Pittman: That depends on how you count. I taught English in Zhengzhou, Henan from 1984 to 1986. Then, from 1990 to present, I have worked here most of the time, with a few periods of time out of the country for further education or family. So from start to present, it’s 27 years!

MandMx: Where did you learn Chinese?

Joanne Pittman: I studied Chinese full time for a year (90-91) at Northeast Normal University in Changchun, Jilin Province. After that I worked with a tutor ten hours per week for 4-5 years while directing a program for North Americans studying Chinese.

MandMx: Do you know Characters as well?

Joanne Pittman: My character reading is OK, but unfortunately my character writing is very 差 (lacking).

MandMx: Why did you write your book? What were your goals?

Joanne Pittman:I originally put the material together back in the 1990’s for a summer language program that I directed for English Language Institute/China (ELIC). It has since been used by ELIC’s incoming teachers. The response internally has been very positive, so last fall I decided to publish the material. I know that survival-type Chinese language books are a dime-a-dozen, but my ‘beef’ with them is that they often try to teach too much at the ‘super-beginning’ level.  The result is that learners often get discouraged and give up. My goal with this book was to produce something that would keep learners going by teaching small, bite-sized chunks in each chapter, with very simple explanations. And because I believe that listening is the foundation to second lounge learning, the book includes an audio (mp3) CD that includes the Pinyin Sound Chart, and vocabulary and dialogs from each of the chapters.

MandMx: How has the response been to the book? What are people saying?

Joanne Pittman: Better than I expected, to be honest.  It has sold really well among folks travelling to China as tourists and those going to China on sort-term volunteer projects. It’s also been well-received among newly arrived expats in China, who want something simple to help them get started.

MandMx: What do you think about more Westerners studying Chinese today?

Joanne Pittman: The more the better. Given China’s emergence onto the world stage, I think it’s important that there be more westerners who are proficient in not only the Chinese language, but also Chinese culture.

MandMx: If you didn’t come to China, what do you think you would’ve done all your life?

Joanne Pittman: I probably would have gone to grad school and ended up teaching a a college somewhere.

MandMx: What is your favorite China website? China Newsite?

Joanne Pittman: Well, I enjoy YOUR website! For China news and analysis, I like China Digital Times (www.chinadigitaltimes.net), BBC, and The China Beat (www.thechinabeat.org). As for general information/blogs, I like World of Chinese (www.worldofchinese.com), Danwei (www.danwei.com), and China Media Project (www.cmp.hku.hk).

MandMx: What is your favorite Chinese movie?

Joanne Pittman: Shower.  It’s ten years old now, but it’s a great about generational relationships in a changing Beijing.

MandMx: What is your favorite China book? or book about China?

Joanne Pittman: My current favorite China book is China Road by Rob Gifford.  I also like River Town and Country Driving by Peter Hessler. And To Change China by Jonathan Spence.

MandMx: What’s your favorite motivational saying in Chinese?

Joanne Pittman: I’m not sure how motivational this saying is, but it’s one of the most useful ones in helping us foreigners make our way in Chinese society:  jihua meiyou bianhua kuai.  Plans can’t keep up with changes.  计划没有变化快。

MandMx: In only three words each please tell us what comes to your mind when I say:

(Example: I say Baseball: you say “Boston Red Sox.” OR “Boring but fun.” see only 3 words.)

MandMx: Bejing                            Joanne Pittman: my adopted hometown
MandMx: Shanghai                      Joanne Pittman: Different from 1984
MandMx: Chopsticks                  Joanne Pittman: What’s so difficult?
MandMx: Chinese food              Joanne Pittman: rice and peanuts
MandMx: Chinese literature    Joanne Pittman: Over my head
MandMx: Sina Weibo                  Joanne Pittman: an alternate universe
MandMx: Twitter                          Joanne Pittman: bursts of communication
MandMx: Sand storms               Joanne Pittman: Spring is here!
MandMx: Summer                       Joanne Pittman: Drip, drip, drip
MandMx: Great Wall                  Joanne Pittman:  What’s the point?
MandMx: winter                          Joanne Pittman:  Where’s the humidity?

End.

