Living Treasures Won the Living Now Book Awards Bronze Medal

At first glance, Living Now Book Awards has a formidable goal:

We’ve all heard the expressions, “This book changed my life!” and “Changing the world, one book at a time.” The Living Now Book Awards are designed to honor those kinds of life-changing books.

Yet the goal is relevant and even fundamental:

We all seek healthier, more fulfilling lives for ourselves and for the planet. . . . The purpose of the Living Now Book Awards is to celebrate the innovation and creativity of books that enhance the quality of life.

I submitted my novel Living Treasures to the Inspirational Fiction category. Can fiction be inspirational and remain honest? I want to believe so. I work as a computer engineer at UC Berkeley. When I help people on a daily basis, I know that a person can make a difference in the society.

As a writer I have a rather optimistic worldview. I like to tackle big social problems in my fiction, put my characters under the test, let them endure, and in their darkest and most despairing hours, let them use their ingenuity—much like an engineer—and find some sort of relief or solution, not a cure-all, but a way out, so that they can move forward to rebuild their lives. 

Many social problems don’t have solutions. That doesn’t mean we need to remain stagnant. The perilous quest for a fulfilling life is in itself a profound spiritual journey. Accompanied by good books, we don’t travel alone on our personal journeys. “Good books are a weapon against ignorance,” Jim Barnes said.


I entered the contest with deep appreciation for which the award stands. I am grateful to have won the bronze medal along with many outstanding books.

May we remember the reason why we write, whom we write for, and strive to change the world, one book at a time.

Book Trailer: Censored, with Jane Shlensky's Erasure

My book trailer for Living Treasures tells a striking story. But it is censored on all the social media sites in mainland China: Youku, Tudou, and Sina. It is an officially banned book trailer. Have a look, you may see why the gentle story raises fears on the anniversary of Tiananmen Square massacre. 

Several readers shared with me their poems about the Tiananmen Square massacre. Here is an eloquent protest by a wonderful poet Jane Shlensky. She was a teacher in China during the student movement. 

Tian’an’men 1989

the Square is
a Great Wall
a ship breaking waves
victims’ bodies in drawers
mourned as martyrs
the Goddess
beacon of hope toppled
as Mao at the Gate

a moth heaved dusty wings
to bang against light

loud music
flame’s yellow glare
wings secured
with wooden clips
outcries replaced with
silence, memory shifting
into surrender
the wound sprouting
new leaves

(erasure of Living Treasures by Yang Huang)

Her poem brings back a tide of emotions: crushed hope, despair, and isolation after losing a historical opportunity 26 years ago.  

My novel Living Treasures didn’t criticize the Chinese government. Instead I took a more radical political stand by disregarding the impact of their brutal suppression. We can and should move on from the tragedy, by not giving up, by not giving in, by becoming free despite the government’s suppression and censorship. There is a new life after death, for Bao personally, and for grassroots activists who believe in the future.

In the old days, a daring rebellious convict said on his way to the scaffold for decapitation: "I will be a brave man again in 18 years!" He meant: I am a heroic outlaw right now, and I will be a heroic outlaw again in 18 years after my reincarnation. So 26 years later, the heroes and victims fallen on June 4, 1989 have risen again and joined us to walk toward a better future.

Sex Is a Lesson about Life

I was worried when my nine-year-old son began to read Living Treasures. “It’s inappropriate.” I tried to tear it out of his hands, but he held fast to the book.

“I don’t have other books to read.”

It was an excuse. He read at least three fantasy novels a week. I had asked him to try classics or non-fiction books. He showed little interest, until he laid his hands on my novel. It was both flattering and frightening.

During the next two days, he read Living Treasures in the after-school program. It was surreal to see him flip the pages while eating slices of apple, oblivious of the other children who played and chattered around him.

Several people commented on my book cover and said it looked like a children’s book. It was an adult story infused with a passionate quest for justice and romance. I enjoyed tackling difficult social issues with the energy and conviction of young reformers. A Chinese idiom says, “Newborn calves are not afraid of tigers.” My protagonists experience setbacks but are unfazed about the obstacles. Their optimism and can-do spirit sometimes make them martyrs in an indifferent society.  

My young reader didn’t know the deep-rooted social injustices in China throughout her four thousand years of history. He was engaged by Bao’s perilous journey toward maturity. As a mother, I worried about the sex scene in chapter 3. A friend asked why I had gone into such details. If I had glossed over the lovemaking scene, the book would be squeaky clean and perfect even for middle school students. School Library Journal reviewed Living Treasures and recommended it for girls aged ten and above. However, some parents might want to read chapter 3 before letting their children, especially young daughters, read the book.

I hadn’t thought about its “marketability” during the ten drafts while I wrote the novel. Every time I came to the sex scene, I knew it was central for the plot for several reasons.

