the future to be in china
william n. brown. (courtesy photo)
by bi weizi and long yun
william n. brown, the first american to receive a chinese green card in fujian province and one of the earliest foreign teachers of the mba program in chinese universities, has been teaching in xiamen university since 1988, where he is a professor at the university's school of management. he was awarded the chinese government friendship award in 1993 for his contributions to training international trade professionals, and was voted honorary "person of the year" at the "touching china" 2019 award ceremony aired on cctv-1.
fate leads me to xiamen
driven by the curiosity to learn more about chinese language, history and culture, he moved with his family to xiamen in 1988, where for three decades he has witnessed china's process of modernization.
"before coming to xiamen, i read a lot about china, especially through china today and beijing review. china was talking about how they were going to end poverty and improve people's lives. i have been wanting to do that even in high school. i thought if china achieves even a small part of its goals, it will achieve more than any other country. i decided i want to go to china, study chinese and learn more about china. maybe there's something i could do to help," said brown.
as the only university providing accommodation for foreign students with families back then, xiamen university was his number one choice. he set out on the long journey from the u.s. with his two young sons, one who was two years old and the other six months, despite his parents not being in favor of his decision.
while having registered as a student at xiamen university, he had a little trouble getting coupons, which were the only way to buy necessities in shop and to get food at the cafeteria in 1988. "for the first two weeks, chinese teachers heard about this and shared their coupons with me. it was months later that i learned that actually they didn't even have enough [for] themselves. i was so moved by that. we were not happy about the living conditions, but we loved the people," said brown, adding that he was confident that china would get better because of its people.
reporting on real china
after moving to xiamen, brown sent letters home about his life in china. he then started to write magazine articles about china's progress, which didn't go down well with foreign readers. they were skeptical since brown had never been to the west of china.
so, to write more authoritatively about china, brown wanted to see the real china for himself. in 1994, he decided to take a three-month, 40,000 kilometer trip all the way around china in a 15-passenger high-ceiling van. what he saw made him believe that china was really delivering on its commitments, by building roads and helping develop even the most remote areas.
with the well-equipped infrastructure, farmers in rural china were given the same opportunity as those in cities and were able to improve their livelihoods, in line with the old chinese saying, "don't just give them fish, teach them how to fish."
based on his china experience at the end of 2018, brown published a book titled off the wall: how we fell for china, sharing from a unique global perspective the changes in china and its development driven by rapid reform and opening up.
in 2019, in order to see china's ongoing development, he drove around china again, traveling 20,000 kilometers in 32 days this time. "in 1994, the roads were like snakes in design. but by 2019, [there were] so many tunnels and so many bridges cutting through the mountains and over valleys, they cut [our travel] time in half," said brown, adding that another thing that amazed him is that the remotest places, like ningxia and xizang, have internet.
receiving permanent residence
after a semester of studying chinese at xiamen university, brown, who already had a phd in management, received a job offer to teach business and help build one of the best mba programs in china.
then in 1992, motivated by his students, he decided to apply for permanent residence in china. "in the early 1990s, most of my students wanted to go abroad. i told them that the future will be in china, not overseas," he said. but the students did not believe him. to demonstrate that he was fully committed and to encourage his students to help build china with what they'd learned, he applied for permanent residence. "over the years, more and more students stayed here. by 2000, few [of my] students went overseas," said brown.
encouraged by chinese president xi jinping, brown said he would continue to write about china and introduce this great eastern civilization to more people.