Don’t forget to check out her site here.  And follow her on Twitter which she is very active on!

Also we did a comic of one of her tweets last year which was fun!

23 Questions for Beijing Cartoonist Liu Jing

Saturday, January 14th, 2012
We’ve had a few interviews on MandMx.com and some have been with Chinese cartoonists and we were so excited to be able to chat (on e-mail) with Liu Jing.  I found him a while back on Amazon and then found an article on Danwei with the cartoonist and tweeted about it.

He was very agreeable with us bothering his hard work for our 23 questions!  The coolest thing is his book that I found on Amazon.  Understanding China through Comics.   How perfect! You can even get the book from Apple.   Here are the questions we asked in bold and his answers.

1.  Is cartooning your full time job?

No, my full time job is running a design agency in Beijing, and I’ve been doing that for 14 years.

2.  Do you consider yourself a cartoonist?

No, I’m more of a mixer, who tried to express a complex issue (such as Chinese history) with my business background, cross-cultural experience, and drawing skills.

3.  What kind of materials do you use?  Pen?  Paper?  Table?  Do you have a studio?

I use Wacom tablet, and I did most drawings after work, at library or at home.

4.  Why Understanding China through comics?  Why not fine art?  Why not language?

Comics are entertaining, personal, and emotional, making a very complicated topic easy to understand.

5.  What is it like publishing in China?  What are the steps to getting published?

The book is published in North America, Europe and Australia through Amazon and Apple. Both platforms have detailed instructions on their website for book publishing.

6.  How did you get your book onto Amazon?  Why did you decide to release it on Amazon?

Amazon has clear terms and steps for publishing. It’s a time-consuming but manageable process. For comic books, it’s a bit more difficult, since it involves lots of drawings and specific layout.  Amazon and Apple are my only choice to reach a global audience instantly.

7.  The title of your book begs the question: Why do people need to “understand China?”

If we feel something or some place has nothing to do with us, a lot less people would take the time to understand it, especially for something as complex as the history of a foreign country.
However, China today has something to do with a lot more people: It is the world’s second largest economy. At its current growth rate, China will replace the US as the world’s leading economic power in about a decade, China is taking jobs away and creating jobs for the world at the same time, China is the biggest holder of US debt, Today’s news is talking about if China will save the euro… Many people are wondering what’s going to happen next.  Hopefully my book can empower readers to make informed judgments on China events now and in the future, by showing what China has been through all along.

8.  Have you had a lot of response to your book in China?  Is there a Chinese version?  or just English?

Currently the book is published outside China, only in English. The overseas response has been very encouraging so far.

9.  Speaking of English, I’ve seen some of your interviews, you are quite good at English!  Where did you learn?

Thanks! I learned English like everyone else in China, from school. I also use English at work, since all our clients are international organizations.

10.  I know that the black market in China is big, are you afraid that your book will appear on the streets from booksellers and you not getting any of that money?

Yes, that was part of the reason I didn’t publish the book in China.

11.  How are you able to protect your art, drawings andintellectual/creative property in this book?  Does China have good copyright laws?  If you saw somebody copying your book could you take legal action?

China has good copyright laws, but the enforcement is hard.

12.  Are you into webcomics at all?  Comics on the web only?  Are they popular in China?

Sorry I don’t know much about webcomics.

13.  What are your hobbies other than work and drawing?

I love to ski, and I’ve been to Whistler, Lake Tahoe, and some of the ski resorts north of Beijing.

14.  What is your favorite Chinese food?

Living in Beijing, I like Shanghai food, fresher and less greasy than northern food.