  • Bao becomes pregnant. Since their lovemaking bears the fruit, it is significant. For them, sex is not gratuitous but a life-changing event. To hide this act or vaguely hint at it does disservice for the protagonists and misleads the readers.
  • Bao is ignorant about the consequence. Her parents want to keep her heart “pure,” which ironically results in her downfall. By not giving their daughter a sex education, the parents risk having her seduced by her peers. This is the trap of a polite society, as overprotection makes a teenager naïve, vulnerable, and prone to uninformed decisions. Consequently for Bao, the error of a moment becomes the regret of a lifetime.
  • Tong is ignorant about the consequence. A man and woman often blame each other for an unwanted pregnancy. It does not help anyone, least of all the woman, to play the unwitting victim and turn a love affair into a blame game. She robs her lover of the opportunity to support her during a difficult time. In a way, Tong’s failure is associated with Bao’s passivity.
  • Bao begins to grow as she faces reality and gazes at her own body. She learns from Orchid the glory and perils of womanhood. By making a heroic sacrifice, she rises up from her victim role, takes control, and becomes a savior of the downtrodden.
  • Tong no longer “desires” Bao after the abortion. He practices abstinence as self-discipline to demonstrate his true love for her. This brings their relationship to a new level of mutual respect. They both go through the soul searching journey to face their grief and failures. They almost break up, when Childless Du intrudes into their world. The crisis makes or breaks a couple. Love triumphs in the end, as they join forces to fight the injustice, heal and grow as a couple and as individuals.

I wrote the lovemaking scenes because they are functional and educational. Their love for each other is the driving force. Sex is the beginning of their journey into the real life—messy and fertile ground for growth, courage, kindness, and self-sacrifice.

Those were my designs. The real world reader experience trumps my concerns. My nine-year-old was at first surprised by the sex scene and giggled a few times. Soon he was drawn into the deeper family conflicts. He was mesmerized by the beekeeping scenes and asked me how I knew those details. He even looked forward to raising bees himself.

Parents often underestimate children’s ability to learn and discern. We fail to support them despite our best intentions. Like many of my schoolmates I had lived a sheltered life. I had learned about the mechanics of lovemaking from reading the bathroom graffiti as a college sophomore. Suddenly the sterile scientific terms took on the frightening human form. This brought shame and confusion to a young mind that cannot reconcile modesty and honor with romantic passion.

Yesterday I met a father during the author signing session. He bought Living Treasures for his thirteen-year-old daughter. I suggested that he should read chapter 3 and decide if he wanted to give it to his daughter now or a bit later. He thought for a moment and then answered me with a smile.

“It’s okay, just part of growing up.”

I saw a father’s confidence in his teenage daughter that is pure love. Too moved to speak, I nodded my thanks.


YWCA Festival of Women Authors 2015

I had the privilege to speak at the 21st Annual Festival of Women Authors, sponsored by the YWCA Berkeley/Oakland. It was a beautiful day at the Berkeley Marina. Several women dressed in flowing colorful outfits greeted me with warm smiles, when I carried a box of books inside.

“Are you ready?” a tall elegant lady asked.

Of course I was. I looked forward to this day and had so much to share. Jennifer had invited me for the talk back in last June. She was wonderful and encouraging. She had asked me to share my personal experiences as a writer rather than read from my novel. I was flattered that people wanted to know about my journey to become a writer.

That was a journey I mostly kept to myself. I was a shy person, but more importantly, I treated writing as a mission larger than myself. What matters are the words on the page. Talking about my journey seemed self-centric and might steal my novelist's thunder.

Now entering a room full of women, who were curious, energetic, kind, and wise, I understood what a rare opportunity this was, and how important it was to share my journey, so fellow writers and readers could see themselves in my experiences.

I held their attention. There was my reflection in the mirror.

I held their attention. There was my reflection in the mirror.

I was awestruck by my fellow speakers. Ann Parker was the author of Silver Rush historical mystery series: Mercury's Rise, Leaden Skies, Iron Ties, and Silver Lies. She took pride in doing careful research and delved into the show-and-tell items in her bag. I had the good fortune to sit at her table, when we autographed the books. I marveled at a black fan made of an ivory frame and silk fabric. Her husband Bill McConachie might be the only male audience, before my husband and boys walked in during my talk.

Ann Parker   took pride in doing careful research   and delved into the show-and-tell items.

Ann Parker took pride in doing careful research and delved into the show-and-tell items.

Yiyun Li was a superstar. I was a longtime admirer of her work: A Thousand Years of Good Prayers, The Vagrants, Gold Boy, Emerald Girl, and Kinder Than Solitude. A spellbinding storyteller, she liked to eavesdrop on people’s hearts and had the audacity to type their conversations on her computer. She was an impressive reader, too. She reread Moby Dick in the spring, War and Peace in the summer, and other classics with every season. I wished to have a private chat with her, but alas, we were kept busy.

