Not long ago, I received a message from Steven Ip, the editor of Nee Hao. He said: “You are one of the UK’s most important Chinese journalists. How about you write something for Nee Hao to give readers an insight about your journalistic work for the Chinese community?” I felt flattered.
From where my Chinese readers sit, my work must seem wonderful, full of fun and joy – holding a cup of tea, and having a nice chat with the British elite or high profile figures. Topics ranging from their private life to ambitious dreams. Every now and then I have even been invited to attend some marvelous charity balls in London. For my Chinese counterparts in the UK, I must be the lucky one working for BBC Chinese and FT Chinese, two of the most influential Chinese media outlets.
I have to admit that I am really enjoying my job, it’s fun and flexible. I choose the time and the interviewees who I am curious about and I have been enriched as a result of these interesting conversations. As a new immigrant, they have helped me to update and extend my knowledge about British society as well.
I had a big dream when I came to the University of Bristol in 2004 – I hoped I could one day interview world leaders on TV! 11 years have come and gone since I arrived here. Looking back, one principle in my mind has never changed. No knowledge, no fear! I say that in a positive way. Because of that fundamental principle, I dared to enter university not worried about my weak English – but because of it. I dared to become a full time mother unconcerned that there was no nanny to help me – but because of it. I dared to create columns in newspapers undaunted that it was new to me – but because of it. I dared to interview British leaders with my imperfect English. I never set obstacles for myself in advance if I wanted to achieve these goals. I just tried my best.
In South China, I was a well-known TV presenter. One of my live entertainment shows was on every Saturday peak time and ranked second on the chart, which means my show had more than ten million viewers. I was often recognised by people on the street, in shops, or restaurants even though I did not wear make-up. Chinese audiences prefer young TV presenters, which could be seen as age discrimination in the UK, yet it was a huge worry even then. A new kind of TV talk show was getting more and more popular, in which the political leaders and influential people were interviewed by the presenters. China was creating more and more media output and was getting more involved with the rest of the world. It was a very interesting job and I had no need to worry about my age! Yet it required English and wide knowledge of international issues. I possessed neither of them.
I wondered if I should go abroad to read a masters degree in International Relations, then come back to China to continue to pursue my dream. I made my decision. I quit my job in 2003, and started to improve my English, studying in University. At the same time, I began to apply to Universities abroad. Initially my aim was to go to America, any Chinese students’ priority. However, the American government narrowed the visa policy after 9/11, so I changed my mind and set Britain as my destination instead.
Very soon, I began receiving offers and chose the University of Bristol. My sister living in Auckland, was worried about my decision, “are you sure you can manage it? It requires high level of English ability!” I was really positive – so many Chinese people have got degrees in the West, why can’t I? I had no fear, I felt I was on an adventure.
On 31st, August 2004, I arrived in Bristol, alone, with a huge blue suitcase. I knew nobody. I bought tickets, settled down in the students’ accommodation, and went shopping with my basic English with a strong Chinese accent. No problem at all. I was proud of myself.
However, it wasn’t long before I understood my sister’s concerns. I found out that I could not fully comprehend what the tutors said, in lectures and workshops. And they had variety of accents! American, Scottish, Indian, etc. While my British and American classmates had fun in pubs at the weekends, I usually had to stay in my room to write and polish my essays.
I was really lucky to find appreciation from my dissertation tutor, Anthony Forster, then head of Department of Politics (he is now the current Vice-chancellor of University of Essex). He wasn’t happy with my first draft outline of one of my essays. His criticism concerned me but encouraged me hugely at the same time. In one week, I produced a new structure and angle. Anthony smiled immediately and took me on as a talented student. My dissertation was given a distinction and Anthony recommended me to carry on research to PhD level.
I didn’t know if I was suitable for academic life or not, but the title of being a PhD sounded really attractive. In China, once you are entitled to use the description “Doctor”, you enjoy a privileged right, and people respect you straightaway. A similar principle does not apply to British society though. But having a PhD degree would definitely smooth the way for my TV dream, I had no doubt.
I extended my student visa and started my doctorate journey in 2006. It would prove to be a disaster. Soon afterwards, Anthony was promoted to Executive Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences and Health at Durham University. He could not take me with him. I had to follow the new tutors who did not know me! The first year of My PhD was unhappy and stressful.