15.  What are you reading right now?  books?  magazines?

As part of my book research, I’m reading several history books, such as “Records of the Grand Historian” by Sima Qian, the father of Chinese historiography; “History of China” by pre-liberation historian Wang Tongling and “The General History of China” by his contemporary Lü Simian; “The Analects” complied by Confucius’ students; and many ancient Chinese paintings in the historical record. I really like the books written by the military historian Antony Beevor: “D-Day: The Battle for Normandy“, “Berlin: The Downfall, 1945”, and “Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege: 1942-1943”. Now I’m also reading “Outliers: The Story of Success”, and “What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures” by Malcolm Gladwell

16.  Can you tell us today’s top 5 Chinese cartoonists?

Feng Zikai (1898-1975), a well-known Chinese painter, writer, and cartoonist, Zhang Leping (1910-1992) The creator of Sanmao, an orphan who suffered the hardships of Japanese invasion during WWII, The creation team of the 60-volume “Romance of Three Kingdoms” comic series from Shanghai People’s Fine Arts Publishing House, and Taiwanese artists such as Cai Zhizhong, a cartoonist best known for his comic books on Chinese philosophy; Jimmy Liao, a famous picture book writer; and Zhu Deyong.

17.  Can you tell us top 5 Chinese cartoonists from recent Chinese history?

If we take a broader concept of cartoon, which is a series of drawings to tell a story or deliver information, the following ancient Chinese graphic artists are noteworthy: Song Yingxing (1587-1666), a Chinese scientist and writer, best known for his encyclopedia “The Exploitation of the Works of Nature”, which covered over 130 technical issues, with 123 detailed illustrations, Zhang Zeduan (1085-1145), his famous work “Along the river during Qingming Festival”, 528cm-wide, captured people’s daily life at the imperial capital. It was made into an animation as one of the major exhibits in the China Pavilion during the World Expo 2010.  Gu Hongzhong (937-975), known for his narrative paintings to document the night life of a senior official.

18.  Do you ever read Western cartoonists?

I’ve read most Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson

19.  Do you ever hang out with other cartoonists?

When I worked at an independent English newspaper in Beijing around 1996, my boss, Brian McClain, is a great cartoonist and he drew many comics for the newspaper, and we hung out a lot, which is very fortunate to me.

20.  Are you on Sina Weibo? or some other microblogging site?  Kaixinwang?

I’m on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn.

21.  Give us one or two sentences that describe your book that would interest people and make them go and buy it!?

How do Chinese think?  This insightful comic book is your visual guide to understanding China.

22.  Tell us your favorite quotation?

That would be the opening line of the book: “After 17,434 natural disasters, 3,791 massive wars, 663 emperors and 95 dynasties, the 5,000-year Chinese civilization lives on.” I like it because it tells what China had been through in just one sentence, reflecting the theme of the whole book – a wild ride through China history, deep and fast.  I’ve spent three months working on this line alone because these figures can’t be found in just one book. I had to read three books that documented natural disasters, wars and dynasties and then do the math.

23.  Who are your heroes or people that you look up to?

Steven Spielberg

Other interviews we’ve done.

Another cartoonist we’ve done an interview with.

 

Are you ready for Chinese Camp? Interview with a American student at a Chinese summer camp

Saturday, February 4th, 2012

Chinese Summer Camp

Did you know there was a Chinese summer camp in Minnesota?  Well, there is and I got to chat with a great teenager named Dylan from Western Massachusetts about his experience this past summer at a Chinese summer camp.  There are so many smart and intelligent parents out there in America today (also in Britain and Australia) who are sending their kids to Mandarin camps so that their kids get a leg up on college studies or to supplement their high school Mandarin classes.  Whatever the decision, it will greatly improve their interpersonal skills and abilities and confidence in this amazing language.  The problem is… which camp should you choose!?  Well, we hope that this interview might help you make that decision.  This is just one camp, and I am sure there are many other camps out there.  If you have any further questions for us or for Dylan you can always e-mail us: magnus at mandmx dot com.

MandMx:  What is the name of the Chinese summer camp that you attended?

Dylan:  森林湖

MandMx:  Where is your camp located?

Dylan:  Maplelag 
30693 Maplelag Road 
Callaway, MN 56521-9643

MandMx:  How did you get there?

Dylan:  I flew to Minneapolis, then drove in a bus through camp to get to the camp

MandMx:  Was this your first time?

Dylan:  This was my second time

MandMx:  How long have you studied Chinese?

Dylan:  About 6 or 7 years

MandMx:  How is a camp day structured?