A spellbinding storyteller,   Yiyun Li liked to eavesdrop on people’s hearts.

A spellbinding storyteller, Yiyun Li liked to eavesdrop on people’s hearts.

Katie Hafner was witty, eloquent, and brutally honest in her memoir: Mother Daughter Me, her sixth book. No wonder it was a bestseller. Every woman could see herself in one of the three characters during the different stages of her life. We laughed, gasped, and pondered about our roles as women in an ever-changing society. How bittersweet it was to grow older and wiser in this tech-centric world! Katie was way cuter than her author photo, and she was a wiz at Twitter. She tweeted the other speakers’ lines. 

Katie Hafner was witty, eloquent, and brutally honest in her memoir:   Mother Daughter Me  .

Katie Hafner was witty, eloquent, and brutally honest in her memoir: Mother Daughter Me.

I was the last speaker. Jennifer led a stretch exercise to refresh the audience. I was grateful for her introduction: Yang knew she wanted to be a writer since childhood but kept her passion a secret from her parents. Earlier I had been saddened to hear that Yiyun, despite her achievements, never talked about her writing career with her parents, as if it weren't important. Although my parents were proud of me, I never shared my writing experiences with them. Now I would tell my secrets to a roomful of women.

We all have aspirations, setbacks, and can persevere and break through to finish a story, a book, a  nd explore life as writers and human beings.

We all have aspirations, setbacks, and can persevere and break through to finish a story, a book, and explore life as writers and human beings.

I looked at their uplifted faces—in them I saw friends, mentors, kindred spirits and fellow writers. I opened up and shared my writing experiences with all its painstaking details, not to flaunt them but affirm that we all have aspirations, setbacks, and can persevere and break through to finish a story, a book, and explore life as writers and human beings.

Afterwards I was met with applause and congratulations. I had happy photos with Sharon, Jennifer, and the wonderful staff at the Festival. I cherished the celebration. I hope you enjoyed it, too!

Jennifer and Sharon were wonderful and encouraging . 

Jennifer and Sharon were wonderful and encouraging

The lovely YWCA ladies  celebrated writing and storytelling .

The lovely YWCA ladies celebrated writing and storytelling.

Here is an excerpt I shared with the YWCA audience:

I have written four novels and am at work on my fifth. My first novel My Old Faithful is a collection of short stories, all of them published in the literary journals, but the book was not published. My second novel, The Good Son, had an agent shopped around for a bit but didn’t land a publisher. My third novel, Paper Cannot Wrap Fire, depicts the rural life in the 1920s China. It became the writing exercise for my fourth novel, Living Treasures, published last year. I am writing a fifth novel, Oasis. I finished the first draft. Now I will use different books to illustrate where I am in the writing process.

So, where do I get my ideas for a story? I am a critical reader and opinionated about the style and content. Some of my favorite authors are 19th century novelists: George Eliot, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, and Victor Hugo, to name a few. I like stories that focus on human relationships and depict the society and nature as detailed as characters with emotions. I also love biographies and non-fiction books about history and culture. I admire works by Alice Munro, Barbara Kingsolver, Ha Jin, and many others. When I pick up a book, I always want to enjoy it and look for things that I like. There are books, fiction or non-fiction, that don’t ring true with me. Instead of being disappointed, I’d like to think: I can do it differently. 

I always look for the humanity in my characters, even in my villains. On the other hand, I am keenly aware that good people can do things that leave a negative impact. I’m writing a new novel: Oasis. It tells how people fight the drought and dust storms and try to strike rich, but their actions cause the desertification of their hometown, Minqin, an oasis sandwiched between two deserts in northern China. Ms. Keira falls in love with her childhood sweetheart, Mr. Lou, who once saves her from being drowned in a flash flood. She leaves her hometown to study at a medical school. Although Keira leaves her village, her village has never left her. The love story becomes an oasis in their hearts even as the dust storms ravage the homeland and turn it into a desert.

What do I do with an idea? I begin to research. I read a lot of non-fiction, books on history, agriculture, and biographies, research online and interview people about the environmental issues, food, nature, schools, anything. I once wrote a short story about a dog, and I read over twenty books about dogs: all breeds from Great Dane to Chowchow. In the end I decided on a mutt. Research is a lot of fun. I educate myself and become a subject expert. It gives me solid ground to stand on and fabricate a story.

For example, in Oasis, I wanted to write about an illness that requires a bone marrow transplant. I studied several diseases:

Leukemia is too common, not a good enough metaphor for this story. I also eliminated severe aplastic anemia, lymphomas, immune deficiency disorders, some solid-tumor cancers—for some, the bone marrow transplant doesn’t work too well.

In the end, I chose multiple myeloma. It was rare among women, especially younger women. I asked the questions: why does she get it? How does she cope with it? What could help with the diagnosis and treatments? I felt like a kid in the candy store, grabbing my plot elements.

