Fairy tales writer brings his unique per­spec­tive to US

China Daily (Canada) - - PEOPLE - By CINDY LIU In Los An­ge­les cindyliu@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Tens of mil­lions of Chi­nese have grown up read­ing his sto­ries about the naughty but kind­hearted boy Pipi Lu and his lit­tle sis­ter Lu Xixi.

Chi­nese writer Zheng Yuanjie, af­ter fin­ish­ing 30 years of writ­ing for the chil­dren’s lit­er­ary magazine King of Fairy Tales, has now trav­eled to the US on his own.

With 6.7 mil­lion fans on Weibo, China’s ver­sion of twit­ter, non-English-speaker Zheng in­ter­acts with his fans on a mo­bile phone to get in­for­ma­tion on what to order in a res­tau­rant or where to go.

“New ex­pe­ri­ences ex­cite and in­spire me in my writ­ing,” said Zheng. “My next stop is Cen­tral Asia.”

Zheng was a book­worm as a child. He dropped out of pri­mary school in 1966 when the Cul­tural Revo­lu­tion took place. In a small ru­ral place in Suip­ing coun­try in He Nan province, he had no ac­cess to class, but lots of free time for read­ing and play­ing. “It was hard for the na­tion but a bless­ing to me,” Zheng said. “I read what I liked to read.”

His fa­ther, who was once a teacher in the army, gave him lots of Chi­nese clas­sics like Jour­ney to the West. How­ever, he and his fa­ther had to hide some Western books due to re­stric­tions at that time. “I re­mem­ber how I searched for a se­cret place to read War and Peace,” Zheng re­called.

Af­ter join­ing the army at 15, Zheng used ev­ery sin­gle op­por­tu­nity he could find to read books. “I of­ten told the nurse that I was sick so they would put me to in a hos­pi­tal for days, where I got to read books. I was pretty good at heat­ing up the ther­mome­ter to pro­duce a fake fever,” he said.

Five years later the sol­dier quit the army and went to work in a fac­tory to watch over wa­ter pumps. Sev­eral years later when he heard that pub­lish­ing houses were pay­ing money for new works, he be­gan mail­ing his po­ems to pub­lish­ers all over the coun­try. Af­ter count­less fail­ures, he fi­nally had one poem pub­lished in Fen­shui, a magazine in Shanxi province.

By 1984, Zheng’s works had ap­peared in more news­pa­pers and mag­a­zines. When the writer was re­fused a pay raise he be­gan think­ing about set­ting up a new magazine de­voted to his work. The magazine even­tu­ally be­came the King of Fairy Tales and the first is­sue came out in 1984 with Zheng as the only writer.

The magazine for chil­dren which Zheng founded has been pub­lished for 30 years. At its peak, it had a monthly cir­cu­la­tion of over one mil­lion. Through the magazine chil­dren in China got to know Pipi Lu, Lu Xixi, Shuke the Mouse and Rock the Wolf. Zheng’s work con­tin­ues to at­tract mil­lions of adults and chil­dren.

Zheng made news in 2012. He had earned $6.3 mil­lion from book roy­al­ties and ranked first on the mil­lion­aire writ­ers list re­leased by China’s Chengdu-based news­pa­per, Western China City Daily.

Zheng has al­ways been crit­i­cal about China’s main­stream ed­u­ca­tion. “The big­gest prob­lem of the main­stream ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem is that chil­dren have lit­tle dig­nity,” he said.

When Zheng was young, his mother told him “never be­lieve what is be­ing told with­out crit­i­cal think­ing,” re­sult­ing in a great im­pact in Zheng’s phi­los­o­phy that can be found in many of his sto­ries.

Zheng is now an icon in China. When his son Zheng Yaqi grad­u­ated from pri­mary school, the writer de­cided he

Edu‘

cation is not about fol­low­ing rules or get­ting high scores. Ed­u­ca­tion is what a teacher demon­strates to the chil­dren and how he guides the kids to seek the truth of the uni­verse on their own.” ZHENG YUANJIE WRITER

would ed­u­cate him at home and wrote a 400,000-word text­book in­stead of send­ing him to mid­dle school.

The writer’s own life ex­pe­ri­ences have made him a bold icon­o­clast as his ex­pla­na­tion for not send­ing his son to mid­dle school or col­lege shows. “Col­lege ed­u­ca­tion tends to make sim­ple things com­pli­cated and hard to un­der­stand. What we should do is to teach our chil­dren the most es­sen­tial and sim­ple prin­ci­ples of life and ways to han­dle prob­lems.”

Ac­cord­ing to Zheng, there should never be a bad stu­dent.

“A bad stu­dent is usu­ally a crea­ture made by a bad teacher and bad par­ents. A child should be free to be him­self,” he said. “Ed­u­ca­tion is not about fol­low­ing rules or get­ting high scores. Ed­u­ca­tion is what a teacher demon­strates to the chil­dren and how he guides the kids to seek the truth of the uni­verse on their own.”

Ac­cord­ing to Zheng, the text­books he wrote in­clude sec­tions on his­tory, phi­los­o­phy, law, fi­nance and other sub­jects, all of which he con­sid­ers as es­sen­tial knowl­edge. All teach­ing in his text­books is de­scribed by many re­view­ers as peo­ple-ori­ented since “…hu­mans are al­ways above the knowl­edge”.

The text­books have been bet­ter sell­ers than his sto­ry­books these days. “I am glad that my text­books make learn­ing fun and en­joy­able,” Zheng said.

In the text­books and fairy tales from Zheng, stu­dents can lay on the floor in class. They are also free to take a break when they need to. Talk­ing about his vis­its in many ele­men­tary schools and mid­dle schools in Los An­ge­les, “I joked on my Weibo to my fol­low­ers. I said Amer­i­can schools copied mine,” said Zheng.

Since 2007 his son Zheng Yaqi es­tab­lished the Pipi Lu Class in Bei­jing to coach kids in writ­ing. Teach­ers are trained with Zheng’s ed­u­ca­tional phi­los­o­phy.

Zheng was sur­prised to meet so many read­ers of his books in Los An­ge­les where many of his read­ers are now in their 30s. One of the read­ers wrote on Weibo: “I at­trib­uted my suc­cess in my life to the spirit of self-in­no­va­tion, a free will and cre­ativ­ity that I ac­quired from the char­ac­ters of Zheng Yuanjie who makes us for­ever young at heart.”

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Writer Zheng Yuanjie

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