Dylan:  7:30 a.m.  起床  wake up

8:00 a.m.  早操  morning exercise

8:30 a.m.  早饭  breakfast

9:30 a.m.  小组活动  group activity

10:30 a.m.  打扫木屋  cabin clean-up

11:00 a.m.  小组课  Chinese class

12:00 a.m.  爱情故事  soap opera

12:30 a.m.  午饭  lunch

1:30 p.m.  午休  afternoon nap

2:30 p.m.  自由活动  free time

3:45 p.m.  小组课  Chinese class

4:30 p.m.  下午活动  afternoon activity

5:30 p.m.  晚饭  dinner

6:30 p.m.  看电影  movie

7:30 p.m.  晚上节目  evening program

8:45 p.m.  回木屋  return to cabin

9:15 p.m.  熄灯  lights out

MandMx:   How was the food?

Dylan:  The food was very good. Very traditional food such as Man Tou, and Xi Fan for breakfast.

MandMx:   How were the counselors?

Dylan:  The counselors were very nice and helpful, and helped with a villagers Chinese if they needed it

MandMx:   Was everything in Chinese?

Dylan:  Almost everything was in Chinese

MandMx:   Do you think your Chinese improved at all?

Dylan:  I think my Chinese improved greatly during these past two years

MandMx:   What was the worst thing at the camp?

Dylan:  The worst thing was doing zao cao (早操 morning exercises)

MandMx:   What was the best thing at the camp?

Dylan:  The best thing for me was getting to sing the song 《民生》, with a few of my counselors at the 篝火 Gōuhuǒ Bonfire.  On one night when we were at the evening activity at the camp fire, me, a female counselor, a male counselor, and two other female student sang the song 《民生》around the camp fire. And because the song is so long, each time we finished a verse they thought it was over. So each time we had to use our hands to say its not over. Then when the song was finally finished, there was a huge clapping from everyone and they were whooping and cheering when we finished.

MandMx:   Did you make some friends?

Dylan:  I made tons of friends

MandMx:   Are you in contact with them?

Dylan:  I am still in contact with all my friends

MandMx:   What is your motivation for going to this Chinese camp?

Dylan:  My motivation for going was to improve my Chinese, and make new friends

MandMx:   Did your parents force you to go?

Dylan:  My parents did not force me to go

MandMx:   Were there Chinese/American kids there?

Dylan:  There were all types of kids, including American, and Chinese

MandMx:   Would you recommend other people to go to that school?

Dylan:  If they want to learn or improve their Chinese, I would greatly recommend to go there

MandMx:   What were the counselors like?

Dylan:  The counselors were very nice and friendly, and always helped out the students

MandMx:   Could everyone at the camp speak Chinese?

Dylan:  Not everyone could speak, the skill level varied between each person

More information:

Here’s the website

Chinese Wife and American Husband Team Create a Chinese Proverbs and Popular Sayings Book: Interview with the Authors

Friday, June 22nd, 2012


Chinese Proverbs and Popular Sayings: With Observations on Culture and Language

In our never ending search for all things Chinese we came across this great book about Chinese Proverbs.  I noticed that the authors are a bi-cultural couple or one is Chinese and the other is a Westerner.  Well, I was really interested in their story and what brought them to write this kind of book (which we highly recommend) and they were surprisingly very approachable and extremely kind to write back a very long e-mail answering all our questions!  They are both professors at Michigan’s Calvin College (which has a vibrant Chinese program) so when I wrote to them it was not a very opportune time since they were in the middle of finals!
I asked a series of questions about their lives together, their new book and their opinions on Americans and westerners studying Chinese.  Enjoy their answers:

MandMx:  Mr. Herzberg, what experience do you have in China or studying Chinese?

Herzbergs:  I BEGAN STUDYING CHINESE AT VANDERBILT UNIVERSITY IN 1972, AND THEN WENT ON FOR MASTER’S AND PH.D. WORK IN CHINESE LITERATURE AT INDIANA UNIVERSITY UNTIL 1980.
I’VE BEEN TO CHINA 13 TIMES, NOT COUNTING OUR UPCOMING EMERGENCY TRIP, AND HAVE SEEN A GOOD DEAL OF THE COUNTRY.  SINCE I’VE BEEN TRAVELING TO CHINA SINCE 1982, I’VE WITNESSED THE AMAZING CHANGES THAT HAVE OCCURRED IN THAT COUNTRY OVER THE PAST THREE DECADES.