Research not only adds color and brings authenticity but also expands the horizon of my fictional world. I want to share some quotes about writing, and here’s one that I like:

“Your experience is more than just the facts of your life. It’s everything that your life has prepared you to understand, feel, and imagine. And writing fiction is a way of discovering just how deep and broad your experience truly is.”

Next comes the writing itself. Writing is simple, basic, and austere. Don’t wait for inspirations. The writing will create the mood. And style will take care of itself. Here I want to use “you” to address a writer at work, even though I am such a writer, too. Use your writing muscle and tone it. You will need to keep a schedule. It doesn’t mean you have to write every day, if you can’t manage that. Most people have day jobs, families, health issues, and other obligations. I like to separate writing from my personal life. My writer persona is different from my real-life persona. In daily life, I am very organized, reliable, and conscientious. I multitask, set priorities, and deliver results on time. For example, I have to keep hundreds of computers running properly and cannot be one minute late to pick up my children from school.

My persona changes when I retreat into my writing life. I usually wait for my family to go to bed and then allow myself to unwind, freeing myself from the appointments, obligations and such. Sometimes I overlook the dirty dishes in the sink. I take off my jeans and change into baggy pants, comfy socks and slippers. I manage to eat healthy and exercise, but I won’t set the alarm clock or a tight deadline for my writing. Instead, I cultivate patience and a habit of pushing beyond my limit. I love to do lap swim, my exercise to stay healthy and strong. If my goal is fifty laps, I usually go to fifty one laps or fifty two. This is a reminder that whatever my goal is, I always do a little extra, not something to show off, but a habit, a promise I keep between me and my work, that I can push beyond my physical limit every time I use my body or mind.

During the work week I live a normal life, have a day job, take care of my family, and get enough exercise and sleep so I stay healthy and sane. On the weekend I close my door, if I can, stay up late and live with my fictional family. In my mind, I always put writing first. I try to read like a writer, think like a writer, and budget my time like a writer. My children hate to watch a movie with me at home, because I start to comment on the story structure. I taught them the basic story structure before they started the first grade, something I didn’t learn until I turned thirty. I think about my book all the time. Even when I cannot get to the computer to type it, I let the ideas germinate and saturate my mind.

I usually write a very rough first draft within a few months to a year, just to see what the story is. After I had children, I wrote more slowly, and the first draft was more formed. It took me several years to write the first draft of Oasis, in three parts. In the second draft, I will drop the third part and rewrite the second part, to keep the integrity of the story rather than drag on and start a new book. It was difficult to kill my darling, but there was a moral, that I didn’t write to satisfy my ego, but to perfect my craft and polish the vision of a world that I created.

Revision is a daunting task but very enjoyable, to a point. I wrote Living Treasures in a writer’s workshop. After one revision, I left my friends and showed it to the strangers. I started by querying the agents. I worked with three agents before I published Living Treasures. I worked with two professional editors. They were very helpful but also expensive. I wouldn’t advise you to go directly to an editor, unless by a referral.

You want some professional opinions about where your book should get published. A good agent could give you a vision about where your story will fit. If you agree with it, you can take those critiques to an editor and work with her. It needs to be a collaborative process, as the editor will help you achieve your goal. You need to persevere. A friend of mine revised her novella twenty-nine times, before it was published. She told me: you have to do it, or you’ll never get published. If you feel that you hit a wall, wait patiently, or work on something else for a while, take care of your daily life, before coming back to the project. You may gain a fresh perspective.

More than the flat-out rejections, years of waiting to be read, waiting in endless lines to be acknowledged is demoralizing. Even after you’re published, you’re just one of the many authors out there. How to reconcile all this hard work with little reward? Here is a quote I like:

“The years of rejections most writers experience serve a purpose, which is to temper the unbounded narcissism which drives people to write. The purpose of techniques is to free the unconscious that is true creativity.”

My second novel The Good Son generated some interest among the agents but hasn’t found a publisher. Instead of waiting for the validation, I took the knowledge and experience from this book and started all over again to write the third novel. The common wisdom is that every writer needs to write an autobiography, that is usually the first book, to get it out of your system. The first book is like a gift, you don’t know how to go about it. You dabble, try this and that, and finally it works to an extent. You write a second book, with more confidence and skill. By the third or fourth book, you know how to tell a story. You may have found your form. But are you getting better with each book?

Anton Chekov wrote about his own growth as a writer:

“One wants to be mature—that is one thing; and for another the feeling of personal freedom is essential, and that feeling has only recently begun to develop in me. I used not to have it before; its place was successfully filled by my frivolity, carelessness, and lack of respect for my work."

Listen carefully. This is an honest confession by one of the greatest short story writers in history.

