Florence Fang: Daugh­ter of two ‘moms’

China Daily (Canada) - - ACROSS AMERICA - By CHANG JUN in San Fran­cisco junechang@chi­nadai­lyusa.com

Florence Fang is a daugh­ter of two “moms.’’

“I was born in China and adopted by the United States,” said the chair­woman of the Florence Fang Fam­ily Foun­da­tion and a leg­endary en­tre­pre­neur and phi­lan­thropist in the San Fran­cisco Bay Area and be­yond.

“There is no such thing that my love to one coun­try over­weighs the other. The por­tion and qual­ity of my loves for the two moms are the same,” said Fang, 79, adding that she strives to con­nect the two na­tions closer.

That strong sense of mixed­na­tion­al­ity, nur­tured by ups and downs of the US-China re­la­tion­ship, might help ex­plain why for years she has been so giv­ing with her time and ef­fort to pro­mote bet­ter com­mu­ni­ca­tions be­tween the two coun­tries, as well as with her fi­nan­cial sup­port, which has es­ca­lated to more than $6 mil­lion.

Her most re­cent achieve­ment, Fang said, was in late Novem­ber when she flew to Wash­ing­ton to at­tend the first an­nual meet­ing of the 100,000 Strong Foun­da­tion as one of its found­ing mem­bers who had made a $1 mil­lion dona­tion in Jan­uary 2013. The non-profit Foun­da­tion is ded­i­cated to send­ing 100,000 Amer­i­can stu­dents to study in China within four years.

“I was given the honor to in­tro­duce Vice-Pre­mier Liu Yan­dong to at­ten­dees (of our meet­ing) in­clud­ing the Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry,” said Fang, ex­plain­ing that Liu was on a tour of the US while at­tend­ing the fourth China-US High-Level Con­sul­ta­tion on Peo­ple-to-Peo­ple Ex­change, which co­in­cided with the Foun­da­tion’s an­nual meet­ing.

Liu touted the 100,000 Strong Ini­tia­tive as a re­mark­able fruit on the big tree of China-US peo­ple-to-peo­ple ex­changes. More than 68,000 Amer­i­can stu­dents in the past three years have gone to China to study un­der the ini­tia­tive, which was first an­nounced by the US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama in Shang­hai in Novem­ber 2009 and for­mal­ized in 2010 by the then-Sec­re­tary of the State Hi­lary Clin­ton.

“The es­tab­lish­ment of the 100,000 Strong Foun­da­tion has pro­vided not only a new path but also a fresh drive for im­ple­ment­ing the ini­tia­tive and deep­en­ing peo­ple-to-peo­ple ex­changes,” Liu said in re­marks to an au­di­ence of some 200 peo­ple in the School of In­ter­na­tional Ser­vice at Amer­i­can Univer­sity on Nov 21.

“To­day on China’s col­lege cam­puses, we can meet more and more young Amer­i­cans study­ing un­der the ini­tia­tive and their progress of­ten amazes us im­me­di­ately,” Liu said.

“To­gether with their Chi­nese coun­ter­parts, they form a fresh force ded­i­cated to closer friend­ship be­tween the two peo­ples,” Liu said, adding that she has seen in them an un­lim­ited vigor of youth and an in­fi­nite charm in the on­go­ing peo­ple-to-peo­ple ex­changes.

A re­port by the In­sti­tute of In­ter­na­tional Ed­u­ca­tion re­leased in Novem­ber in­di­cated that Chi­nese stu­dents study­ing at US uni­ver­si­ties and col­leges num­bered 235,000 in 2012-13, ac­count­ing for roughly 30 per­cent of the in­ter­na­tional stu­dent pop­u­la­tion in the US.

“Chi­nese stu­dents study­ing in the US out­num­bered those US stu­dents study­ing in China,” said Fang, adding that she and other pas­sion­ate sup­port­ers of the 100,000 Strong Foun­da­tion are help­ing to nar­row the gap. “To me, this means much,” she said.

Fang ap­plauded the far­reach­ing sig­nif­i­cance of the 100,000 Strong Ini­tia­tive. “The fu­ture of the US-China re­la­tion­ship is in the hands of the young gen­er­a­tion,’’ she said. “We need to pre­pare our chil­dren for the fu­ture lead­er­ship, cul­ti­vat­ing them in terms of un­der­stand­ing the his­tory of the two coun­tries and re­spect each other.”

Fang’s vi­sion of fos­ter­ing mu­tual un­der­stand­ing among the young gen­er­a­tions can be traced back to 2008 when she started fi­nanc­ing the five-year con­struc­tion of a build­ing at Pek­ing Univer­sity for teach­ing for­eign­ers Chi­nese lan­guage and cul­ture.

Fang put $2.5 mil­lion into its com­ple­tion, and the only re­quest she made was for the in­stal­la­tion of an open area in the build­ing to func­tion as an in­ter­na­tional hall where stu­dents and schol­ars from all over the world could sit and meet. “A club house to be ac­cu­rate, open-mind­ed­ness pre­vails in an ac­com­mo­dat­ing and in­ter­na­tion­al­ized en­vi­ron­ment,” Fang said.

On Oct 16, 2013, Fang at­tended the com­ple­tion cer­e­mony of the build­ing in the School of Chi­nese as Sec­ond Lan­guage on the cam­pus of Pek­ing Univer­sity, a six-story learn­ing center named the Florence Lee Fang Build­ing.

Fang vividly re­mem­bers that cer­e­mony.

“The whole build­ing was cov­ered by a gi­gan­tic piece of red cloth, an aus­pi­cious color by Chi­nese tra­di­tion,” she said.

When she and Wang Enge, pres­i­dent of Pek­ing Univer­sity, slowly pulled down the cover, the four Chi­nese char­ac­ters of her name, Fang Li Bang Qin, emerged one by one.