MandMx:  Mrs. Herzberg, what experience do you have in America or studying English?

Herzbergs:  QIN CAME TO THE U.S. IN 1986 TO GET A MASTER’S DEGREE IN CHRISTIAN EDUCATION FROM CALVIN COLLEGE.  SHE ONLY STUDIED ENGLISH FORMALLY FOR SIX MONTHS IN WISCONSIN RIGHT BEFORE THAT, IN AN ESL PROGRAM IN MADISON.
HER ENGLISH NOW IS QUITE EXCELLENT.  SHE’S NOT ONLY FLUENT, BUT FOR YEARS HAS READ ARTICLES DAILY FROM THE NY TIMES, ETC.

MandMx:  Where are you both from originally?

Herzbergs:   QIN IS FROM BEIJING, WHERE SHE SPENT THE FIRST 29 YEARS OF HER LIFE.  SHE’S A TOP GRADUATE OF ONE OF THEIR TOP UNIVERSITIES, BEIJING NORMAL U., IN CHINESE LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE.  I’M ORIGINALLY FROM WILMETTE, A NORTHERN SUBURB OF CHICAGO.

MandMx:  Do you consider yourselves to be a “husband/wife team?”

Herzbergs:   WE ABSOLUTELY DO SEE OURSELVES AS A HUSBAND AND WIFE TEAM.  THE PROVERBS BOOK IS OUR THIRD COLLABORATION OF A BOOK.  OUR “CHINA SURVIVAL GUIDE” HAS ALREADY SOLD NEARLY 15,000 COPIES AND IS SELLING AS WELL OR BETTER THAN EVER RIGHT NOW.  OUR BOOK ON CHINESE GRAMMAR, “THE BASICS OF CHINESE GRAMMAR”, HAS ALSO BEEN SELLING WELL AND IS USED BY SOME PROFESSORS AS A SUPPLEMENTARY TEXTBOOK.  WE HAVE MADE ONE DOCUMENTARY FILM ON CHINA TOGETHER, CALLED “CHINA TODAY: ISSUES THAT TROUBLE AMERICANS AT THE START OF THE 21ST CENTURY”, WILL FINISH ANOTHER FILM THIS SUMMER, AND WILL BEGIN VIDEOTAPING A THIRD THIS SUMMER IN BEIJING.  WE ALSO HAVE AT LEAST ONE MORE BOOK PLANNED WITH US AS CO-AUTHORS.  SO FUN TO WORK WITH YOUR LIFE PARTNER ON PROJECTS LIKE THIS!

MandMx:  Why did you write your new book “Chinese Proverbs and Popular Sayings: With Observations on Culture and Language?”

Herzbergs:   TO SHOW STUDENTS OF THE CHINESE LANGUAGE AND CULTURE AS WELL AS PEOPLE WHO KNOW NOTHING ABOUT EITHER HOW THE CHINESE PROVERBS AND SAYINGS REFLECT THE WAY THE CHINESE VIEW THE WORLD, BOTH IN THE PAST AND IN THE PRESENT.  WE INCLUDED THE CHARACTERS AND PINYIN FOR THOSE PEOPLE WHO DO KNOW THE LANGUAGE, SO THAT THEY CAN NOT ONLY SEE THE ORIGINAL, BUT WILL UNDERSTAND THESE SAYINGS WHEN CHINESE NATIVE SPEAKERS USE THEM.  AND THEY USE THEM ALL THE TIME!  IT’S ALSO IMPORTANT FOR NON-NATIVE SPEAKERS OF THE LANGUAGE TO LEARN TO SAY SOME OF THEM, SO THAT THEIR SPEECH WILL NOT “LACK FLAVOR”, BUT BE MORE VIVID AND COLORFUL.

MandMx:  Why did you specifically include the Chinese characters in the book  for the proverbs?

Herzbergs:     WE DID WANT TO SHOW THE TRUE VERSION OF THE PROVERBS THAT THE CHINESE REALLY DO USE.  SOME PROVERBS BOOKS REALLY GIVE DISTORTED TRANSLATIONS OF THESE SAYINGS, AS WELL AS INCLUDING SOME DUBIOUS OR QUITE UNCOMMON SAYINGS.