At the same time, another issue arose – I wanted to get married and to have children. I had been pursuing my career and did not really think about this issue. All of sudden it became my priority. Introduced by a friend Kam Wong, I met my husband Marcus in his office when I went to a job interview with his father David Parkinson, the chairman of DPS Bristol (Holdings) Ltd. A few days later I received an invitation from Marcus to have dinner. We got married in 2008.
The first couple of months of motherhood were a nightmare, I only enjoyed the first few days after my baby girl was born and very soon suffered from serious antenatal depression. I was really naïve – I trusted breastfeeding was the best way, hence I refused to change to bottle feeding. Yet the breastfeeding did not go well at all. Both of us suffered from it – my baby did not gain much weight after one month, and I was deprived of sleep. I used bottle feeding for my second daughter from the moment she was born.
I became a mother as I hoped for, yet I was not happy at all. I was only a full time mother, I had no career and I felt I had lost myself. But there was no time and nowhere to work. We were living in Portishead, a beautiful and fast growing sea-side town, where Marcus and his father’s business is based, but what can I do here? For at least three years I felt that life was boring and hopeless.
A happy surprise occurred in early 2012. The Phoenix Satellite TV Station, the most popular Chinese TV station based in HK, offered me a job, the chief political and economic journalist in their London office. I was extremely cheerful and emotional – after so many years of preparation my time had finally come.
Then early one morning, after I bottle fed my youngest baby girl, the dream disappeared. Phoenix changed their mind. They told me it was because I was not living in London and my baby girl was only two months old. I told them that those reasons were not a problem and I would sort them out. Despite that, I did not get the job in the end. I was devastated.
I could not complain about Phoenix. I knew I was not the right person, it was a 24 hours stand by job, I had no way that I could simply drop everything when breaking news occurred.
Rather than appear on TV, I had never considered the idea of publishing my work. One tiny thing changed my life to lead me to where I am today. In the middle of 2012, I watched a BBC documentary talking about how the cost of labour in China was getting higher and some British factories had moved back to the UK. I wrote an article in Chinese immediately. But where could my work go? I found a Chinese newspaper’s email address online and then sent it to the UK Chinese Times. After just 15 minutes I got a very positive response. Within a week I was invited to start my column.
Although I did not think I was a good writer, I gathered that the editor appreciated my thoughts and opinions. Meanwhile the column offered me a chance to practice my writing skills. Now I can finish a 1,500 words article in one hour, which has benefited from almost two years of writing my weekly column.
It was a small step, yet I was really happy. I felt I was a column writer, rather than a full time mother. Not long after I was invited by another newspaper- China Weekly – to start a new column. My writings coveedr politics and the economy to culture. Sometimes I compared the cultural difference between China and UK. Very soon, my article was published on FT Chinese which covers three million Chinese elites.
I had spotted one place in Chinese media that wasn’t catered for – there are many interesting British entrepreneurs that could be interviewed, why didn’t FT Chinese and BBC Chinese do it? I started to practice this idea from early 2014. At that time Downton Abbey was hot in China, so I wrote an email to Highclere Castle where Downton Abbey was filmed and I asked to interview Lady Carnarvon. One month later I was sitting opposite Lady Carnarvon in her office chatting for an hour and a half. Some of my questions may have looked silly to British readers. I remembered one was “why did you wear jeans (not smart dress) in the photos for the press?” But my readers are Chinese, so I had to ask questions in their interests. I got this interview published on FT Chinese.
Raymond Li, BBC Chinese Service editor, spotted me in 2015. I sincerely believed that he was my Bole (Chinese word which means a good judge of talent). He commissioned me to write a new column, People of UK, on BBC Chinese, which covers around two million Chinese readers. People of UK requires me to produce two high profile feature writings each month, which I love doing. After I finished covering the General Election commissioned by FT Chinese during April and May, I started to focus on this new column. So far I have interviewed many high-profile figures spanning industries as diverse as politics, business and the arts, including Sir Evelyn De Rothschild, Sajid Javid, Julian Lloyd-Webber, Andrew Graham-Dixon, Sir David Tang, Terry O’Neill and Anton Mosimann, to name but a few.
I recently interviewed Jon Briggs, who is a broadcast journalist, voice over artist, and owner of the talent agency Excellent Talent. He is the iconic voice behind Siri on the iPhone in the UK, as well as The Weakest Link, BBC Radio2, etc. Jon has kindly helped to proofread this profile you are reading. I very much appreciate his kindness.