"Write a story of how a young man . . . who has served in a shop, sung in a choir, been at a high school and a university, who has been brought up to respect everyone of higher rank and position, to kiss priests’ hands, to reverence other people’s ideas . . . who has liked dining with his rich relations, and been hypocritical before God and men from the mere consciousness of his own insignificance—write how this young man squeezes the slave out of himself, drop by drop, and how waking one beautiful morning he feels that he has no longer a slave’s blood in his veins but a real man’s.” 

This realization gives me chills, that writing is to squeeze the slave out of my blood, drop by drop. Writing is simple, basic, and austere. Being a working mother and a woman writer, I think of writing as a fight in an otherwise calm life. It begins with the urge to express my authentic self. Through hard work and relentless introspection, I shed my polite mask, tear off the layers of complacency, prejudice, and hypocrisy, to reach deep inside and feel the beating of my own heart, discover who I am and what I believe in, and then pour my soul into the characters and their stories.

Literature is different from life. Life is one thing happening after another, endless and messy. Literature is not religion, either. Religion has a structure and gives life meanings. Literature falls somewhere between life and religion. There is no right or wrong anywhere on the spectrum. Earlier I said I began writing because other books didn’t express my worldviews, not because they aren’t good, a lot of them are amazing, but they are in different spots on the spectrum, which gives me the opportunity to express my unique perspective. And I’m not the only one—other writers have shared my views, and they may or may not be my contemporaries.

Writing is a craft, if used well, it helps me express my authenticity by spinning a web of lies, that I cannot do in life or in religion, because I cannot risk turning the world upside down. In fact I cannot be one minute late to pick up my children from school. But in writing, I’m free to tear down the world, and then use my imagination and craft to build a new world, alive and rich with meanings, insights, and hope for future.  



Hercules Book Club Visit

I enjoyed talking to the wonderful people at Christine’s book club meeting. They were gracious to thank me for Living Treasures. We ate Chinese food and talked like old friends.


Some spoke of the wonderful travel experience when they visited China, how warm and friendly people were, and the amazing services at the hotel. I couldn’t agree more, that many Chinese people were affectionate, kind, and generous toward their guests. As for the beautiful city landscape, many local residents suffered as the government put their best face forward to please the visitors and foreigners. For example: thousands of people were displaced due to the construction of the Olympic Stadium in Beijing. The brave people who spoke against it became dissidents and were exiled.

We joked how every person thinks they came from the “best” country in the world, while in reality, there were a lot of social problems in their home countries, and the rosy view did nothing to improve the society. My view of patriotism is divided: love the people, culture, and food—of course it is the best in the world, no matter where you came from. But not the state or government, there is always room for improvement.

I shared a true story. When I gave a book talk at San Francisco Public Library, a woman in the audience spoke about the forced abortions done in the Chinese hospitals: If the drugs couldn’t kill, a nurse injected medicine on the baby’s temple when the mother was pushing.

Then she told another story. Her own sister-in-law was brought into the hospital to have an abortion on her DUE DAY. Luckily, the building lost electricity that night. Her sister-in-law had a healthy baby girl overnight. The hospital was furious but had to let them go. The girl couldn’t get a residence card or food ration, no health benefit, nor citizenship. She, the aunt, being a resident of Hong Kong, threatened to adopt her niece and bring her to Hong Kong. She held a long negotiation with the local government. After ten years of hard work, her niece finally obtained her residence card.

A heartwarming story stemmed from unthinkable brutality. Living Treasures also tells an inspiring story of human goodness and resilience. These “grass people” make China a better country, not the autocratic government.

We talked, listened, and argued in the cozy living room like people telling stories in front of a bonfire. This is the great joy of storytelling.

Thank you, Christine, for your hospitality, your awesome friends and wonderful book club.

My Bilingual Talk at San Francisco Public Library

When Doris Tseng asked me to give a bilingual talk at the San Francisco Public Library, I happily complied. I wrote the English speech for my launch party at Green Apple Books. I planned to translate it into Chinese over the Thanksgiving weekend.

I took a break by going to the mall and strolling through the crowded stores. When I returned home empty-handed but happy to have done my window shopping, I found the Chinese version of speech needed a lot more work than I expected.

I couldn't simply translate word for word. It was boring and lacked the relevance. I ended up raking my brains to write new material for the Chinese version. Because I invited my mother, I didn't want her to hear all that was in the English speech. The self censorship caused me to go the extra mile to "impress" her.

So here is my bilingual talk. It was much more difficult than I anticipated. Doris challenged me to an ambitious task. For this I was indebted to her foresight and confidence. My struggle was richly rewarded, as the audience asked me questions in both English and Chinese, to which I gave my detailed answers. There was beauty and music in both languages. 