MandMx:  Since you both teach at a university, what do you think about your experiences teaching Chinese or Chinese culture to American college students?

Herzbergs:   IT’S TREMENDOUSLY GRATIFYING TO SHARE OUR LOVE OF THE CHINESE LANGUAGE AND CULTURE WITH INTERESTED AND TALENTED STUDENTS.  WE WANT OUR STUDENTS TO SERVE A BRIDGE BETWEEN CULTURES, CLICHED AS THAT SOUNDS.  AMERICANS IN PARTICULAR SO MISUNDERSTAND CHINA TODAY, THAT IT’S VITAL THAT WE TRAIN SOME KNOWLEDGEABLE PEOPLE IN THE FIELD OF CHINESE LANGUAGE AND CHINESE STUDIES, TO HELP BETTER EDUCATE THE AMERICAN PEOPLE AND AVOID AN UNNECESSARY AND SENSELESS COLD WAR WITH CHINA.  A NUMBER OF OUR STUDENTS HAVE GONE ON FOR GRADUATE WORK IN CHINESE OR CHINESE STUDIES.  SOME ARE ALREADY WORKING IN INTERNATIONAL LAW, GOVERNMENT, BUSINESS, TEACHING, OR MISSIONS EITHER IN CHINA OR IN THE U.S.

MandMx:  What do you think about the teaching of Chinese in America today?  Booming?  Blooming?  Good?  bad?

Herzbergs:   IT’S BOOMING, FOR SURE.  ENROLLMENTS IN CHINESE LANGUAGE CLASSES HAVE AT LEAST DOUBLED IF NOT TRIPLED IN LESS THAN A DECADE AT AMERICAN COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES.  IN GRAND RAPIDS ALONE, THE PAST 7-8 YEARS HAS SEEN AT LEAST SIX OR SEVEN AREA HIGH SCHOOLS ADD CHINESE LANGUAGE PROGRAMS, WHEREAS 8 YEARS AGO THERE WERE NONE!  AND SEVERAL AREA GRADE SCHOOLS HAVE ALREADY BEGUN CHINESE LANGUAGE IMMERSION PROGRAMS, ALONG WITH SPANISH.
THIS IS ALL TO THE GOOD.  THE QUALITY OF THE PROGRAMS IN COLLEGES IS STRONG, AND THE HIGH SCHOOL PROGRAMS CONTINUE TO IMPROVE.

MandMx:  Do you have any children?

Herzbergs:   BY DESIGN, WE HAVE NO BIOLOGICAL CHILDREN.  WE DO, HOWEVER, HAVE AROUND ONE HUNDRED “ADULT CHILDREN” EVERY YEAR AT CALVIN COLLEGE!  WE SEE OUR STUDENTS AS OUR CHILDREN AND CARE FOR THEM ACCORDINGLY.

MandMx:   What are some good things about a “cross cultural marriage” and some bad things?

