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0:34 - Childhood in China

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Partial Transcript: Okay. Um, I’m, uh, like the—I was born in 1948.

Segment Synopsis: Zhenkang discussing his experiences growing up in Shanghai, China under the Communist Party. Overall, he had a happy, middle-class childhood. He talks about his parents' jobs and his grade-school education. His father was a loyal member of the Guomindang (Nationalist Party), but decided to remain on the mainland.

Keywords: 1960; Born; Chiang Kai-shek; China; Communist; Education; Father; Guomindang; Liberation; Mother; Nanyang Mofan Middle School; Starvation; Taiwan; Three-year disaster

Subjects: Childhood; China; Communist Party

5:56 - Cultural Revolution

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Partial Transcript: And, uh, then, like the—when I was in, uh, high school

Segment Synopsis: When Zhenkang was about to apply to university the Cultural Revolution started. He discusses his experience going to the countryside and being a zhiqing (sent-down youth).

Keywords: Beida cang; Brainwash; Chairman Mao; China; Countryside; Cultural Revolution; Dazibao; Farms; High school; Northeast China; Propaganda; University; Zhiqing

Subjects: 1966; Chairman Mao; China; Cultural Revolution; Zhiqing

13:11 - Discussing relatives

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Partial Transcript: Because my uncle, he was not very good, like, uh, he—he maybe cannot find a very good job at that time.

Segment Synopsis: Zhenkang talks about his uncle using his father's name to go to Taiwan, and his father using a fake name to go to the United States. Zhenkang mentions that he has never met his uncle or his uncle's children.

Keywords: China; Cousin; Cultural Revolution; Father; Harbin; Job; Parents; Shanghai; Taiwan; Tianjin; Uncle; United States; Wife

Subjects: Family; Father; Taiwan; Uncle

16:00 - Life as a zhiqing

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Partial Transcript: Did you ever try to leave being a zhiqing?

Segment Synopsis: Zhenkang explains how his attitude about being a zhiqing changed from when he first started to a year later. He was a zhiqing for a total of ten years, and during this time he got married and had a daughter. He tells the story of how his daughter was born in the countryside in their farmhouse, which Zhenkang built himself.

Keywords: Chairman Mao; Childbirth; China; Chinese Liberation Army; Clay bricks; Daughter; Difficulties; Hukou system; Opportunity; Poor; Residency; Sadness; Thatched roof; Tragedy; United States; University; Wife; Zhiqing

Subjects: Chairman Mao; Countryside; Hukou; Zhiqing

27:54 - Hukou Residency System

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Partial Transcript: No, once you, uh, went to the, uh, Northern area, then you lost your hukou.

Segment Synopsis: Zhenkang explains the hukou system, which is the Chinese residency system. He explains that children of part leaders received preferential treatment. This is when he realized that the system was unfair. He lost hope of ever being able to return to Shanghai or attend the university. He talks about how the hukou system compares to the United States residency system. He also tells the story “Weaver Girl and a Cowherd”, which is a Chinese folk tale.

Keywords: Canada; China; Citizen; Cowboy; Daughter; Eat; Hukou, Job, Government; Immigrants; Love; Money; New England; Niu Lang, Zhi Nu; Opportunity; Poor; Residency System; Rice; Senate; Shanghai; Stamps; Untied States; Visa; Weaver girl; Wife

Subjects: China; Hukou system; Niu Lang, Zhi Nu; United States

38:14 - Leaving the country and going to University

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Partial Transcript: I, actually, like the—maybe I also need talk a little bit about how I left the like Northern wilderness.

Segment Synopsis: Zhenkang explains that after Chairman Mao's death, Deng Xiaoping rose to power and reopened the university and reinstated the examination system. At this time Zhenkang was 30, married and had a child, but applied to university anyway. He was admitted to Harbin Normal University, where he received a combined bachelor’s and master’s degree in biology. After graduation he worked at Nankai University teaching biology.

Keywords: 1989; Biology; Carolyn Burns; Chairman Mao; China; Deng Xiaoping; Examination System; Freshwater ecology; Harbin Normal University; Heilongjiang; Hopless; Masters degree; Nankai University; New Zealand; Tiananmen Square; University; Wilderness

Subjects: China; Deng Xiaoping; University

43:05 - Coming to the United States

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Partial Transcript: At that time, like we have some, like the, opportunities to

Segment Synopsis: Zhenkang discusses working in New Zealand on an ecology project, and being impacted by the democracy and freedom of the country. When he returned to China the Tiananmen Square Movement occurred, which made him think about leaving China. He took the GRE and TOEFL and was accepted at Penn State, where he received a PdH and worked as a research assistant.

Keywords: China; Demonstrations; GRE; Nankai University; New Zealand; Penn State University; Tiananmen Square; TOEFL; United States

Subjects: China; Penn State; United States

47:50 - Acclimating to US culture

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Partial Transcript: I—I don’t think there’s too much difficulties.

Segment Synopsis: Zhenkang talking about difficulties he faced while acclimating to American culture. The most significant difficulty he faced was language. He also talks about getting his green card, and working at Tufts, UT and UTMB.

Keywords: Adviser; Bioinformatics; Chinese; Comedy; Culture; English; Green card; H1 visa; Immigrants; Immigration policy; Language; PhD; PI; Post-doc; Problem; Professor; Research position; Research scientist; Tufts University; TV; United States; University of Houston; UTMB

Subjects: Challenges; Green Card; Language; United States

55:02 - Chinese identity vs. American identity

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Partial Transcript: I still love China. I still think I’m a Chinese.

Segment Synopsis: Zhenkang discussing his identity as a Chinese American and how he views his wife's identity as being more Chinese.

Keywords: American Chinese; China; Chinese; Chinese American; Citizen; United States; Wife

Subjects: American; Chinese; Chinese American; Identity

56:55 - Houston vs. other US states

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Partial Transcript: I moved, uh—I lived in United States, like, the 4—4 states

Segment Synopsis: Zhenkang talks about the different states he's lived in and how they compare, and why he loves Houston. He mentions that he likes Houston’s diversity and weather. He discusses the Chinese community and zhiqing association.

Keywords: Chinese; Church of Living God; Community; Dairy Ashford; Democratic; Diversity; Houston; Massachusetts; New England; Oregon; Pennsylvania; Republican; Texas; Tongxianghui (native place associations); United States; West University; Zhiqing Association

Subjects: Houston; United States; Zhiqing Association

59:27 - Maintaining Chinese culture in the US

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Partial Transcript: still like we need some Chinese friends to, uh, get together

Segment Synopsis: Zhenkang discusses how he and his wife maintain their Chinese culture while living in the United States. They are members of a Chinese Christian Church, the zhiqing association and the Tianjin association.

Keywords: American; Atheist; China; Chinese; Christian; Church; Community; Houston; PhD; Texas; Tianjin; Zhiqing association

Subjects: Chinese; Church; Community; Culture; Texas

64:57 - Difficulties in obtaining US citizenship

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Partial Transcript: Most difficulty is obtaining .... I think the, like the—get the Green Card.

Segment Synopsis: Zhenkang explains that the hardest part of obtaining citizenship was getting a green card. He says that his despairing of the difficulty in obtaining a green card led to his conversion to Christianity.

Keywords: China; Green card; Powerless; Tufts University; United States

Subjects: Citizenship; Green card; United States

68:12 - Discussing daughter

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Partial Transcript: from 1993 to 1998—I think 1998—she was in China

Segment Synopsis: Zhenkang discusses his daughter's life in China and in Canada. She is a computer engineer and has three children. He explains that his daughter would never move to the United States because she and her husband both work for the Canadian government.

Keywords: 1993; 1998; Canada; Children; China; Computer engineer; Daughter; Married; Rice; University

Subjects: Canada; Daughter

71:03 - Discussing job

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Partial Transcript: Uh, I—my job is, like the—um, my major is biology, you know?

Segment Synopsis: Zhenkang explaining his various jobs. He was a molecular biologist at Tufts University and University of Houston. He later did work involving human genome sequencing.