“I was car­ried away by strong emo­tions at that mo­ment — I re­al­ized one of my long-cher­ished dreams, an im­por­tant part of my China Dream was ful­filled,” Fang said, her eyes sparkling.

“I had dreamed of be­com­ing a stu­dent of Pek­ing Univer­sity at quite an early age, and I hope the com­ple­tion of the build­ing will make a con­tri­bu­tion of pro­mot­ing Chi­nese cul­ture to the en­tire world,” Fang later told more than 150 dis­tin­guished guests at the cer­e­mony, in­clud­ing Oakland, Cal­i­for­nia Mayor Jean Quan and her fam­ily.

“The 21st cen­tury is a cen­tury of in­ter­na­tion­al­iza­tion, and it’s an in­evitable trend for the Chi­nese lan­guage be­com­ing in­ter­na­tional,” Fang said. “The School of Chi­nese as a Sec­ond Lan­guage plays an im­por­tant role in pro­mot­ing co­op­er­a­tion be­tween China and other coun­tries.”

Fang said she se­lected Pek­ing Univer­sity as a spon­sor be­cause teach­ing Chi­nese as a sec­ond lan­guage started at the univer­sity in 1952. “The long his­tory is ob­vi­ous and it’s a shim­mer­ing brand­ing it­self,” said Fang.

“I be­lieve po­si­tion­ing is very im­por­tant, no mat­ter in busi­ness, scholas­tic re­search or even daily lives,” she said. “By metic­u­lously ex­am­in­ing the sit­u­a­tion, one would be prone to po­si­tion him or her­self wisely.”

Among 40 in­ter­na­tion­ally ac­claimed peo­ple who have stud­ied in China, 60 per­cent chose to study at Pek­ing Univer­sity, in­clud­ing for­mer US Trea­sury Sec­re­tary Ti­mothy Gei­th­ner, and Barry Mar­shall, who was awarded the 2005 No­bel Prize in Medicine.

Fang said her in­stinct and busi­ness acu­men have al­ways guided her to make good choices.

“When I think, I rea­son like a man with logic; when I ex­e­cute, I’m a woman ap­ply­ing soft ap­proaches,” said Fang, the for­mer publisher of the San Fran­cisco Ex­am­iner. When she took that post in 2000 un­der a change in the news­pa­per’s own­er­ship, it cre­ated ma­jor head­lines across the US, in­clud­ing a signed ar­ti­cle on the oped page of the San Fran­cisco Chron­i­cle lament­ing “the most vis­i­ble man­i­fes­ta­tions of Chi­nese Amer­i­cans’ rise to power in the city.”

Mel­low and soft-spo­ken, Fang said the tra­di­tional Chi­nese ed­u­ca­tion she had re­ceived in her childhood, the three obe­di­ences and the four virtues specif­i­cally, had shaped her way of think­ing in her 20s and 30s.

A set of ba­sic moral prin­ci­ples specif­i­cally for women in Con­fu­cian­ism, the three obe­di­ences for a woman were to obey her fa­ther as a daugh­ter, her hus­band as a wife and her son in wid­ow­hood. The four fem­i­nine virtues, how­ever, re­quire a woman to be in pos­ses­sion of mo­ral­ity, speak prop­erly in pub­lic, work dili­gently with house­hold chores, and al­ways be mod­estly man­nered.

Then, she said, her fa­vorite crea­ture on Earth was the pea­cock, and she would as­so­ci­ate the “gra­cious ges­tures and el­e­gant mo­tions” of the bird with the ut­most fem­i­nine beauty. “I would con­sider my­self a pea­cock in my pre­vi­ous in­car­na­tion,” she said.

How­ever, fate did not al­low her to play a role of gra­cious­ness and el­e­gance, in­stead be­stow­ing on her a string of ad­ver­si­ties.

Born in 1935 in Zhengzhou, Henan prov­ince, Fang’s adolescent years were filled with bit­ter war-re­lated mem­o­ries — first the Ja­panese invasion of China in 1937 when her whole fam­ily had to flee amidst pierc­ing sirens; then the Chi­nese Civil War (1945-49) dur­ing which she fled the Chi­nese main­land with her fam­ily for Tai­wan.

In 1960, she mar­ried John Fang, then a jour­nal­ism ma­jor at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia Berke­ley, and gave birth to three boys in four years. When John died in 1992 af­ter a three­year bat­tle with skin can­cer, it was Florence who shrugged off com­peti­tors’ smears and re­tained the fam­ily pub­lish­ing busi­ness and ex­panded it into real es­tate, din­ing and trade.

Her ac­com­plish­ments would see her awarded the Cal­i­for­nia Woman of the Year in 1990 and 2003. In 2006, she do­nated $3 mil­lion to the East Asian Li­brary at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley. With Bill Gates, she is an hon­or­able trus­tee at Pek­ing Univer­sity, and an hon­or­able trus­tee and an hon­or­able pro­fes­sor at Wuhan Univer­sity, to which she gave about $100,000 in 2008.

As for the big­gest and most im­por­tant ac­com­plish­ment in her life, she said it is rais­ing her three sons: “I’m tra­di­tional deep at the bot­tom of my heart. For a woman, her legacy is her chil­dren.”

Now her old­est son, James Fang, is a Bay Area Rapid Tran­sit board mem­ber and serves on the Shang­hai-San Fran­cisco Sis­ter Cities Com­mit­tee, where he is do­ing what his mother has al­ways done: pro­mot­ing Chi­naUS ex­changes.


Florence Fang, chair­woman of the Florence Fang Fam­ily Foun­da­tion, stands in front of the news­pa­per repli­cas which re­ported her fam­ily’s pur­chase of the San Fran­cisco Ex­am­iner in 2000.

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