Herzbergs:    WE FEEL THAT A CROSS-CULTURAL MARRIAGE CAN BE MORE INTERESTING THAN A MARRIAGE BETWEEN PEOPLE OF SIMILAR CULTURAL BACKGROUNDS, IF BOTH PEOPLE IN THE MARRIAGE TRY TO UNDERSTAND THE CULTURE OF THE OTHER ONE.  IN OUR CASE, I HAD STUDIED THE CHINESE LANGUAGE AND CULTURE FOR 15 YEARS BEFORE QIN AND I MET, AND QIN HAS LIVED IN THE STATES FOR 26 YEARS ALREADY.  SO WE ARE IN THE UNIQUE POSITION OF UNDERSTANDING WELL EACH OTHER’S BACKGROUNDS.
THIS HAS ENRICHED MY LIFE IMMENSELY, AS I HAVE IMPROVED MY UNDERSTANDING OF THE CHINESE LANGUAGE AND CULTURE BY LIVING WITH A WELL-EDUCATED NATIVE SPEAKER.
WE HAVE ENCOUNTERED FEW CULTURAL PROBLEMS.  THE BIGGEST, I SUPPOSE, ON MY SIDE IS TO UNDERSTAND THAT THE CHINESE DO NOT USUALLY EXPRESS THANKS OR LOVE TO THEIR FAMILY MEMBERS.  THOSE THINGS ARE UNDERSTOOD AND IMPLIED IN THE LOVING THINGS YOUR SPOUSE/FAMILY MEMBER DOES FOR YOU.  ON QIN’S SIDE, I KNOW SHE’S BEEN DISAPPOINTED TO DISCOVER THAT, WHILE MOST CHINESE COOK AND COOK WELL, MOST AMERICAN MEN, INCLUDING ME, DO NOT!
WHAT I’VE DISCOVERED IS THAT THERE IS A LOT LARGER CULTURAL DIVIDE BETWEEN EDUCATED AND UN-EDUCATED PEOPLE OF THE SAME CULTURE THAN THERE IS BETWEEN EDUCATED PEOPLE OF DIFFERENT CULTURES.  BOTH QIN AND I HAD READ THE SAME WORKS OF BOTH WESTERN AND CHINESE LITERATURE, LISTENED AND LOVED THE SAME CLASSICAL WESTERN MUSIC, HAD SEEN THE SAME FAMOUS FRENCH, ITALIAN, AND SWEDISH FILMS, ETC., ETC.  WHEREAS I HAVE ALMOST NOTHING IN COMMON WITH LESS CULTURED AND LESS EDUCATED PEOPLE IN MICHIGAN THAN I DO WITH QIN AND HER FAMILY AND FRIENDS.

MandMx:  What are some adjustments you’ve both had to make due to cultural  issues in your life together?  Taking care of parents?  When you shower?  Financial issues?  Food issues?

Herzbergs:  NO BIG ADJUSTMENTS.  BOTH CHINESE AND AMERICANS BELIEVE IN CARING FOR THEIR FAMILY MEMBERS.  I’M USED TO SHOWERING IN THE EVENING, SINCE I’VE LONG AGO ACCEPTED THE ASIAN NOTION THAT YOU NEED TO BE CLEAN WHEN YOU GO TO BED.  BUT WE BOTH SHOWER IN THE MORNING AS WELL.  WE BOTH LOVE CHINESE FOOD AS WELL AS THE SAME WESTERN FOODS, SO NO PROBLEM THERE.  AND WE BASICALLY AGREE ON A BALANCE BETWEEN ENJOYING LIFE AND SAVING FOR THE FUTURE, SO NO FINANCIAL ISSUES EITHER.

MandMx:  What are your favorite books to read?

Herzbergs:    BOOKS ON CHINA, BOOKS ABOUT ANIMALS, BOOKS THAT ARE WRITTEN FROM A LOVING PERSPECTIVE, AND BOOKS THAT MAKE YOU THINK ABOUT IMPORTANT ISSUES IN THE WORLD TODAY.

MandMx:  What are your favorite China books to read?

Herzbergs:    THE GREAT CLASSICS, FROM “LIAO ZHAI” TO “XI YOU JI”.  I PARTICULARLY LOVE ZHUANGZI, ALTHOUGH QIN DOESN’T PARTICULARLY.

MandMx:  What news sites do you go to for China news?

Herzbergs:   QIN READS A GREAT NUMBER OF CHINESE WEB SITES EACH DAY FOR NEWS, AS WELL AS THE NY TIMES WEB SITE.  SHE READS THE BBC NEWS IN CHINESE AS WELL AS THE WORLD JOURNAL, AND MANY, MANY MORE.

MandMx:  What resources do you use most for your classes?