Keywords: Adenoma; Bioinformatics; Biology; Cell; China; Ecologist; Generation; Genome; Penn State; Protozoa; Sequencing; Tufts Univeristy; United States; University of Houston; Zoology

Subjects: Biology; Job; Work

74:18 - Zhiqing Association book: Zhiqing: Stories From China’s Special Generation

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Partial Transcript: We have, like, 14 authors. Yeah.

Segment Synopsis: Zhenkang discusses the zhiqing association's book, Zhiqing: Stories From China’s Special Generation. He talks about writing two stories for the book, one of which involves the slaughter of a pig, and what the book means for the Chinese community and for the general population. He mentions that he chose to write in English so that his children and grandchildren could read it.

Keywords: 1989; 2004; Authors; Book; Chinese; English; Houston; Sam Houston State University; Story; Texas; United States; Xuepei Kang; Zhiqing

Subjects: Book; China's Special Generation; Zhiqing

88:15 - Discusing wife

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Partial Transcript: My—my wife, she’s was from, uh, Tianjin. That’s third largest city.

Segment Synopsis: Zhenkang discusses his wife's background in China. She was also a zhiqing and returned to the city in 1979. He mentions the lost educational opportunity of the zhiqing generation. He also talks about his life with his wife after they got married and about raising their daughter.

Keywords: 1966; China; Daughter; Deng Xiaoping; English; Entrance exam; Family; Hukou; Love; Marry; Nankai University; Tianjin; University; Wife; Wilderness; Zhiqing

Subjects: China; Daughter; Family; Wife; Zhiqing


Interviewee: Zhenkang Xu

Interviewers: Gabriel Wang (Sophomore); Vickie Wang (Sophomore)

Date/ Time of Interview: May 30, 2014, at 1:30 PM

Transcribed by: Gabriel Wang, Vickie Wang

Edited by: Chris Johnson, Sara Davis, and Patricia Wong (June 7, 2016)

Audio Track Time: 1:36:16

Background: Zhenkang Xu was born in Shanghai, China in 1948. He spent his childhood there before going to the Great Northern Wilderness in 1968 because he volunteered himself as zhiqing to help develop the area and was among the first batch of people in the program. He was a zhiqing for ten years and met his wife, who was another zhiqing in the area. They had a daughter there before moving from the area at the end of the program in 1977. The examination system was reopened around this time and Zhenkang was among the first who took the university entrance exam. He went to Harbin Normal University from 1978-1982 and received his bachelors and masters degrees. He continued on to Nan Kai University in Tianjin, China from 1983-1993, where he served as an associate professor, even though he did not yet have a PhD. He conducted ecology research with Dr. Carolyn Burns at the University of Otago, New Zealand before completing his PhD at Pennsylvania State University from 1993-1997. He lived in Portland, Oregon from 1995- 1997 because his Penn State PhD advisor, Dr. James R. Pratt moved to Portland State. He also encountered a few difficulties in obtaining a green card for his daughter during this time and faced other obstacles in the United States citizenship process. He conducted research at Tufts from 1997 to 2004 in the field of shrimp genomics and came to Houston in 2004, when he took up a research position at the University of Houston (2004-2013), where he continued to work on genomics. Now, he is a researcher in biomedical genetics at the UTMB (University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston) since 2013. He is involved in the Houston Zhiqing Association and published two stories in the book, Zhiqing: Stories from China’s Special Generation. The stories are “Our Daughter Born in the Great Northern Wilderness” and “To Slaughter a Pig”. He is also involved in a Chinese Christian church in Houston. He plans to retire next year.

Setting: The interview centers around Zhenkang’s experiences in the zhiqing program, as well as the impact that the Chinese and United States citizenship systems have had on his life. The interview was conducted in the John T. King Media Lounge in Fondren Library, at Rice University. The interview lasted an hour and a half. The room was closed off from the rest of the library, but students would occasionally wander by the window, distracting the interviewers and participant. Zhenkang outlined his life as a zhiqing youth, as well as his transition to the United States and his search for citizenship.

Interviewers: Gabriel Wang is a sophomore (class of 2016) from Brown College majoring in chemistry and on a pre-pharmacy school track. Gabriel is originally from a suburb of Seattle, Washington and is American-Born-Taiwanese. Victoria (Vickie) Wang is a sophomore (class of 2016) from Duncan College majoring in Mathematical Economic Analysis, Asian Studies, and Policy Studies. Vickie is originally from Los Alamos, New Mexico and is American-born Chinese.


Key: GW: Gabriel Wang VW: Victoria Wang ZX: Zhenkang Xu —: speech cuts off; abrupt stop …: speech trails off; pause Italics: emphasis (?): preceding word may not be accurate [Brackets]: actions [laughs, sighs, ect.]

GW: All right. This is a oral archives interview that we are going to conduct for the, um, Rice University Houston Asian American Archive. Today is March 30, 2014. Um, the interviewers are myself, Gabriel Wang and Vickie Wang, and our interviewee is Zhenkang …

ZX: Xu.

GW: Xu. Yeah.

VW: So what was your childhood upbringing like? Can you describe your environment, family, education before becoming a zhiqing?

ZX: Okay. Um, I’m, uh, like the—I was born in 1948. That is right before the China— like the—in—in mainland in China we call it the Liberation—like because the Communist—Communist Party control China at the—at the time. So I—I was born right before that. And, uh, my—my father was before he worked in Guomindang, uh, like, uh—for—for that, uh—like Chiang Kai-shek, that part, so—but he’s a very lower-branch some—like a officer. So he’s supposed to go to Taiwan. So—and, uh, if he goes to Taiwan, I would become a Taiwanese, you know? [laughs]

GW: Yeah. [laughs]

ZX: So, it's totally, uh, uh, um, kind of story. But, uh, he at that time, he decided not to go because of his family and all his parents also here. But, uh, instead, uh, his brother went to Taiwan. So, my uncle, uh, the whole family is in Taiwan, okay? So that is, uh, my—and after, uh, 1990—uh, 1949 … I was born in Shanghai. That’s the biggest city in China. And I think we lived in a quite good neighborhood, like the middle class neighborhood in Shanghai. And I, uh, relatively I think—I think I have a quite, uh, happy childhood. My mother, uh, she was a teacher, a—a primary school teacher. My father, uh, he led—become, uh, like a publishing house, a editor for that. So, they have like the—of course, like the—after Communist Party control China, everyone will not have huge difference. Like the salary almost the same, and of course, some people will earn a little bit more, then the family becomes [laughing] middle class. That’s the kind, okay? So, uh—and both of my parents [indistinguishable] paid attention to the education. So I have been, like the—always in a very good school, like the—in, uh, primary school is good, and the, uh, middle school is, uh, in China, in—in Shanghai is the best. Like we call it Nanyangmuofan. That’s—muo fan is model. So it’s a very good, uh, high school like in—in Shanghai. So—and uh—but of course my childhood—hood, the—the worst, uh, period is—I don’t know whether you know that in China there is 3 years, they call it 3 years, uh, natural disaster area in 1960. So everyone is, like the—in the, uh—in the countryside, everyone suffered, uh, starvation a lot. But, uh, we, uh—in Shanghai, we are the like the lucky—we were lucky—but, uh, we still also, we’re (?)— the—the food was, uh, very limited and a lot of things you will need, the government will give you these small stamps [gestures size of stamp]. So you—every month you only can buy very, uh, small amount of oil, like cooking oil, and meat, and the—even the flour, rice. All are limited. So that’s—that is different for us when we growing up, you know? But my father always—he has some savings. So he—my parents [laughs] always bring us to sometime go to the restaurant to give us some of the like, uh, yeah. So that’s is my, uh—my childhood. I think it’s—it’s—it’s quite …. I still think, at that time, everything is peaceful. Of course, in China, there’s always a lot of the political, uh, like the movement, like …. But my father was lucky. Although he worked for [laughs], you know, for the— like the former government a little bit, but, uh, he was not touched until the Cultural Revolution. So that’s in 1966, okay? So that’s the whole story my family has been very— uh, had been very happy at that time.


