My Life in China
LiXin: Michael, as our vice-Premier Li Lanqing wrote appreciatively, “ Comrade Crook in his history of more than 50 years in China, devoted his energy to China's revolution and construction, contributing outstandingly to training talents for our diplomatic, foreign trade and educational fronts.” We can see that your father was drawn to China by the Chinese revolution, while you stay in China as well. Could you talk about your experience and the things that attract you in China?
Mr. Michael Crook: Yes. I think that I didn't come to China for the revolution. I was born here. I went through very many events in recent Chinese history. China has changed so much. I think it is really remarkable and it is a GREat privilege to have the opportunity to live through so many historical events. I prefer excitement and I think China is the place to come for excitement. For example, I first went to England when I was six or seven years old and after that I visited England again when I was twelve, fifteen, about twenties, thirties and forties. I felt that I could go back to the same neighbourhood where my grandma has been living for the last forty or fifty years. While I remember the road outside Beijing Foreign Studies University it was a dirt road. And the dirt road then became the paved road; then it became a wider road and now it is a two levels multi-lane highway. All these happened just in my lifetime but I'm not even old yet.
Li:Your parents are educators, writers and old devoted friends of our country and our people. Mr. David Crook in particular, he spent a life of dedication. I couldn't help wondering: when you were a child, were they very strict with you?
Michael: No, actually they weren't. I think that the Chinese notion of education is rather different from the western notion of education. In Chinese education, I could think of many sayings like “ Talented students are trained by strict teacher.” And folk wisdom of “ Beating means love, scolding means affection.” And so on. The idea is that pain and suffering are necessary to get good result. In English we have “ the carrot and the stick” . I think in Chinese tradition, a lot of stress was made on the stick. Well, I feel that the carrot is much more effective than the stick. Encouragement is better than scolding and criticism.
I think that my parents are both good educators. They don't use the stick. It was much more positive encouragement and more freedom. They would discuss things with us reasonably. They treat us more or less as equals. My father used to say that he didn't believe in the generation gap, such as, parents don't understand their children and children don't understand their parents. Why, if you don't communicate, if every time your children tell you something they truly believe and their innermost truthful thoughts, you immediately scold them, then of course they stop talking to you and won't tell you the truth.
Li: Do you have kids? As their father, do you think that you'll let them choose where they are going to stay?
Michael: Yes. I have three kids. They are all grown now. All three of my kids live in America by their own choice. I'm living in China by my choice. I chose to live here and they chose to live there. I can't decide for them. I would be very happy if one or more of them were to decide to come and live in China. I would enjoy having my children close by. All three of my children have talked about coming to China. It's a matter of when.
Li: We do admire people fluent in two languages. As I was told you were brought up bilingually, right?
Michael: Not actually. I didn't begin bilingually. I wasn't brought up bilingually from birth, for example in a mix-marriage. That was not the case in my family.When I was young, the home language was Chinese. So I learned Chinese before I learned English.
Li: Do you have any good experience to share with the large number of language learners?
Michael: Well, I think first of all, it's a wonderful thing to be bilingual. You are able to communicate directly with people from different cultures. I would offer some tips according to my own experience. First, I think that having two languages the best thing for me is just for use. Then I think learning a foreign language, practice should come before theory. I know people who get complicated books about foreign language and study the grammar and so on. I personally think that it's a waste of time certainly at the beginning. I would stress just talk, talk a lot. It doesn't matter if you make mistakes.
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