Well, since there is some interest in knowing why I came to
"On Becoming an American" (Excerpt)
I went to graduate school in the Chengdu Branch of the
It should be explained here that at the time, among mainland Chinese people, any balanced attitude toward foreigners, especially Americans, was rare, and I was not an exception. The veneration of white foreigners for their superiority was as common as the revulsion for their vile actions, and the roots of both could be traced back to the Opium War. I was in the latter camp, a heritage from my parents whose hatred toward
Studying the work of American and other western scholars and scientists had given me respect for their intellectual achievement. Still, my attitude toward Americans was recalcitrant, and it was only reluctantly that I agreed to go and listen to a foreigner's lecture on a warm spring afternoon in April 1987. The lecture, at a neighboring university, was on System Dynamics, a subject I was studying.
Imagine my astonishment when the lecturer jumped down from the stage, walked against the dissipating crowd toward a back seat in the auditorium, and spoke tender English to me. In instinctive panic, I ran away from the tall American, who wore a shy, childish smile. But the determined man found me again the next afternoon, and, as we toured downtown
In retrospect, it was love at first sight, despite politics, despite nationality, despite myself. But I wouldn't admit it. I did not trust my intuition. A classical dogma I’d adhered to from birth, whether I realized or not, was die-hard.
Two months later, in June, my institute sent me and a classmate to Shanghai to attend the International System Dynamics Conference, which Bob was helping organize. One day after dinner Bob asked me for another chat. We were in
Before I recovered from my discovery, a new couple climbed up the hill. They paused briefly when passing us; I could feel their inquisitive eyes. Even in the dimness, a foreigner, especially with Bob's big puffy beard, was easy to distinguish. Did they think I was dating an American? I began to panic.
At that moment Bob said, clear and calm, "I love you."
"But you are a foreigner!" I burst out. "I'm a man. You are a woman," he said, a bit surprised by my reaction, with his charming ignorance of my crisis. It was a genuine shock, what he just said. For the first time I became aware of the sharp difference in our way of thinking: growing up as Chinese I had always placed political identity ahead of gender, ahead of the person. He was himself and I had not been. And that was the turning point for me to begin separating the individual identity from the political identity—the country, the race, or the religion.
The first time I told my mother about Bob, she was shocked. Her shock quickly turned to a deep worry. "American men can not be trusted," she said, "he is playing with you!" Her inveterate opinion had probably been formed from her early experiences, but by then I knew Bob well enough not to listen.
Bob proposed a year later, after a long and winding underground courtship, after my parents had gradually altered their view of him from that of an abstract American to a dear person, a handy young man who could fix their broken shower head and leaking sink. My Communist father's condition for allowing him to marry me was "do not let my daughter get involved in any politics
After being married in
Update: A related story -- Boss Yang and Teacher Gene