ZX: And, uh, then, like the—when I was in, uh, high school—of course at that time I want to go to, like the, uh, very good, top universities in China, like Beijing Da, uh, University and the Qinghua, or … —I already, uh—I—I was, uh, third grade of the high school. So that’s the last year. So I’m going to graduate in 1966 from that university, and, uh, I already filled what, uh, application for which university I want to go to. But then suddenly, the—in China, the Cultural Revolution, like the—uh, started. Like the Chairman Mao [laughs] started the—the Cultural Revolution. And then everything stopped. All the university close. We were, like the—at that time, we—because of prop— propaganda …. Do you know it’s like a—Communist Party have this kind of things, propaganda, they will always, like, uh, try, uh, brainwash you, you know? Of course, I—I always also had influence—influence from my parents. My father is not like like this kind of system, of course, you know. So I—but, uh, as a young person, you will like, uh, very easy to accept also other things. So you will—you will not follow everything. Follow your parents, you know. So then in Cultural Revolution because, uh, they stop the university. Every university closed, and they saidm, “Okay. All the students like, uh, in university or in high school, you’re supposed to like, uh, take—take part in Cultural Revolution. So we just, like every day, is sit there to read the newspapers, read the— some, like, uh, documents from the, uh, Central Committee of the, uh, Communist Party and, then you just write something. Like the—I don’t know how to use English to say this—dazibao. That’s it. Like you will put—post all these things write, say, uh, you—you suspect someone maybe is our—the enemies of the country or these kind of things. But I’m not a participatant a lot, but you have to. You had to participate. You know? So-and, uh, then, later, be—after 2 years, Cultural Revolution. And actually now I—we know—we knew that because so many students stayed in the—high school and they cannot get job. And at that time, the economic in China is like just decline a lot and they can’t—they don’t have the jobs for all these young people. So Chairman Mao like said, “Okay, because you, uh, uh, young people has some, uh, knowledge. You learned a lot of science and something. So you need to go to the remote area or the really poor like area to change our country.” So this looks like a very good one. And, you know, because we say, “Oh, okay. We should contribute ourself to our country, you know, change the country.” So at that time, because I’m the first one to graduate, I already, you know, the last year in, uh, high school. So we just, uh, like, volunteered go to the remote area.


So I went to the, uh, Wilderness. Uh, uh, what do they call it? Northern Great Wilderness. Bei—Bei Da Huang. The Northern—it—that’s is in the, like Northern China, Northeastern China. And that part is, like the, uh—we have very good, the—the soil is very fertilize, very good. But there is very few people because it is so cold. And, uh, they already have some farms, very huge farms. So but, uh p—not a lot of people. So, it’s— we also call it, “Bei Da Cang.” Why call it Bei Da Cang? It’s like the northern great, like the, storage for the food because they can grow a lot of the potatoes and wheat, this kind of thing. So—and, uh, there’s a lot of novels. Be—when I was young child, as a child, we, uh, read some novels about the, uh, Northern, uh, Wilderness part. So—so I said, “Oh! That’s a good, good thing. I—I want—want go to that area. So then we just, like, uh—I with five, uh, classmates, and whole—whole Shanghai, we have like, a lot— thousands of young people and, uh, go to that area, okay? And then we become zhiqing. Zhiqing is, like the, uh, youth with knowledge. [laughs] That is zhiqing, you know? So— so, uh, because we—we thought, “Okay, we—we want like the—use our, uh, knowledge to change the countryside and the remote area.” That area is very close to Russia. So that’s Soviet Union at that time. Uh, but it’s so cold. It’s, uh, very, very cold. That’s why—how I become, that—that is my—your first question there. [laughs] Yeah.

GW: [to VW] Do you wanna [ask a question]…? [to ZX] Um, before going on with the zhiqing, can we just go back to your earlier childhood? I was just wondering if you knew why your uncle went to Taiwan and your father didn’t? Like do you know if there’s a reason behind that?

ZX: I—I don’t know exactly. Because my uncle, he was not very good, like, uh, he—he maybe cannot find a very good job at that time. My father is like—and they’re very similar. They look—although they’re not twin, but they look like very similar. And, uh, my father, he educated and also he’s very good at like the—has some skills. So he can easily find job. So at that time, my father decide not to go, and then my uncle said, “Can I use your name? I go.” Actually, he used my father’s name and go to Taiwan, yeah.

GW and VW: [overlapping] Oh. Wow.

ZX: That’s is a kind of story. And, uh, he still use my father’s name. [laughs; GW laughs] And—and my father changed, uh, used his—another name. And after like the, hmm—after Cultural Revolution, my—my uncle came to, uh, Mainland China to visit, and—but at that time, I already—I think I already in United States. So I never, uh, had a chance to meet our uncle, and he has like 3 or 4 children at Taiwan, like the same age as us. So [laughs] yeah.

VW: Have you gotten to meet them? Your cousins?

ZX: No, I—I never. Because like the—you know, the I—maybe sometime—some day I—I want to visit Taiwan. Now I become a U—United States citizen, it’s very easy for me. But I have been so busy, uh, life, here. And also, I—my wife—my wife, she from Tianjin. Tianjin is, uh, China’s third largest city. And my parents in Shanghai, her parents in Tianjin, and, uh, so every time we went back to China, we need to visit Shanghai, visit Tianjin. You know, also I—I was in Harbin, uh, got, uh—get my bachelor degree and the master degree. So too many places for me to visit. [laughs]

GW: Yeah. [laughs]

ZX: Yeah.


VW: So you already talked a little bit about zhiqing, which means educated youth?

ZX: Yes.

VW: Did you ever try to leave being a zhiqing?

ZX: Okay, definitely. That’s is why—why—I told you, I said we was volunteer. I was volunteer go to there. Of course, later, a lot of people are not volunteer; they forced to go. [GW clears throat] So that’s, uh—that’s zhiqing. The sadness and the tragedy thing is that. And, uh—but when we went there, first we thought, “Oh. We want to change.” I already said that. We want to contribute ourself to the country. But then, second year, you will see, “Okay …” Like the—at—at first, you are romantic. You—you want like the ideal—idealist. And then there’s a lot of difficulties, and the life is different and very boring, and that area is so remote. And of course, from the second year, people are depressed. It’s not very happy, and then people start to think—want to leave because before we live in—in, uh, like, uh, big city. We can watch movie on weekends (?) and also there’s a lot of, uh, book you can read at the—the libraries. There’s nothing, you know? [laughs] So—and, uh—but the—the reality give us a lesson. We just cannot go because the China has a—a hukou, uh, system, like residence system is so strict. and if you not allowed by the government, you cannot move. It’s not like here. I want to go anywhere; I can go, you know? So, and, uh, the—the—some very bad news for us is then, some people just go. Okay? Why do we—like the—I was graduate from the Nanwumuofen, uh, the middle school, uh, high school. That school we had—because it’s a very good quality school. So, uh, some people like me, I have to pass very good, uh score something then go to the school. But also we have a lot of, uh, de—descendants from the top university. Their child—children is like in this high school a lot. So we know each other. We’re, of course we are also friends or something. But then, suddenly, the—second—from the start of the second year, all these people are gone because their—their—their parents have the power, okay? So they—they go to join army or get a very good job or go back to Shanghai or like a big city. But we just stuck there. Okay? So then we realize, “Okay, what’s going on?” It’s—it’s not the—like the top leader, Chairman Mao, like the—he—he taught us, “Okay, you guys need like sacrifice to contribute to yourself” It’s not. You know? So that is how we understood the system gradually [laughs], one year by year. And I was stuck there for 10 years. The whole—my best time like from 22—uh, from 20 to 30. That’s my best time was—I have—had to spend in this area. And every year when—because we have so many like zhiqing together, we always—when people gathered together, we talk about this, how to like the manage who is already gone, who is already went back to Shanghai, who is already, uh, went to Beijing. And like all these people, it’s just like disappointing.