这是我的孩子们:9岁的张佳宏和11岁的张佳俊 。请和小朋友们拿张彩票,会后有小礼品赠送。这是一只可爱的熊猫陶瓷茶杯,看见它你会想多喝点饮料。这是一只绣花的帆布袋,轻便好拎,非常有用。这绣的是书的封面,熊猫,母鸡,和女孩在一起玩。读完书后,你会明白这里的含义。这个图案有8000针,比起我写书用的心血,是微不足道的。

我们都要感谢图书馆员卢慧芬,她做了很多工作,我非常佩服她的胆魄,智慧,和社会能力。你们可以从图书馆借《国宝》Living Treasures,办好图书证就可以了。会后你也可以向我买书,我会给你签名,感激读者们的支持。 

Friends, thank you for coming out to see me today. Make sure you get a raffle ticket from my little helpers: 9-year-old Oliver and 11-year-old Victor. Here are the prizes: a porcelain panda mug, its cute print makes you want to drink more beverages. This is a recycled cotton bag, almost weightless but very useful. It has the embroidery of my book cover. The panda, chicken, and girl are playing together. After reading the novel, you’ll understand the symbolism. This embroidery has about 8000 stitches, a tiny fraction of the work I put into my book.

I want to thank Doris for inviting me. She worked tirelessly to publicize and organize this event. I am grateful for her hard work, resourcefulness, and generosity. You may borrow my novel: Living Treasures from the library. Here is the form, if you need to apply for a library card. You may buy a book after the event. I’ll autograph your book. As an author, I appreciate your support. 

今天我的全家都来了,我妈妈坐在那里。 我的孩子们喜欢打棒球,也会弹吉他。他们的老师Hassan El-Tayyab 是乐队《美国游牧者》的主歌手。张佳宏和张佳俊学吉他有一年多了,很敬慕他们严格的老师。今天他们要为您唱一首歌 。

It’s a special event, because my family is here with me. I invited my mother. My boys love to play baseball and guitars. Thanks to their awesome teacher, Hassan El-Tayyab, over there. Hassan is the leading man in the band: American Nomad. Very cool band, you should check them out.

Here is a quote:

 “Their original music is rooted in Americana and folk/swing traditions. American Nomad draws from the spirit of travel and authentic life experience.”

Inspired by their musician teacher, Oliver and Victor will sing a song: Take Me out to the Library.



BTW. I paid for them to perform, so they are paid musicians, way ahead of their mother. They also read Living Treasures. It took Oliver two afternoons to finish it, so it’s a quick read.

I have a day job, working as a computer engineer at UC Berkeley. As a writer I have a rather optimistic worldview. I like to tackle big social problems in my fiction, put my characters under the test, let them suffer, and in their darkest and most despairing hours, let them use their ingenuity (much like an engineer), and find some sort of relief or solution, not a cure-all, but a way out, so that they can move forward to rebuild their lives.  



Before I talk about my book, I want to tell you the inspirations for my story.

First, it was the panda. Who could resist a face like this? But do you know its secrets? Panda is bear, with the digestive system of a carnivore, thus derives little energy and protein from consuming bamboo, which is 99% of its diet. Pandas in the wild occasionally eat birds, mice, or fish if they can catch them. 

To make up for the inefficient digestion, a panda needs to consume 20 to 40 pounds of bamboo every day. This affects its behavior. A panda must spend 10 to 16 hours a day foraging and eating. The rest of its time is spent mostly sleeping and resting.



Bamboo species flower periodically, every 30 - 120 years or so. All plants in a particular species mass flower worldwide over a several-year period. Flowering produces seeds, and bamboos die after flowering. The seeds will give rise to a new generation of bamboos, but it can take years to replenish the food supply for pandas. 

When I was in middle school, we donated money to rescue the pandas from starvation, as bamboos mass flowered over large areas of the Min Mountains. It was one of the few fund raising events I ever had in China. The plight of cuddly pandas touched many young hearts. We wrote letters, essays, drew pictures, and told stories about these national treasures.

熊猫在饥饿的时候会到村里去觅食。小说女主人公名字叫顾宝,和“国宝”同音。 熊猫妈妈当着顾宝的面吃了一只母鸡,然后给她的宝宝喂奶。这是小说的开始。


My book begins with a mother panda eating a chicken, so that she could survive the winter and nurse her cub.

Here we see the resilience of panda, and the girl who witnesses it.

My second inspiration is the student movement of 1989.

My heroine, Miss Gu Bao, her name sounding like “national treasure” in Chinese, grows up in the 80s. 



It was a hopeful time, a liberal time. After the dark ages of brutal prosecution and censorship in the Cultural Revolution, many western thoughts were introduced and flourished in China. For the young people, it was sexy to be in a debate salon and wrangle over ideological issues. Before long, people began to demand human rights, freedom, and democracy. 

This is Qin, my better half, during the heyday of the 1989 student movement. I didn’t have a picture, because people were still afraid of retaliation. Students began their protests at night, wearing facial masks to avoid being recognized or photographed. This might be mid-May, when the movement had gained so much support throughout China. It was “safe” to be seen as a “patriotic youth” rather than condemned as “a traitor conspiring to overthrow the government.”  

