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By Blog Master
Posted: 02/01/2021
Tags: bios


- Sue Kujawa - 

Pasadena Village member Nancy Pine has a PhD in education and has travelled and studied in rural China for decades. She is one of the leading American experts on Chinese early childhood education. She founded the Bridging Cultures US/China Program and has advised the administration and faculty on China at Mount Saint Mary’s University in Los Angeles. Her latest book, “One in a Billion – One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey through Modern-Day China”, has just been published. In late January she spoke to Village members and guests about how she came to write the story of An Wei, a stubborn, hardworking peasant, whose life encompasses the development of modern China.


Nancy had been doing research and consulting in China for a decade when a friend introduced her to An Wei because they were both working to improve communication between China and the United States. Nancy had always wanted to learn about life in the Chinese countryside since she herself had grown up in a log cabin in rural New Jersey. Through An Wei, she learned about the organization, Global Volunteers, and in 2004 she joined their project to teach oral English to rural High School teachers in An Wei’s village. 


She soon realized that An Wei had started his primary school education in 1950, when the new nation of the People’s Republic of China was only one year old.  He had grown up amid the turmoil of the Cultural Revolution. He had experienced and survived famine, re-education campaigns, and the changing interpretations of “Mao Zedong Thought.” Nancy decided that the story of An Wei, with his deep desire for education, his strong work ethic, and his commitment to improving his life, provided a vivid backdrop for understanding the development of modern China. 


Nancy was already travelling to Nanjing once or twice a year to conduct research on young children’s learning. She began spending extra time in X’ian, where An Wei and his wife lived, to interview him and learn details of his remarkable life. Ever resourceful, Nancy used photos from old National Geographic magazines to stimulate An Wei’s memories and peppered him with questions about how they farmed, what clothes they wore, what he did in school.


As her research continued and data accumulated, the big question was how to decide what to include. Nancy realized that she needed to understand the history of the first half of the 20th century as well as the realities of rural life and how it influenced An Wei. She applied for and was accepted to attend a writers’ retreat where she set the arc of the story and began re-writing her drafts, and always, she said, “cutting, cutting, cutting.” In addition she took narrative writing courses at UCLA to flesh out her skills that had been honed on research articles.


After that she put it all aside! She had another book to write, and in 2012 her book, “Educating Young Giants: “What Kids Learn (and Don’t Learn) in China and America.” Family health issues took priority for some time. But An Wei’s story was still there. Finally, 16 years after she first met with An Wei and his wife, she completed the book. It turns out that Nancy Pine and An Wei share some characteristics – they are both stubborn and determined!


After Nancy’s fascinating presentation the group listened as Nancy described the enormous changes in China over the past 25 years. By 2006 China was more open to the west. There was a loosening of restrictions and some free enterprise. However, since 2015 there has been a gradual closing down and turning inward. Censorship is strong. Now instead of “Mao Zedong Thought” there is “Xi Jinping Thought”. Through it all An Wei has been “pretty fearless” and he “knows how to be careful.” But Nancy has not communicated freely with him and other friends in China for their own protection for the past couple of years.


For an hour or so, those of us at Nancy’s presentation were truly transported from our pandemic lock down to another world. We were left with a better understanding of men and women living their lives in a very different culture.


This book can be bought through Vroman's Bookstore


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