Finally, I was totally think, “Okay, for me it’s already hopeless.” I already decide not—not, uh, try anymore go to China because also, at that time, there a lot opportunities for these young people. You can, uh, go to the university, and then later, university opened. And, but, uh, at that time, the China’s system is like …. They said, “Okay, all the, uh, people go to university should have some political standard. That means they— they need, uh, one from a very good, uh, Chi—family. What family they think is good is like the you’re poor, worker, poor peasant—uh, peasant, farmers, or you are like soldiers or these—like before Communist Party controlled China—you—you are—is like this kind of family. But like my family—my—especially I have uncle in Taiwan, that is a big, big problem. So I just don’t have any chance. And, also, at that time, you know, like the young people—young people need to fall in love. [laughs] And like the—have family, all this, kind. But for zhiqing, a lot of people just don’t dare to do that. Why? It’s because once you, uh, have a family in like this remote area, no any possibility for you go back to—to big city. So [bird chirping] a lot of people …. Then I—like when I, uh, become like 28 or something, okay, I think I already hopeless so …. And also, I fall, uh, in [love] with my wife at the time. So we just married in this remote area. The—the story I wrote in our book is like the—how my daughter was born in this area. So, my—my daughter was—like, actually is born in Northern, uh, like the Wilderness area. It’s where—and also was born in my home. And, uh, I, at that time—I had to build my home, like the—and in—in that area, I was working in, uh, like the— they call it military farm. Military farm. But actually it is nothing with military. We don’t have any weapon or something, but they just like, uh, put this farm in a system and the China—Chinese Liberation Army system, but it—it’s different. Um, at that time—time, like the—we also—we mostly do farm. But I was lucky because I was, uh, in Qi Qing, a—a pr—a middle school there. They also have middle school. They also have children. So—and then, uh, we have several, uh, teachers like the—also getting this age need to marry and have family. So, then we just—like four people together—we build our, like a full apartment together like four, very small, these kind of clay house. [laughs] It’s—actually it’s like the—we need make these clay brick. And then we—we may, uh, lay these, uh, our house, and the— the—the roof is all these, uh thatched (?)—grasse—grass. So it is very hard time. But, anyway, I still enjoy it, you know? I have a small yard like because there—there’s a lot of the, uh, place. [laughs] It’s not that big a problem. So I plant my vegetables; I raise some chicken or something.


But the, uh, one thing is like the—when we have baby. Like my—my wife was pregnant and, at that time, uh, we have several, like, zhiqing friends. They also have family, and had a family. They, uh, like the—once pregnant, they still managed went back to the city to—because they had the hospital or something. But, at that time, both my family and my wife’s family—family has a little bit family issues. So we—we think, “Oh. We maybe should not.” My wife think—thought, he—she would not—not like go back to the city. So she stayed in the farm. And there’s some like doctors in every farm, but the—the doctor was also nervous because she said, “Ah woo”. She—of course she helped to like the, uh, uh, childbirth for a lot of the farmers. Uh, but, uh, she never had the experience with these—like the young people, from like the big city. Because, “You guys,” she said. “Okay, you—you’d better bet—uh, went back—come back to—to Shanghai” or something. But my wife, she said, “Okay. Uh, other people can do. Why I cannot do?” You know? [VW laughs] So she just, uh, insists to stay. And, uh, so my story is all that. I will never forgot that night [laughs] my—my daughter born in my sm—little, small clay house. And the whole, because it’s—it was a little bit, like the, difficult. She was a big baby and the [laughs]—the birth is not easy and take—took like the whole night. And, uh, finally—and [laughs] she was there, you know? So that’s our story. Yeah.

VW: So did you still retain your hukou in Shanghai when you moved to be a zhiqing?

ZX: [overlapping] No. No, once you, uh, went to the, uh, Northern area, then you lost your hukou. That is why you—we cannot go back. If you don’t have hukou, then you will not get any job. Okay? And also I told you. I said at that time, everyone government will give you stamps for how many rice you can buy, how many, uh, oil you can—cooking oil you can buy. And then if I go back, I don’t have these stamps, and I have to eat my parent’s. That’s not a way to go. So … and if you the—you’re already grown-up. You don’t have money; you don’t have job. That’s … so, we just gave up.

VW: Can you talk more about how the hukou system works, in general?

ZX: Yeah, I hate, uh, this. Like the—maybe hate is a very strong word, but I—I just think this is ridiculous. Okay? It’s like limit, uh, the people’s potential, and also, like, still, it’s still in China right now. And I think especially for these people, like if they was—they were born in a very poor area, they—they just don’t have a lot of hope. So that’s …. And of course some people maybe they don’t realize. They think “Okay. That is what my fate.” But for us, because we were—I was born in like Shanghai and then I see all this. And then I go to that area, and I—because this system, I cannot go back. [GW clears throat] That is why I definitely is not, uh, happy with this. And, uh, of course, maybe, uh, like if—compared to here, like in Western country, like the—it’s totally free. You can—you in United States…


Like I remember when I first came to United States, and then I wanted to stay. And then I attended a Senate, and one person talk about like the, uh, find job, or this kind of …. One sentence I always remember. He said, “United States. We have fifty states. You can find job in any state.” You know? So that was like, immediately, maybe it’s— it’s not a very strong feeling for like the person grown up in United States. But for us, suddenly think, “Oh. That—that’s right.” You know? So, this … [laughs]

VW: So how does the Chinese residency system compare to the United States residency system?

ZX: Yes. That’s is I think in—in United States, residency system is very flexible, you know? And, uh, it’s been (?)—also, like the, all—it’s not only give, uh, opportunity for like it—its own, uh, citizen. It also gives a lot—the opportunity for the—like the foreigners, like immigrants. So I think this is—is very good. But, uh—but, still I—I think there’s a lot, uh, to be improved because the residents—because I also have the, uh, experience with my daughter. [laughs] My daughter is—now live in Canada. Like the—when I moved to United States, and I apply for my wife and my daughter, uh, came to United States to stay with me, uh, live with me, but, uh, of course I think, us, as a country, uh he—like uh, has his, like the right to do anything for—to the foreigners. Because that’s—they need like, uh, have their own benefits. But, uh, rough (?)—at that time also caused some difficulties for me because they immediately gave my wife visa, but they never gave my daughter a visa because my daughter, at that time, is already in high school. And [laughs] so they said, “Okay. He— she will, like, uh, has intention to, like, uh—to become like the permanent residence in China—in United States.” So she was refused several times, and then, uh, my wife had to—like the we had to left her alone in China for awhile. She stayed with grandmother. And, uh, so we, like the we live (?) here (?). And then later, I applied for Canadian residence and at that time, Canadian government allowed her to go to Canada. So that’s is the—the story. That is why my—my daughter lives—her whole family still live in Canada, in Ottawa. And I don’t know is this, uh …. Also this is—when she moved to Canada, I—me and my wife—at that time, I lived in New England. And, uh, she, uh, landed in Montreal. That’s in Cana—Canada, uh, Quebec. And, uh, we went there to see her, and then we tried ling bring her to [laughs] United States. We thought this is so easy, you know? But then, she need visa from, uh, US, uh, em—uh, embassy. And that officer—I also remembered—he told me, “This girl will never be allowed to go to Chi—uh, United States.” Oh my God! I don’t know, uh, this—this officer. I—I just, like [laughs]. I don’t think he’s like the, says is—is correct. You know? And … but actually, my—my daughter very easily to get—become a Canadian citizen. And then she—she comes to— here to visit us every year. You know? So it’s not a big problem, but I don’t know why this officer [laughs] say that. Yeah.


I wrote, uh, articles, uh, like this. That’s maybe 5 or 6 years ago. I, uh—this article, uh, is, uh—the name—the title is “Galaxy.” I—I don’t know whether you guys know this Chinese story. It’s weaver girl and, uh, cowboy, Niu Lang, Zhi Nu. I don’t know whether you know … like [GW laughs] Huh?

GW: No.

ZX: A stor—a love story. It’s like the—a cowherd—they say the cowherd. [spells out] Co-w-h-e-r-d. A—a young person is—take care of the cows.

VW: Mm-hmm.

ZX: And weaver girl, she is a fairy tale—fairy from the—from the heaven. And, uh—but she is doing the weaver. So they fall—she went to the earth and the—she fall in love with this cowherd. And then because the—the girl is from heaven, and there’s like the—her mother doesn’t like—like she marry, like the poor (?) earth boy, you know? So she separated them. And they said—actually, these are 2 stars in the—in the sky, right. And the galaxy is like the Milky Way. So, uh, this—there’s—this story said her mother separated them with—with galaxy. So these two stars are here. [laughs] I don’t …. It’s quite a popular, uh, story in China. So, I feel like the—at that time, my wife had to, like, leave—left me went to Canada to take—uh, live with my, uh, daughter together. So it’s separated a little bit. So I feel like this galaxy is kind of—this kind of residence system, like not only in China. Hukou—hukou system is the worst. And—but here, [laughs] also have some similar effects for the—a lot of families, for a lot of the people.

