Unique project lets foreign experts write about experiences in China
American writer Laurence Brahm believes fate brought him to China.
“I was born in a part of New York which is in the vicinity of Chinatown. It may have exerted an influence on me from the very beginning, and I guess my previous life may be related to China, so I have been looking forward to visiting China since childhood.”
Brahm realized his dream when he arrived in China as a university exchange student in 1981, and then studied and worked for much of the past 37 years in the country.
Now, Brahm plans a book series called Searching for China as part of the Writing on China by Foreigners project, which invites foreigners to write about the country.
A conference to discuss Brahm’s new book series was held recently at the Beijing Language and Culture University.
Brahm, also known by his Chinese name Long Anzhi, given to him by his classmates at Nankai University in 1981, has much to say about China.
He worked as a lawyer in the 1980s and saw that China wanted to attract foreign capital at that time in order to gain new technology and promote industrial development.
In the 1990s, he witnessed the reform of China’s state-owned enterprises and provided many suggestions as an economic adviser.
After 2000, he turned attention to ecology, especially in the western part of China.
At the same time, he started to develop an increasing interest in the area and its culture.
“Americans who were born in the 1960s and 1970s were rebellious and showed strong interest in different cultures, especially that of the American West. But for me, the Chinese West had some similarities with the American West,” says Brahm.
In keeping with his interest, Brahm has produced many films, documentaries and books on western China, such as Searching for Shangrila, Shambhala Sutra and Conversations with Sacred Mountains.
For him, the culture of Chinese ethnic groups in western China resembles Indian culture in the American West in many aspects, like their values and friendliness to the nature.
Brahm is also interested in other elements of Chinese culture and believes it contains a special logic to understand the universe.
He also says that many things in traditional Chinese culture are interrelated, adding that in order to learn traditional Chinese medicine, you need to know something about nutrition, and acupuncture points.
“And in order to learn them, you also need to know something about Chinese tea.
“To know about tea, you had better gain an understanding of guqin, a plucked music instrument that the ancient Chinese literati typically played or enjoyed when drinking a cup of tea.
“I’m trying to learn many things. And the more I learn, the more I find out how ignorant I am,” says Brahm.
According to Xu Baofeng, a professor at the Beijing Language and Culture University, and who is also the director of the China Culture Translation and Studies Supporting Network, which is the platform to implement the project, it invited Brahm to be a part of the project as he had spent a long time in China and was a witness to China’s development over the years.
Speaking about the project, Xu says: “Nowadays, many foreigners have stereotypical and superficial impression about China, which is typically linked to Chinese food and kung fu. So we hope to show them a more in-depth side of China.
“Also, foreign experts’ works are better received by their countrymen. And we hope to promote cultural exchanges and understanding through this project.”
So far, 176 works on Chinese philosophy, politics, economic thought, culture and art have been selected from two phases of the project, covering 26 languages, with the third phase calling for more works.
Writers whose works have been chosen receive a subsidy and help with publishing them.
For instance, Indian sinologist B. R. Deepak’s My Tryst with China has been published in Hindi, Chinese and English.
Commenting on the project, Brahm says: “It’s a very good idea as it not only shows the positive side of the country but what we (the authors) have really seen in China.”