Soon the situation escalated. The Tiananmen Square massacre came as a complete shock. To this day, we don’t know how many were killed on the dawn of June 4th. The official story was that no one died in the square. The propaganda machine in China wiped out every evidence of the demonstrations and subsequent crackdown. My poor parents were grateful that I wasn’t in the Square that night. They told me to never speak of it. What good does it do, for the dead and living? My classmate, a hunger striker, dropped out of the university afterwards. I never heard from him again. Dr. Liu Xiaobo, the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, is still imprisoned for speaking up about the Tiananmen Square massacre.



The student movement in 1989 was a defining moment of my generation. We experienced the hope, joy, and heartbreak of losing a historical opportunity. I reflected on the tragedy for more than twenty years. I would write a story about the students’ fight but with a more meaningful arc. There were many things leading up to the massacre and following after that, but that night, inevitably the focus of my story is just a starting point, a central metaphor for Bao’s tragedy. I didn’t want it to end on Tiananmen Square. It needed to be in rural China, where a lot of the injustice happened. 

My third inspiration is the one-child policy.

[我想问一下] May I see a show of hands? It doesn’t matter where you were born. [在座多少人在家里不是老大(不是家里的第一个孩子)?请举手好吗?] Would those of you not firstborns please raise your hands? [That’s about a third of the people in this room.] [几乎1/3。假如你1976年后出生在中国,你的父母一定付出了代价,才能够让你来到这个世界。] You wouldn’t have been born in China after 1976, if your parents hadn’t fought hard to save your lives.



Here is a little bit of history. In the 1950s, Chairman Mao, with a typical peasant mentality, banned family planning and encouraged women to have as many children as possible. The population grew from 540 million in 1949 to 969 million in 1979, nearly 80% of population increase within three decades. In the seventies the government tried to solve the population crisis by enforcing strict controls to slow down the birth rate. Aside from some minority groups, every couple could only have one child. 

The problem is: local governments all had their own rules and regulations to enforce the policy. Some people lost their jobs after having a second child. Others were fined. Like many policies in China, there was abuse of power and corruption was rampant. In some villages, one-child policy worker team hired thugs to threaten and beat up people, force collect the fines, and even kidnap the women and their relatives. Some women had their full-term babies aborted. (If the drugs couldn’t kill, a nurse injected medicine on the baby’s temple when the mother was pushing.) Some women died from the brutal procedures, while others were forced into sterilization.



My fourth inspiration is a blind lawyer, Mr. Chen Guangchen.

While revising Living Treasures, I learned about Mr. Chen, a civil rights activist who worked on human rights issues in rural China. Blind from an early age and self-taught in the law, Chen is a “barefoot lawyer” who advocates for women’s rights, land rights, and the welfare of the poor. That was the career path that I planned for Bao, that she would mature into a grassroots activist.  

To make a real change, even a small one, you cannot expect it to be passed down from the government, but rather, it needs to start with you and your actions. The victory isn’t achieved by the talks on Tiananmen Square but in every action you do, every person you help, and every sacrifice you make for the common good.




The students in 1989 appealed to the ruling class to change the corrupt system. It ended in the massacre. That’s no reason to give up. What if we don’t fight, but live our lives to the fullest? 

Every person thinks s/he is free, despite what the government tells them, and live their lives like free people, take charge of their social responsibilities, and reach out to the less fortunate. 

I know Bao could do this, because Mr. Chen did it with some success. In 2005, Chen organized a landmark class action lawsuit against authorities in Shandong province, for the excessive enforcement of the one-child policy. What an amazing achievement for a courageous blind lawyer!

在我的小说《国宝》里,乡村妇女兰花已经有了一个女儿。计生队两次强行给她堕胎。她再次怀孕后,躲到山里,这时遇见了女大学生顾宝。顾宝曾经为了学业违心地堕了胎。她一开始看不起兰花,认为兰花是文盲,重男轻女。可是渐渐地,她对兰花的勇气生出敬佩。 最后的关键时刻,顾宝挺身而出, 勇敢地为兰花付出了自己最宝贵的东西。

顾宝遭遇的暴力,也是六四的暗喻。不同的是,顾宝在军人男友的帮助下,重新站立起来,成为草根维权人士。顾宝的维权之路一定是险象环生,布满荆棘,可是她做的艰苦危险的工作将会给中国社会带来持久的,本质的,和平的转变 。

在写作过程中我发现,熊猫是国宝,中国人也是国宝。每一个孩子都是国宝 。只有13亿人都成为国宝,中国的人权才会有保障。

In Living Treasures, village woman Mrs. Orchid already has a daughter. The one-child policy worker team forced her to have two abortions. When she gets pregnant again, she hides in a cave. There she meets Bao, who ended her pregnancy in order to continue her career as a law student. Bao is not impressed with Orchid at first, but she learns to admire Orchid’s strength and resolve to have her child. She ends up risking her own life to protect Orchid.