VW: When did you come to the United States?

ZX: Yes. Uh, I, actually, like the—maybe I also need talk a little bit about how I left the like Northern, uh, Wilderness, you know? That is—I—I already told you like the—I was already feel hopeless, and married, and has children. I have a child at that time. So I thought I already settle down—settled down in that area. And I never think I will go back to big city and leave that area. But then, at that year, that is my—my daughter was born that year. That’s 19— 1977. Yes. And, uh, Mao, Chairman Mao was died in 1976. And once she—he died, everyone realize this system is so ridiculous. Okay? And then there’s another leader, Deng, Deng Xiaoping. So he become a—a top leader. And then, he want, immediately, uh, recover, like, uh, reopen the university system. That is definitely needed. And then— before I said, if you want to go to the, uh, universities, you have to be born in these kinds of families. But, at that year, everything changed. And they resumed, uh like the examination system. Everyone supposed to pass the exams. So I was at this kind of remote area. And I also applied for the universities. So, at that time, I was successfully, uh, to pass the exams. I already 30 years old.


But because my—they already—at that time, in China there’s a lot of age, uh, discrimination. They said, “Okay. Only like the unmarried people, [laughs] young people can go to these top universities.” Like for us, already married and, uh, old, they—at first they don’t allow us to take part in the—in the, uh, exams. But then, later Deng Xiaoping said, “Okay, let them do.” So we—I took the entrance—they call it university entrance, uh, exam. And, uh—but for—for me, already married, you only go—can go to the normal universities. That means, only become a teacher, right? So I was—because I have very high score at that time. So they admitted me at the Harbin Normal University. Harbin is the capital city in this Wilderness, like the area. That’s Heilongjiang Province. So—and then I become, uh, like the—I study biology. And, also, after 2 years, I was—took a shortcut, become a master students. I haven’t finished everything in bachelor, but I already en—enrolled in a master’s degree. [indistinguishable] But I do both, like the bachelor—I also take, uh, class, also do that because it’s already too—too old. It’s [laughs] like 30-something. Okay, then I was, uh—got my master’s degree. At that time, I was in China after, uh, Cultural Revolution, the first group of the master degrees that graduate. So [GW clears throat] I immediately got a very good offer from a very good university. That’s Nan Kai University. Nankai University is in Tianjin. At that time, I got several off— offers, but I choose Nankai is because my wife, she already moved back to Tianjin, and with my daughter. So that’s …. And later I, like the, teach. I taught biology in Nankai University for almost 10 years. And now, back to your question, how I, uh, come to United States. [laughs] At that time, like we have some, like the, opportunities to—[clears throat] to go abroad for study. I got a chance to, like the —to do some research with a—a professor in New Zealand. So I went to New Zealand to—did like the ecology, uh, like a fresh water ecology project with a very famous, uh, professor. Her name is Burns, Dr. Burns. Uh, Carolyn Burns. And New Zealand is very good, very beautiful country. I still like that country. And I stayed there for one—one year, okay? And we finished several proj— research projects. And, uh, then I back to China. That is 1989. Once I back to China, there’s, in China—there’s a big Tiananmen Square, since 1989. And before the Tiananmen Square movement, I—because I just got back from Western country, influenced by these, like the freedom and all these democracy, like all these [laughs] ideas. So, in our, uh, Nankai University, also a lot of students, and a lot of the professors also like, uh, participate for the demonstrations or these kind of things. I— I, uh—I remember I only went to once, like a protest. That’s it. Uh, and—but I—I’m not, uh …. But suddenly, there’s Tiananmen Square. So that is, uh, since, like, led me feel very uncomfortable, you know? [laughs] Because like how a government can do that? Okay? So that’s is—I and also I have a—I thought I maybe want to move to other country. That’s in the …


And then I apply for universities. At that time, I already 40s, in my 40. And I already become a professor, uh—associate professor in Nankai University. But I don’t have PhD. That’s very common in—in China at that time. But, uh, when I went to like attend some conference and—and also I change papers with other, uh, countries, they always say “Dr. Xu”, “Dr.” you know. So I feel, “Okay. Maybe I should go study, uh, PhD or something. Then I apply. I got accepted by Penn—Pennsylvania State University, Penn State. And that’s the ecology, uh, program. So, uh, when I become a PhD student in Penn State, they give me some research assistantship. At that time, China is still very poor and we don’t have a lot of money, like the—we cannot afford the tuition in United States at all. So only they give—give us like the research assistantship we can come. And I also take the GRE or TOEFL, all these kinds of things. At—I still remember, at that time, all these young people [laughs]. I was—I am middle—middle-aged person with them to—to do the tests. Anyway, I passed and then went to Penn State. So that’s is how I come to United States. Yeah.


GW: So, how has it—how has your experience in the US as an immigrant been? Um, have you had any difficulties in acclimating to the new culture, or anything like— anything like interesting?

ZX: Hmm. I—I don’t think there’s too much difficulties. Of course, language always difficult. Although I pass the TOEFL [laughs]. But still, you know, like the—that’s the— when you pass the exam, it’s totally different when you hear people talk, you know? So, that’s—is a big problem. But I have been like the, uh … I was—decide I just want only watch, like, English TV. I don’t want to watch any Chinese TV. That is how I came—like the, gradually become, uh, mastered my English. Of course, my English is still very poor, you know? Like the [laughs] accent, uh. I maybe will never change. But anyway, I—I feel like at first I hate comedy, you know? United—uh, US comedy I—I just don’t like because I don’t—everyone laugh; I don’t laugh. You know?

GW: [laughs] Yeah.

ZX: And then now I—I really like watch comedy, like the Big Bang [The Big Bang Theory], all these kinds of things. Because it’s—now you gradually know these words, and you understand the culture. So you become … so that’s how I overcome my like, language problem. And also because you have a family, you have all these barriers, all these things you need to deal with. So you definite need like the—have a very good language skills.


So that’s is—now I—I’m quite confident. I think I don’t have any problem deal with all my family issues [laughs], you know? And, other things, I think the United States is—is so good to the immigrants. Except, like the—I still think the immigration, uh, policy maybe just still need change a little bit. Like, why is it limit these talented people, all knowledgeable people. Like the—I—it took me 7 years to get my green card, you know? I don’t know why it’s so long. Because I—first I need to study the PhD. At this period I cannot apply for green card at all. And then after that, I got a job. Got a job as a post-doc, a post-doc, uh, job. That totally depends on your, uh, like, advisor. The—my advisor was—I—my first advisor …. Maybe I should not say that. She was a little bit mean, you know? So that is why for me, she will like want me sign agreement: you have to stay here how long, then we can sponsor your, like the—the—the H1 and the—the green card, all these kinds [of things]. So I missed my opportunity to apply for—for like, the, uh, tenure track positions because I—at that time, I be—I’m a post-doc, you—you already sign agreement with the—the Tufts. Uh, I—the first—my, uh, workplace is Tufts University. And she made to sign this kind of agreement. So I cannot leave. And then, [laughs] once you—I don’t know, for— for you guys to know, like the—you cannot be a post-doc longer than 3 years. Longer than that, you are dead. [laughs] That’s the United States. If they see—see a—a resume you are like the—always like, for postdoc for 4 years, 5 years, nobody will consider you as a [indistinguishable 1 word] you know? So, then I have been like there working for …. So my—my tie to United States is always research position, okay? So that means I need find some like, funding to support myself, all like this kind of thing. So—but I also was lucky. Like, after I left Tufts University, and uh, uh, I went to UH [University of Houston]. And there’s two professors, they hire me as a research professor, and in—in University of Houston do some research for 3 years. And, after that, I was hired by another, uh, person. He’s—this PI. We call it PI, the principal investigator. He has a lot of the funding, and he’s a—a computer science. He’s doing the bio-informatics. So he really need a very experienced biologist to go— work with him, like the—as—as a [GW clears throat—like the …. So, I take care of his, like the biology branch. So he is like the bio-informatics. So then I become a—like the research associate professor in UH. And, uh, one year ago, we moved to UTMB. And UTMB because they are medical system, they don’t, uh, give me the professor title. [laughs] They—they give me like scientist. So I become a research scientist in U—UTMB. That’s is my story. I—in— in United States, I have been in 5 uni—universities now. Like the—I study in Pennsylvania State University. But, uh, I haven’t graduate [yet]. My advisor, he moved to Portland State University in Oregon, and I went with him and study—uh, do my research there. But I still got my PhD in Penn State. After that, in Tufts University, Houston— University of Houston, and then, now UT, University of Texas. Yeah.

