By Yiping Yang
When Zhengjun Wang was a teenage girl in China, she wanted to be an author. But she never imagined that when she was 60 years old, her dream would come true, not in China but in the United States.
Before Wang came to the U.S, she was a Chinese teacher in Beijing and a mother of a girl and a boy. But in 1984, when her husband decided to go to Harvard University as a scholar, Wang had to give up her job, send her children to her sister’s house and come to America with her husband.
Today, three decades later, Wang moved from Boston to Worcester. She rented a studio there for writing. The place was decorated with flowers, paintings and many books. Wang said her favorite part is the lake behind the building, where she gets inspired. Although she has lived in America for many years, Wang decided to speak Chinese during the interview. She thinks that’s a better way to show her identity as Chinese.
“Before 1984, I did not have the opportunity to converse with any foreigner or even have friendly relationships with them. So after I came here, I found they live in a totally different country,” Wang said. She and her husband got lost in New York the first night they came to America. She still remember the feeling of helplessness when they could not their way home. Fortunately, a policeman helped them contact their friend. This changed her opinion about Americans. “I surprisingly found that sometimes they are really helpful, not so tough, and they are also so smart.”
After Wang and her husband settled down in Boston, she began learning English in Harvard language classes for foreigners at age 42. To make a living in Boston, she decided to work. But she didn’t want to work either as a waitress or a housekeeper, the only choices she saw open to her. “You don’t have the opportunity to speak and learn English, and you don’t have anyone to help you integrate into the outside world,” Wang said.
So she found a job in a supermarket near her house. “I had the opportunity to form relationships with ordinary people at the supermarket.” Her work introduced her to a new outlook towards Americans, “I understood their way of life, and found they were so happy everyday. The workplace was always filled with laughter.”
But her work also brought her culture shock. “When I first came to the supermarket, the manager introduced me to another girl. He said, ‘This girl is unmarried and has three children.’ The girl smiled to me and said ‘yes! yes!’” Wang laughed. “But in China, under the same conditions, an unmarried girl with a child would be very embarrassed.”
Besides meeting Americans and getting to know their different lives and culture, Wang also made many Chinese friends. Jihong Liu is one of them. They met each other in 2004 when both of them were working in a shopping mall at Worcester. Their Chinese background helped them become close friends quickly. “She is pretty famous in Boston because of her book, but she is so friendly to everyone,” Liu said. She thinks Wang is like her elder sister who always took care of her. “She is very hardworking and independent. I believe she is wealthier than before, but her life is still thrifty. Though she is around 70, she shovels the street in winter and clean the weeds in summer all by herself.”
Wang said her friendship with these Chinese introduced her to their personal stories. “I understood their living backgrounds. In their deep minds, the most tragic memory is of the Cultural Revolution, which makes them very sad.”
Wang then decided to write down these people’s experiences, their suffering and their love stories into a book. She summarized material and wrote for two decades, from 1984 to 2004, and finally turned it into a successful novel “Harvard Veritas.”
The novel highlighted Wang’s many thoughts about China and Chinese intellectuals. One of the more important ideas in the novel is that Chinese intellectuals still love their “Zu Guo,” which means motherland. “Chinese intellectuals from my generation, no matter how much suffering, misunderstanding, and torment we had, especially during the Cultural Revolution, we still can feel deep love for our motherland. We always care about the development of our motherland.”
Wang said though she is in America, she still watches the changes in China. She brought her son and her daughter to America after she settled down. When they grew up, she encouraged them to go back China. Now her son is working in Hong Kong as a Haigui or “sea turtle,” which is a slang term for Chinese who returned to China after studying abroad.
To sum up her life in America, Wang said it reminds her of a lesson from her mother, who said Chinese girls must have ideals, aspirations, and dignity for themselves. She believes she has all three.