The ensuing violence is a metaphor for the Tiananmen Square massacre. But Bao is more fortunate than the students in the Square. With the help of her soldier boyfriend, she is able to rise from her tragedy and becomes a human rights activist. Her journey will not be easy, and she will suffer a great deal for her choice, but she has taken an important first step, not only for herself, but for 1.35 billion Chinese people who don’t have the political power. 



You may ask why I wrote the story of a Chinese woman in English. There were several reasons. When I was a teenager, I was enthralled by the French writers, novels by Victor Hugo, Balzac, and Alexandre Dumas. Those stories from the faraway land seemed more realistic, vivid, and inspirational than the Chinese novels about the suffering in the Cultural Revolution. When I managed (believe me, it was hard) to put down the book and walked to the school, I no longer saw the tractors and oxcarts, motorcycles and bicycles in bright daylight but felt as if I were running down the dimly lit alleyways in Paris during the French Revolution. 

Then I was able to rise above the peer pressure and self-consciousness, that I wasn’t pretty, intelligent, or popular at a prestigious high school. I was just a captivated reader. The story of French people translated into Chinese was devoid of clichés yet colored by passion. I grew up and named my first child Victor, after my idol Victor Hugo.     

My 2nd reason was the censorship. My book would be banned, before it was even written in Chinese. I kept a blog in mainland China and learned many tricks to circumvent the internet censorship. Even worse is the self-censorship. A famous writer once said, “If you want to write honestly, you should write like an orphan.” I didn’t like being an orphan, so I’d say, “If you want to write honestly, write in a foreign language that your parents cannot understand.”





I came to the U.S. at the age of nineteen, graduated from college at twenty-one, and became a computer engineer. At twenty-three, I had a midlife crisis. I went back to school, while working full time, and studied literature and writing. It was very hard work. From day one I knew I would support my writing life by working as an engineer. What got me through two decades of apprenticeship was not the prospect of being published, though it was nice that I finally got published, but the firm belief that I was doing something worthwhile. Having a job is to earn my keep from the society, but writing is to give back to the community my soul, my struggle, and my faith in humanity and future. 

Here is my 3rd reason to write in English: to communicate with people different from me—to educate them, entertain them, and affirm the values that we all hold dear: truth, love, courage, and selflessness. In a small way I was emulating the masters: Victor Hugo, Balzac, and Alexandre Dumas. Likewise, I wanted to tell stories of the faraway land that make people forget the trouble in their own lives, just for an instant, look up and see a bigger world full of people, who look like strangers, as you look more closely, you’ll find they are just like you, with the same longings, fears, and ambitions. Their children and your children will inherit the same world after you are gone.









I got a lot of friendly advice over the years. They told me: You’re the first generation immigrant, and you’re a woman. You have to work and raise a family. You don’t have the luxury of chasing a dream. Wait until you are retired, your children in college, and then take your time to write. I didn’t take the sensible advice. Life is short. I’d rather multitask and fail, than wait and discover that my time has run out. If my life were a baseball game, I want to strike out swinging rather than strike out looking.

I never argued with the wise people who warned me that I might fell. I had nothing to prove. Just do it. 

Writing is a lonely task. I found support in friends and my family. Just do it. 

It didn’t matter if I failed or succeeded. I am only limited by my timidity, my prejudice, and my own imagination.  

I told myself: Just do it. Keep doing it. And do more of it. Predictably, the wise people left me alone. 

I got a BA, an MA in English and an MFA in Creative Writing. My life got more hectic after I graduated, but I kept on writing. I had children, and they slowed me down. I used to write a book in a year and half, but Living Treasures took me five years to write and five more years to get it published. If I were a hare before, now I am a turtle. I plug away patiently and take in beautiful sceneries on my journey. As I grow older, I have less time to write. I focus on the essentials, the emotions, and no longer cringe to cut my favorite passages in order to advance the story. 



I learned much from watching my heroine develop and mature in the course of a novel. A young woman who wants to become a lawyer, Bao has so much to lose at the beginning: her virginity, her baby, and her career. When she’s confronted with evil, her conscience wakens. She takes a stand for what she believes in and risks everything in her life. 

Do we have the courage to fight for our true believes? If we look deep inside, we’ll find a hero or heroine buried under the layers of politeness, the mundane, and the compromises. If we are true to ourselves, that hero or heroine will awaken, summon their courage, elicit help, and open doors to new careers, new relationships, and creativities. Life is not merely a thing to be tolerated but celebrated. We become free even as we are trapped inside this transient shell, this small building, and this unjust world. 

Thank you. 


If you like, I’ll read a scene from my book.