Love of China Lies in the Eyes of the Beholder
Early in 2005, David Ferguson found himself at a restaurant table sitting in front of a plate of cold pickled chickens' feet. He was in Beijing en route to his first visit to his wife's hometown, a city called Jilin in China's northeast. There was a time when China had been way off David's radar, but that time was already long gone when he first encountered his new in-laws.
I found myself defending China's culinary choices, telling him that Chinese people are hospitable and that they only treat people to their most-loved food. But as David explained, it would have taken more than a plate of chickens' feet to surprise him, as he was by then primed to accept introductions to Chinese customs without resistance or reluctance. Now some of these customs have even turned into his personal preferences, but still he used the word "strange" to describe how he felt about this alien dish then.
This process started the day David knocked at a friend's door and fell in love with the Chinese woman who opened it. There is an English saying I learnt a long time ago: "Love a man, love his dog." David Ferguson is a man deeply in love with China, and he is doing what he can each day to make it a better place.
The process of coming to know China, of adapting to its culture, of calling it a second home, is a process not unlike the chemical reaction that builds between two lovers. In pursuit of love, he came to China. And, wanting a family, he stayed.
As a tenacious and liberal-minded Scot, he came with an open mind. What he found was a country unlike the place portrayed in the Western press. Rather than finding himself on the receiving end of hostility from local people, he found himself surrounded by ordinary folks with the same needs and desires as any Westerner: a need to find love, and a desire to live a good and secure life.
David's start in China was not the most auspicious. He took up work as a football agent in Jilin, but this job failed to sustain. In 2008, he searched for another job online and soon landed his first role as a reporter in China, with China.org.cn.
Just two weeks later he was covering the devastating Wenchuan earthquake in Sichuan Province.
David was the first overseas journalist working with the Chinese media to travel near the epicenter, and he arrived with no instructions as to what he could or couldn't report. David said that he enjoyed more freedom than many people outside China would imagine. Amongst the shattered buildings, mingling with local residents, he was struck by the sense of optimism and resilience in the air as the whole country quickly responded to the catastrophe.
Two years later David joined Foreign Languages Press, one of the country's most renowned publishing houses, where he established himself as a highly-valued translator and editor.
David was heavily involved in the translation of Volume I and II of "Xi Jinping: The Governance of China" along with innumerable other political and non-political texts. Political stuff was dry, David said, but after working meticulously with his Chinese colleagues on finding ways to translate them not only accurately but also in a way that makes them easily understood by native English speakers, he feels that he now has a better understanding of President Xi's thoughts on governance. He said that he'd love to have the opportunity to give lectures to university students, politicians, and academics interested in getting to know China's governance policies better.
Editing is just one of the things that keep David busy. He also writes books about China and the battle to correct Chinglish and Wronglish. "Wronglish" is a word he's proud of having invented. When I asked him questions during our interview, he pointed out that I had used Chinglish or Wrongish but he had refrained from mentioning it. To compensate for that, he sent me a gift: a little book he's compiled called "English, Chinglish and Wronglish." Before we parted ways, he reminded me to read it carefully. Like I said, he is a man determined to make China better, and on that day it meant making my made-in-China English sound or look better.
I was touched by the experience of talking with David, by his determination to make things better and to present China in a positive way. When I asked him why he applied himself so earnestly to this task, he said that if people want to read critical and negative articles about China, there are loads out there for them to choose from. But what David wants is for people to see 21st century China. This is an era that mankind has succeeded in sending pictures of the other side of the moon back to the earth. David thinks it's high time for the world to at least try to look at China from more than one angle. Just as a coin has two sides, so does China, but unfortunately many people choose to only see one side of it, including many journalists who proclaim their impartiality and neutrality.
Love brought him to China, and what he found when he arrived led him to stay. David has a list of must-see cities for first-time visitors to China. Suzhou in the east is his favorite, because it makes him reflect on his own culture and history. Beijing and Shanghai are like London and Edinburgh – they're too iconic to skip. And in David's view, Jilin is a must-see. Yes, it's small and relatively unknown, but he said that if you go you won't be disappointed. That Jilin made the list is no great surprise, given it was there that he found his second home.
David's message was a simple one: If you really want to know China, come and see it for yourself. I know that by meeting David, I've come to know him, his people and his country better, and I've gained a better understanding of his efforts to help others know China better.