Ren Guop­ing: The im­por­tance of cre­at­ing Screen­writer and lan­guage teacher wins Hous­ton award for screen­play

China Daily (Canada) - - PEOPLE - By MAY ZHOU in Hous­ton mayzhou@chi­nadai­

This spring, a team of Chi­nese film­mak­ers will come to Hous­ton and put a lo­cal writer’s screen­play on the big screen.

“It will be a Western-style movie, with each scene shot twice — once in Chi­nese and once in English — so that no trans­la­tion will be needed,” said Ren Guop­ing, whose China Mary won the Golden Award for screen­play in Western genre at the 49th WorldFest-Hous­ton In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val last April.

Prior to win­ning the prize, Ren had al­ready en­joyed an ex­ten­sive ca­reer work­ing with lan­guages. For years he had taught English in China and both English and Chi­nese in the US. He had also writ­ten a few screen­plays, two of which were made into Chi­nese TV shows.

Now, for the first time, his work is go­ing to the big screen. Chi­nese di­rec­tor Wang Ping has signed up to di­rect the film.

Ren said that he dis­cov­ered the his­tor­i­cal story of China Mary while do­ing re­search for his last TV show.

China Mary was a real person dat­ing back to the late 1800s, a time when Amer­i­cans called all Chi­nese men John and women Mary, rather than bother to learn their Chi­nese names.

That’s where this coura­geous Chi­nese woman’s name came from and her real name was lost, ac­cord­ing to Ren.

The daugh­ter of a Chi­nese gold miner, China Mary moved to Tomb­stone, Ari­zona, from Cal­i­for­nia and opened a res­tau­rant with her hus­band when the town was boom­ing due to a silver rush. She be­came a leader among the Chi­nese, rep­re­sent­ing their in­ter­ests in deal­ing with ex­ploitive mine own­ers.

Ren went to Tomb­stone in 2012 to re­search China Mary’s life. He found that Tomb­stone had a pop­u­la­tion of more than 9,000 dur­ing the silver rush, with Chi­nese ac­count­ing for more than 800.

Ren found China Mary’s res­tau­rant still stand­ing to­day in Tomb­stone and in the sto­ried Boothill Ceme­tery, a cor­ner for graves of name­less Chi­nese.

Ren also dis­cov­ered a 25- page man­u­script by a lo­cal sol­dier re­lat­ing the story of China Mary as told by his grand­mother.

“I bought the man­u­script and it is part of where my story came from,” said Ren.

China Mary’s life crossed paths with one of the most fa­mous le­gends of the West, Wy­att Earp, who was deputy town mar­shal in Tomb­stone at that time. Earp’s life story was made into a pop­u­lar US TV series The Life and Le­gend of Wy­att Earp, which ran from 1955 to 1961.

The series, con­sist­ing of more than 200 episodes, in­cluded one de­voted to China Mary. In the story, the typ­i­cal Hollywood stereo­typ­ing of Chi­nese as sub­servient was not used. Earp treats China Mary with re­spect.

Ren is fond of the char­ac­ter China Mary. “Dur­ing the era of the Chi­nese Ex­clu­sion Act, many Chi­nese were sub­mis­sive to the priv­i­leged white peo­ple. China Mary was not. She stood up to those white peo­ple and fought for jus­tice and fair treat­ment of her com­pa­tri­ots. She was a coura­geous woman,” said Ren.

China Mary’s courage seemed to have earned her re­spect, Ren said. Look­ing through the ar­chives of the lo­cal news­pa­per, The Tomb­stone Epi­taph, he found that not only news about China Mary ap­peared in the pa­per of­ten, they also cov­ered her fu­neral.

“Even the whites came out and at­tended her fu­neral, ac­cord­ing to the pa­per’s re­port,” said Ren.

The film will be shot in Texas and Tomb­stone, ac­cord­ing to Ren.

The movie deal marks a big step for Ren, who re­tired early from a teach­ing ca­reer in In­di­ana and moved to Hous­ton to fo­cus ex­clu­sively on writ­ing.

An English ma­jor, he first taught English at Hangzhou Univer­sity for 10 years. While there, he wrote a dic­tionary, Med­i­cal Clas­si­fi­ca­tion of Chi­nese-English Ter­mi­nol­ogy — a much needed tool in China at that time.

After com­ing to the US, Ren taught English lit­er­a­ture and Chi­nese in mid­dle and high school in In­di­ana after ob­tain­ing a grad­u­ate de­gree.

Teach­ing English in In­di­ana’s pub­lic schools in the 1990s, Ren sensed the im­por­tance of Chi­nese lan­guage. He set up one of the ear­li­est Chi­nese cur­ricu­lums in In­di­ana’s pub­lic mid­dle school sys­tem.

“I helped the Chi­nese pro­gram to ex­pand to high school and es­tab­lished the very first Con­fu­cius class­room in the late 1990s in the school district,” Ren said. “Chi­nese class­rooms ex­panded from two to six in a few years. One of my stu­dents still keeps in touch with me. He’s work­ing in Wash­ing­ton now and his dream is to be­come US am­bas­sador to China.”

In a way, his stu­dents in­spired him to em­bark on a cre­ative path. “When I was teach­ing, I saw how cre­ative the Amer­i­can stu­dents are. I was amazed by my stu­dents,” he said. “I re­al­ized that be­ing cre­ative is the essence of life. I de­cided to write.”

While teach­ing, Ren started writ­ing a story in his spare time. His book Tears Shed in Chicago was adapted into a TV show Blood­shed in Chicago in 2002. It’s about the lives of Chi­nese in­tel­lec­tu­als in the US.

Ren also wrote a screen­play for the 40-episode TV show Yung Wing, about the life and times of Yung Wing, the first Chi­nese who stud­ied overseas dur­ing the Qing Dy­nasty and his great im­pact on China’s mod­ern his­tory. Ac­cord­ing to Ren, the TV show has been sold to CCTV and will be aired soon.

“I dis­cov­ered that Chi­nese made great con­tri­bu­tions to build­ing Amer­ica while re­search­ing Yung Wing’s life here. In the process, I also dis­cov­ered China Mary,” said Ren.

Ren said that he will con­tinue to write. “I feel that it’s my mis­sion to write about the his­tory of Chi­nese in the US,” he said.


Ren Guop­ing holds his book, trans­lated into Chi­nese as Chi­naMary­inTomb­stone, and pub­lished by Ji­nan Univerf­sity Press. The English ver­sion of Ren’s book, Chi­naMary, won a screen­play award in Hous­ton and will be made into a film. Ren Guop­ing, screen­writer

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