GW: So, coming to the US, how do you think that has affected your sort of identity as a Chinese, um, citizen as well as a zhiqing? Like, has that affected—

ZX: [overlapping] As a zhiqing?

GW: [overlapping]—your identity in any way?


ZX: I still love China. I still think I’m a Chinese. But I’m—I already become a United States citizen. So I’m think I’m American Chinese, or Chinese American. Whatever, you know? So, for—that’s—I sometimes a little bit different from my wife. She still think she is like the—like—she still like thinks and behaves—I think, that’s my opinion—behaves like a Chinese, you know? We—so, anytime if there is something, um … like, talk about issue, I will stand in United States’ … this stand, like, side. But, uh, I will very—like the, uh, give some very, uh … how to say? When I judge things happen in China, I will use— I try use the point of view from here, you know, but not from China, you know. So that is, uh, influencing myself, I—I definitely—I think this.


GW: [whispers to VW] Do you want to ask a question? [pause]

ZX: No questions?

GW: Okay, I can—well … so … uh, since it sounds like you moved around a lot, how— how long have you been in Houston, and how do you think Houston is like different than other cities that you’ve lived in?

ZX: Okay, yes. I moved, uh—I lived in United States, like, the 4—4 states, like the Pennsylvania, Oregon, and, uh, Massachusetts, and Texas. So I feel the difference, okay? Like, all [GW cougs]—like, Massachusetts is so Democratic [laughs] states, and Texas is such a Republic [Republican] states. So I feel the difference, and …. But I—right now, I really like, uh, Houston. Houston is like the so di—diverse—uh, has a lot of diversity. And I—I feel—I like it. And also we have such a good, large Chinese community. I also like. Like the—before, I—once I came to here, I saw, “Oh, there’s even has a zhiqing association.” You know? That kind of organization. And I can meet so many people with similar experience with me. And that’s how we organize to write book, all these kinds of …. We can talk each other. We have, uh, same feeling, and become very good friendship, you know? So that’s is—I really like the—the—Houston. And also, weather is better. I have been—live in—very long time in my life is in very cold area. Like in China, I lived—because I went to the Northern Wilderness. That’s the Northeast China, and then I come to United States, and I got my first job in New England. That’s Northeast United States. Also so cold! [laughs]

GW: Yeah.

ZX: I said maybe I am just like the—uh, I have—have some fate with the cold area. And then now I move here. I just love this weather. Although in summer it’s too hot.

GW: Yeah. [laughs; ZX laughs]

VW: So, in all of the places that you lived, did you try and keep contacts with the Chinese community there? Or, how did you … um, I guess … celebrate your Chinese culture? If so, how in the United States?


ZX: [overlapping] I, uh—still like we need some Chinese friends to, uh, get together, like …. But most the way we got contact with Chinese community is through the church because I went to Chinese church, you know. At first like in—in Penn State and Port—in Oregon, I don’t went to church a lot because at that time I’m like study PhD. [laughs] So busy, and just no time. And also, you know, in China a lot of people who—my whole childhood is atheist, like this kind of education I just cannot accept, the—the Christian, all this kind of …. But later, there a lot of the, uh, things made me change. So I also become a Christian, and I went to—always went to the Chinese Christian, uh, church. So that’s is how I com—like, uh, connect myself to the Chinese community. And now there’s some—like, this kind of the zhiqing association, in—in Houston there’s a lot of Chinese ac—activity. Some lo—uh, now we also have a lot of 同會[tóng xìang hùi, trans: diasporic association]. I don’t know, I—do you know, 同會? You don’t know. Like, each city and all—area, these people come from like the every way, all come from Shanghai. Like now we live in Houston, we will have, like, Shanghainese, like, organization. And also we— my wife from Tianjin, and we ha—formed a, like, Tianjin folk, like, association. So like, this Tianjin folk association was formed, like, just last year. And there’s a newspaper, and I—I also was one of the, like the, uh, organizers, you know? So I also wrote a—a le—a— a article like describe how I become, uh, like, the son-in-law of the Tianjin [laughs]. They’re published in a Chinese newspaper. So … yeah. So, it’s—it’s good because you— -you still need, like the, uh …. Also I have a lot of the America, uh, friends. And also—I also have a Facebook, you know, to communicate with my, uh, America friends and Chinese friends. [laughs]


GW: Um, out of curiosity, what’s the name of your, um, Chinese church that you go to here?

ZX: Living God.

GW: Oh.

ZX: Church of Living God. Yeah, it’s—it’s very small church. Yeah, and it’s—it’s so easy because we have—now I—like when I came from [to] the, uh Texas …. Oh, there’s a story. Because you said you live so many, uh, states, what—how you think about Texas? I think New England—New England people is really … uh, like the—have some opinion about Texas. [laughs; GW laughs] I don’t know where you—

GW: [overlapping] Yeah.

ZX: [overlapping]—come from. Uh, because when I got a job in Texas, the—all my colleague[s] in Tufts said, “What, Zhenkang? How you go to the Texas?” [laughs; GW laughs] Now I—later I wrote a letter to them, I said, “Texas is great!” I think Houston, now we become the top city in China—in United States. So …. Oh, you—you asked me about our church?

GW: Oh, yeah.

ZX: Yeah, yeah. The—the church, how I can, uh, go to this church—uh, Living God church—is because I found it in newspaper at that time, when I moved here. And, uh, when I moved here, I lived in the West—West University, that area. So, uh, I found out (?) this Chinese church is most close. So I went to that church. And then, um, the—the— the pastor help me find my house. So I purchased a—a house in the, uh, Dairy Ashford area. So at that area. And, uh, the pastor also live there, and [laughs] a lot of the, uh, people in our church live there. So, it’s very easy.

VW: I guess you already touched upon some of the sacrifices, um—

ZX: [overlapping] Mm-hmm.

VW:—that you had to make, but what was the biggest difficulty in obtaining citizenship for the United States?


ZX: Most difficulty is obtaining …. I think the, like the—get the, uh, green card is quite difficult. At that—at least, at that time for me, you know? And maybe it’s not lucky for me, like the—uh, I first apply for, uh, green card through National Interest Waiver, ethat program. And for—at that time, I already have several, like, papers and, uh published, there should be no any problem. And also have a lot of people, uh, wrote, uh, reference for me, all these kinds of things. And then, suddenly—I already submit my application through a lawyer—and suddenly, like, that year, I think that’s in 2oh-oh-oh, uh, 2, yeah, 2000. And suddenly there’s policy change. They suddenly put a lot of re—restriction on the NIH [NIW?]. So then it’s just like my application was failed! I—I become a Christian at that time. [laughs] And then—because I feel I’m so powerless, you know? I’m so [laughs] …. And then, like, Tufts University, like sponsored me as like apply for first priority, like …. And take—took another, like, 2 or 3 years because, yeah. It’s 7 years; it’s quite long. [laughs]

VW: So you first applied in … which year? For your green card?

ZX: [overlapping] I first applied—because—let me see—I—1993 I came to United States. I got my PhD in 1997. And then in 1997 once I got, like the, uh, my post-doc, and 1998 I, like, apply for my green card. Yes. Actually, it’s, uh, 7 years is include my PhD student—studies. It’s—it’s quite [long] …. And during this time, I didn’t go to—go back to China even once because the—like, at that time, once you leave, uh—leave United States, it’s—sometimes they can refuse you come back again or something. So …[laughs]

VW: So, during all of this time, your daughter was in Canada?