Herzbergs:   THE MAJOR TEXTBOOKS USED BY OTHER COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES, INCLUDING THE SECOND AND THIRD BOOKS IN THE INTEGRATED CHINESE SERIES, AND “CHINA SCENE” FOR THE FOURTH YEAR COURSE.  FOR FIRST YEAR CHINESE, I’VE CREATED MY OWN TEXTBOOKS FOR EACH SEMESTER, ALONG WITH WORKBOOKS.
FOR SECOND YEAR, I HAVE THE STUDENTS USE THREE SUPPLEMENTARY READERS, INCLUDING THE 80-PAGE NOVEL, “LADY IN THE PAINTING”, CONTEMPORARY CHINESE VERSIONS OF 20 OF THE “LIAOZHAI” STORIES BY PU SONGLING, AND A CHINESE JOKEBOOK.  I ALSO REQUIRE THAT STUDENTS BUY THE GRAMMAR HANDBOOK THAT WE CREATED, NAMELY “BASIC PATTERNS OF CHINESE GRAMMAR: A STUDENT’S GUIDE TO CORRECT STRUCTURES AND COMMON ERRORS”.

MandMx:  When was the last time you were in China?

Herzbergs:   QIN IN MARCH OF THIS YEAR, AND BOTH OF US IN MAY AND June OF 2010.

MandMx:  What are your favorite foods from each other’s country? Larry your favorite Chinese food?  Qin your favorite American food?

Herzbergs:   FOR ME, JIAOZI, FOLLOWED BY ALMOST EVERY OTHER KIND OF CHINESE FOOD!
BUT 舒服不过躺着,好吃不过饺子!
FOR QIN, IT’S PIZZA, ALTHOUGH ABSOLUTELY NOT WITH PEPPERONI OR ANY OTHER MEAT ON IT.  JUST VEGETARIAN PIZZA WITH GOAT CHEESE!

MandMx:  Are you able to find good Chinese vegetables near your home or do you have to drive far to get good Chinese veggies?

Herzbergs:   GRAND RAPIDS NOW HAS A NUMBER OF ASIAN GROCERY STORES THAT CARRY GOOD CHINESE VEGGIES.  BUT OUR LOCAL MEIJER HAS ALSO CARRIED SOME CHINESE VEGGIES IN RECENT YEARS, DUE TO AN INCREASING NUMBER OF CHINESE PEOPLE IN OUR CITY AND EVEN IN OUR NEIGHBORHOOD.  HURRAY FOR DIVERSITY!

MandMx:  What advice would you give to people studying Mandarin Chinese or Chinese culture?

Herzbergs:    BUY OUR GRAMMAR BOOK!  BUT SERIOUSLY, FIND A GOOD TEACHER, IF POSSIBLE.  AND GO TO CHINA TO EXPERIENCE THE COUNTRY YOURSELF.  PEOPLE WILL QUICKLY DISCOVER THAT OUR MEDIA DISTORTS CHINA QUITE BADLY AND PRESENTS WAY TOO DARK A PICTURE OF A COUNTRY THAT HAS MADE INCREDIBLE PROGRESS IN MOST AREAS OVER THE PAST THREE DECADES.  THEY’LL DEFINITELY COME BACK SAYING WHAT ALL OUT STUDENTS AND FRIENDS SAY AFTER VISITING CHINA:  “I LOVED THE PEOPLE MOST OF ALL!”

MandMx:  Do you want to live in China in the future?  Or retire there?

Herzbergs:   ABSOLUTELY NOT!  THERE ARE THINGS WE DO NOT LIKE AT ALL ABOUT AMERICA–THE SELF-CENTEREDNESS, THE UBIQUITOUS GUNS AND FEAR OF VIOLENT CRIME, ETC.  BUT CHINA IS STILL FAR BEHIND THE U.S. IN THE QUALITY OF LIFE OR IN CREATURE COMFORTS.  AND WE HAVE NATURE AROUND US, WITH OUR BIG BACKYARDS AND CLEANER AIR.  CHINA JUST HAS TOO MANY PEOPLE AND, IN SPITE OF TREMENDOUS PROGRESS, IS STILL IN MANY WAYS A DEVELOPING NATION.  AND, OF COURSE, EVEN THOUGH CHINA IS SO MUCH FREER A SOCIETY THAN IT WAS EVEN 30 YEARS AGO WHEN I BEGAN TEACHING CHINESE, IT’S STILL NOT THE OPEN AND FREE SOCIETY THAT WE ENJOY IN THIS COUNTRY.  IT’S JUST NOWHERE AS BAD AS PEOPLE IN THIS COUNTRY TEND TO BELIEVE.

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