ZX: That’s right.

VW: So how often did you get to see her?

ZX: Like the—uh, from 1993 to 1998—I think 1998—she was in China. And, uh, so, her last 3 years in high school, she was alone. And then my wife went back, when she, like, graduate from high school. My wife went back to take care of her, to help her to pass the, uh, university entrance exam. And then she become a, like the university, uh, junior? That first year is junior? Yeah. And …

VW: [overlapping] Freshman.

ZX: Yeah. And, uh, only one semester she was in China, in the university, and then she become—was accepted by Canada. Then she came here. And, since then, she is always in Cana—Canada. And then they married and she has three children now, yeah. I want attract my, uh, granddaughter to the Rice University. [laughs; GW laughs] So, I’m so happy to have this chance to come to Rice. [laughs]

GW: [laughs] Is she applying right now? Or is she …

ZX: [overlapping] No, she—she is still small.

GW: Oh, she’s still small, okay. [laughs]

ZX: I say—I just, like, led her, you know.

GW: Uh-huh.

ZX: She is like 10 years old.

GW: Oh. [laughs]

ZX: But it’s still will be very fast—very fast, you know? [laughs] Maybe 8 years later, she need find the …. She already a little bit, like, not obe—obedient with her mother now. [laughs] She says, “I want to leave family!” [laughs] So I think, “Ah, this is a good way for [laughs]—for attract her here, you know?” [All laugh] Hmm.


GW: Oh, um, what type of work does your daughter do in Canada? Like …

ZX: She, uh—she is computer science—uh, computer engineer, uh, degree. And, uh, so she is working for government right now. And both her—she and her husband, they work for government. So no way to attract them here. [laughs]

GW: Yeah. [laughs]

ZX: No way. Because in Canada, like, once you, in—uh like the—got a job in government. Oh, it’s so … so nice there. [laughs] They don’t want to leave.

VW: Um, could you tell us more about your job? And what you do?

ZX: Uh, I—my job is, like the—um, my major is biology, you know? Like before, in China I was in, like the, mostly …. I got my degree in zoology, like, I doing these protozoa—zoa system or do a lot of cell biology. And then I came to United States. Uh, my advisor, he was a quite famous protozoologist and also ecologist. So I, like, do some molecular, uh, ecology. Later, like the—I got—after graduation from Penn State, I got a job in, uh, Tufts. Uh, that job is doing the molecular biology for shrimp. Actually, I don’t know why. Like, Tufts, they don’t—they don’t have—like, Massachusetts they don’t have a lot of shrimp, but we have a program doing shrimp. And, uh, I—I did, like, 7 years in Tufts University. And then later I move to, uh, University of Houston, and—doing molecular biology, like genetic map for frog … for frog. So I have been like the—uh, from smallest protozoa, to the shrimp, now is to frog, and then now to like the human or something, anything else, you know? Right now, like the …. Then later, like the—that project—frog project went out, no—no funding, and then I work for, uh, bio-informatics, uh, person. And he is doing everything, like the nextgeneration sequencing. So, right now—like the—he doing the analyze because nextgeneration sequencing is a good thing because, like, you know, like, uh, we sequencing human genome, like, before it’s like for—for 10 years, the whole United States doing that. And, take—uh, spend a lot of money. And now, we call it next-generation sequencing. Only one week, a—like, a machine can do like a human genome sequence. So, I—in our lab we have, uh, like, um … instrument called Illumina. We can do the human genome sequencing. If you guys like, [laughs] we can sequence for you! [laughs; GW laughs]


VW: I guess, um, so you said that the zhiqing association wrote a book.

ZX: [overlapping] Uh-huh. Mm-hmm.

VW: And so, how many stories are in it, and how did you guys compile it?


ZX: We have, like, 14 authors. Yeah. This is, like the, uh …. We have this organi— org—uh, they—I think that in Houston area, they have this zhiqing, uh, organization in 1989 or something? Really long ago. And at that time, I’m not in Houston. So I don’t know at all. And then, later, I moved to here it’s like the 2-oh-oh-4 [2004]. That year, I move to Houston. And I start to join them and, uh, like, uh, they have a lot of parties, all these kinds of things. And then, last—I think that’s last year, and when …. They published a novel in Chinese, published like small, uh, stories, a book. They call—called it San Se Tu (三色土), Three Colors of Earth, because in China, we—the— the—the earth color is different. Some area is dark, uh, black; some is red; some is yellow. So they call it this because all these people come from—to different countryside, you know? And that book is published, like, in—10 years ago. And then, last year, the—the, uh, head of the—the chairman of the organization, he likes to write stories or something. So he, uh, suggest, “Can we just like—wrote our story in English?” You know? At that time, I was a little [indistinguishable]. So I said, “Oh. I—like the—I can’t write in Chinese, how I can write in English? But then I have a very good friend. She is also a zhiqing. And, uh, she attend the same church with me. And, uh, her name is Shui Pei Kang, and she is our editor, the main editor. She, uh, contribute to this, uh, book a lot, because she’s—she got her master degree in, uh, Sam Houston University, and she’s—uh, her major is English. So that is how she can …. She also published her own book before. So then, I introduce her to our, uh, organization and she—because she—she also a zhiqing. So then we decide— we have several people together—we decide okay, let us try it. I—we didn’t think it can be published, you know, at all. But we—everyone try wrote…. At first, I wrote the first—I think I wrote the first story because the chairman say that it’s this way. And before they already wrote in Chinese. So I was a newcomer. So I wrote my story, and they said, “Oh, this is a good.” I wrote this story how my daughter was born in my own clay home, you know, house. So then they say that, “Okay, we want to still because if we publish in Chi—Chinese maybe we not popular in United States.” So they still say that, “I—we want do it in English.” So Kang Shui Pei, this, uh— her name is—English name is Connie. Connie spent a lot of time help we—we some— uh, help us translate. And then my sec—second story I wrote in English. It’s very easy. [popping sound] I just put my Eng—Chinese in Google. [GW and VW laugh] Google translation, and then there’s like, English. Then I change, you know? There’s a much easy way to write. [laughs] Be … of course, Google is will carry you a lot of wrong things. So I, like, modified. And then, uh, Connie help to editor. So all the—the 14 people doing the same thing, and then, like, Connie, and another one—another person. He is also like the, uh, teach English right now. So he also help to edit. So we finally make it this. And Connie’s, uh, professor—uh, her advisor when she do the master degree, She—he—he is, like, the editor of the Texa—Texas Review, and he think this is good book because right now in China, like all these top leader is zhiqing. Like the—you know, like Chinese president, Xi Jinping, and the—the—the Pre—Premier, like, Minister, also a zhiqing. Everyone is our generation. So that means this kind of book is not only a story, also will be useful for, like, the United States policymaker or something [laughs]. I don’t know. [laughs] They can understand why these—this generation people is—is—behave this way, [laughs] you know? So that’s is our story. So hope you—you guys can help us to like the—distribute—like the—spread words to the America. [ZX and GW laugh] Your friends, or something, you know. So…


VW: Yeah, what is the book called?

ZX: The book called Zhiqing. Zhiqing, then, uh, two dot, and then, A Special, uh, Generation from China.

VW: So it’s called, Zhiqing, semicolon … [ colon]?

ZX: Semicolon, eh, yeah, semicolon.

VW: Or, semicolon [colon]?

ZX: And then, uh …

VW: A special generation?

ZX: Uh, China’s special generation.

VW: Okay, zhiqing …

ZX: Yeah. I can send an e-mail to you guys.

GW: Mm. Mm-hmm.

VW: Okay, thank you.

ZX: The—the—the connection, all these … yeah. Because I also send my, uh, article to—to my daughter and she was very interesting to see this because now she know how she was born in such a—a remote area. And also she said, “Oh you guys wrote in English. So it’s would be good for my—my kids,” you know? So I would—and—the, uh, older—oldest granddaughter already read it. [laughs]

GW: Oh. [laughs] [pause]

ZX: Yeah.

GW: Oh, um, so you said that you wrote 2 stories for the book, um I was just wondering, your second one, um, “To Slaughter a Pig”, what—what—what is that about? Can you like talk about how …

ZX: Oh, uh is it—you have this, uh, title? Yeah. Uh … “A Slaughter of a Pig.” Yeah. This story is a—it’s a funny story because I was in charge of dining room for our zhiqing. Because we—we have like a hundred zhiqing live in farm—farm, and so we also will have a dining set room for these. And we have, uh, 7 peoples doing cooking for—for these. And 1 time, like the—suddenly, when, uh, leader of this, like a cook—dining room team—he—he is not a zhiqing. He is, like the older people before. And he was corruptions, or like the—take—took some money from the dining room or something? Then, they fired him. And at that time, uh, they appoint me to be in charge of that. And then suddenly, like the—of course I’m like—I don’t—don’t know the cooking at all, you know? I’m not very good in kitchen, all these kinds of things. But anyway, I managed it because I—most of the things I need to do is purchase things or like the decide the price for the dishes, all these kinds of things. But anyway, like the—in this, uh, remote area, when you like, uh, [order] meat, it’s not you have the—the pork will like, ship to you. It’s not. We will, like the—all these farmers, like the—uh, except zhiqing—there’s a lot of the old farmers. They raise pigs in their home. And then as leader of this dining room, I need go to there to purchase the pig. It’s—it’s—I don’t know how to …. [laughs] So you know, you need like the—uh, push down the pig and like wrap it and then, um, use the cart to move it to the dining room and kill it.


Of course, there’s a lot of people doing that. But one time, like a zhiqing, a Shanghai zhiqing, he, like the—he like doing some, uh, fieldwork. And because all these people are young, and they like the—said, “Okay. Uh, he—he has a, uh, small, uh, uh, knife in the hand.” He said, “In this small pig, is only a piglet. There’s some curl on the— on the skin.” And he told his friend, he said, “Okay, I can use this knife.” Immediately like goes to this curl. And his friend said, “No, no way. You cannot go there.” Then he just do it. And then this pig immediately went—uh, go back to home. And because this owner is not happy because there a lot of blood. And it’s a small piglet, maybe will die. So then, he want his—him to pay money for that. And these zhiqing, like, don’t have money at that time. We only have really low salary. So, then he came to me because I’m in charge of the dining. Said, “Can you purchase this piglet?” Okay. And because we are all zhiqing, uh, we all left our home, and so I felt I should help him at that time. So, but, uh, in the dining room we have, uh, a chef. He is old—old people, and he doesn’t like—he didn’t like this way. Like he said, “Okay, this pig—piglet, if you—you bought—purchased this piglet, you definitely will not make any benefit. You will like the—lost money because it’s so small.” But, uh, a lot of zhiqing, like the pushing me said, “Okay, we need help him.” So I decide help him [laughs] to purchase that, uh, piglet. But usually the chef is the—the person to do the, uh, slaughter this pig! I just cannot do it. But he—he is not—he was not happy. He said, “I’m not, uh, like, doing this—this piglet for you.” So I said, “Okay. Looks like I have to do it.” I had—so, I [laughs]—I did it twice. The piglet just not dying! Oh my God! And then some other people to help me, like other (?) old farmers help me. But—so that is, uh, uh, like a story, kind of because we all like the left home, so far away. I just felt we need to help each other. So—and actually this, uh, piglet didn’t lose money because every zhiqing, they said, “Okay, we would like pay a little bit high price buy these dishes.” So, that’s my story. [pause] [laughs]

GW: Um, I was wondering about your wife’s family, and her, like, sort of background? Did—it sounded like she was also a zhiqing?

ZX: Yes. Yeah.

GW: Can you talk more about, like, how you met her and stuff?

ZX: [overlapping] Yeah. My—my wife, she’s was from, uh, Tianjin. That’s third largest city. Like, you know Tianjin? [laughs] Tian—you know Tianjin?

GW: I don’t …[laughs]

ZX: Yeah? Beijing is biggest—uh, the capital, and Shanghai is the biggest [city] … Before, we have 3 biggest city directly belong to the central government, Tianjin is 1. So Tianjin is quite big city. And, uh, she was in that city. And she also—she’s 3—like, [when] I was, uh, third grade in high school, she was third grade in middle school. So— and she graduate also in 1966, in that year. But, uh, of course, because school system close. So she cannot go to the high school at all. And, uh, she also volunteered—go— went to, uh—to the, like the Northern, uh, Wilderness, you know. And, uh, her family was, uh, like the average family. I think that—like the—if—if my family can say it’s middle, I think she is, like the lower than us. Like their—their family has like the very small house, like. And, uh—but—but of course she doesn’t has, like, this relation—uh, like me—like the my family has—my—my father has this kind of history and we have relative in Taiwan. So, she can, like the, have more opportunities than me to—at the time. But, uh, in—in the Heilongjiang province, where we settle down, she is—she was, uh, like, the—the—how—shop manage—uh, like the, uh, saleswoman, this kind of things. Like the—in—in her very small farm, there’s only a small, like the, uh, shop. like she need every day go to the big shop to im—like, import some stuff for the whole peop—uh, whole farm. [very quiet] So that’s her story. And then later, she moved to a bigger, like the headquarter of this farm. And I was teaching there. So, you know, we knew each other. And, uh, when she—when we falled in love, and then she want to—we want to marry each other, at that time a lot of people advised her, said—she said me— my—said, “Do you know? [laughs] His family has relative in Taiwan? You should not marry him.” [laughs] But anyway, she did, uh, correct choice. [ZX and GW laugh] [1:31:40]

GW: Uh, did you ever get to meet her family, or …?

ZX: Oh, yes. Yeah, yeah. I—because then I lived in Tianjin.

GW: Oh.

ZX: For 10 years. That’s is because, you—you know—uh, now I need back to the hukou system. Like the—in 1977, I pass the—the entrance exam. So I went to a university. At the—the first year, she still in the farm. It’s—it was very difficult. But we immediately send our daughter to Shanghai. My—my parents take—took good care of her. And my wife still had to stay in the remote area. And, you know, there no tap water. No tap water. We—every day, we need go to like the—I don’t know how to use English to say that— we need, uh, get the water from the well, and, uh, quite a long distance carry the 2 bucket of water to home, you know? So that is how she stayed there like, for 1 year. And then later, like the—Deng Xiaoping decide like, okay, the—all the zhiqing can go home. So she, in 1998, uh not—19 … 1978, she went back to Tianjin. So that’s is why—like, because hukou system, uh, when I got my, uh, master’s degree, I get a lot of—I can go to Shanghai, go, uh, back to my parents’ city. And also I can go to Beijing or Tianjin, like the—but my wife would be difficult to move with me. So I decide, just go to the Tianjin. Took that offer. So—so I live—stayed in Tianjin for 10 years, uh, in Nankai University. That’s a very good university.

VW: So when Deng Xiaoping said the zhiqing could go home, so it—he re-established their hukou from where they were?

ZX: Yes, yes.

VW: Okay.

ZX: That means—because like in China, once the—the top leader say something, then it’s everything that you need. Just the door opened for everyone. So they—almost every … majority, I think 90 percent zhiqing went back. But they still—the—this generation is so difficult. Like the—I—I felt I am the lucky one because I got chance to go to university. Then later we like the have quite good career and something. But still, a lot of my friends, we still keep, uh, contact. They didn’t get—because they didn’t pass the entrance exam, they lost this chance. So—how they—when they, uh, back to China, they already lost 10 years. And then they had to go to these factories, or shop, or even like the—on the bus to sell tickets. All these very low payment, like low salary, uh, work, job. They have to, like the, establish themself from the beginning and compete with much younger generation. So, a lot of people are, like, very difficult, I feel. They still do. And then later, like the once they getting like the 50-something, they will be laid off. It’s— it’s—it’s tough for them.

VW: Is there anything else that you’d like to share with us?

ZX: I think that’s my story. [ZX and GW laugh] Yeah.

VW: Okay, thank you so much for talking with us!

GW: [overlapping] Yeah, thank you so much for … yeah.

ZX: Okay, thank you.

GW: Yeah.

VW: And, if you think of anything else, um, feel free to contact us.

ZX: Okay, okay. Yeah.

GW: Can we just take a picture of you?

[1:36:17] End interview