Jim Zhong's story
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( JIM ZHONG )

Jim is currently studying as a medical student at the University of Edinburgh. His parents had their own education curtailed by the Cultural Revolution in China, and now Jim is beginning to appreciate how lucky he is to have the opportunities his parents found hard to come by in their home country.

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INTERVIEW AUDIO EXCERPTS

THE ABRIDGED INTERVIEW ( Full Interview )

THE FULL INTERVIEW ( Abridged Interview )

My name is Jim Zhong, I’m twenty-two years old and I’m a student at Edinburgh University.

Do you think you could tell me a bit about your parents’ background?

My parents are both from Mainland China; my mum is from Beijing and my dad is from a place called Guangzhou in South China. They spent all their childhood in those places. They were in their early twenties when the Cultural Revolution happened so after high school they actually spent quite a long period working in the countryside, mining and farming, because they had to do. They didn’t actually start university until they were probably in their late twenties - they went on to study Fine Art and Design at Beijing University in the ‘70s and ‘80s. My dad decided after he graduated and after a few years of teaching that he wanted to come and pursue some further education in the UK. He came over to do a PhD in Leeds, my mum followed a couple of years later and they had me here. They’ve lived in the UK ever since.

"I know that when my parents were growing up they didn’t have as many opportunities as I have – because of the Cultural Revolution’s restrictions for them back then. I think I could’ve definitely worked harder at times, but recently I’ve come to realise how difficult it was for my parents."

What do you think it was like for them in the Cultural Revolution when they were sent away from the cities to the countryside?

I think it was very hard because obviously as you are growing up you want to pursue your dreams. They came from quite good backgrounds in a way: my dad’s parents were both surgeons and my mum’s dad was quite a renowned architect. So their parents were very worried that their kids were being sent to the countryside to do work which basically requires little thought. I think there was a lot of fear at the time because they didn’t know where their lives were headed. It was quite a sudden thing when they heard that the Cultural Revolution was slowly diminishing and they were going to be given the opportunity to go to university. I think everyone was very excited and they have been very grateful since.

What do you think it was like for your parents when they first arrived in the UK?

Well, my dad had studied English before he came to the UK, so for him to integrate into British society was easier because he had knowledge of English and he could actually talk to people. I think it’s very hard for anyone to move from their home nation to somewhere like England and to use a second language, no matter how good they actually are. When my mum came to the UK it was different because she hadn’t studied English before; going to the supermarket she got by with a basic ‘yes’ or ‘no’. But my mum is more extroverted so she does like to chat a lot and that has helped a lot with her picking up the language quite quickly. She’s just so willing to speak, whereas my dad who does have a good grasp of the language, interestingly, is not as willing to speak.

Can you tell us a bit about your own upbringing in the UK?

I was born in Leeds in 1989; I’ve always lived in the UK but I’ve moved around a lot. So whilst I remember growing up in Leeds, the first few years are quite hazy. I was in nursery in Leeds and then we moved to Durham because my dad’s work carried us there. Durham is where I went to primary school; that was my first clear memory of meeting friends and playing football and learning things in school. That soon came to an end because we spent about four or five years in Durham before moving on to London, so we moved around quite a lot.

I always realised that I was different in terms of how I look. Even from a very young age, I’ve realised that I look different from the other children in school. I’ve never been bullied or teased, but there was a kind of stigma attached to being non-Caucasian. It wasn’t until I went to university that I had a better perception of myself as British-born Chinese. I realised that I am from a very Chinese family but I am Westernised at the same time. I have a lot of beliefs from both cultures and I think that has helped me a lot; I’ve been able to almost pick which ideas to hold on to and which to - not discard - but to put less importance on.

About being able to choose what areas you like about each culture - Chinese and British. What areas do you like?

Well, with regard to the beliefs of Chinese culture, my parents have always raised me with the constant emphasis on how important it is to work hard. They realised that when they were growing up they didn’t have as many opportunities as I could potentially have – because of the Cultural Revolution, there were a lot of restrictions for them back then. I think that’s the reason why they came here - they thought raising their children in Western society would give them more opportunities. I think I could’ve definitely worked harder at times; I’ve been a disappointment to my parents at certain times, but definitely in the last few years, I’ve come to realise how difficult it was for my parents. I see that in a lot of British-born Asians as well, so I think it’s quite a cultural thing.

"Your heritage does influence you as a person; which country you have grown up in does have a large impact upon your personality. I think maybe I am drawn to people who have had a more similar upbringing to me because there’s a lot of mutual empathy there."

What do you think your parents would want for you from a relationship, in respect of the future or now?

My parents’ views towards me and my relationship is quite a traditional Chinese view - they still want me to be more career-focused for the time being because they want you to establish yourself before you think about things like that. Their principle is that you have to be able to take care of yourself, which is important before you take care of other people.

Would they prefer it if, eventually, you were in a relationship with a Chinese girl?

It’s interesting that you ask that because actually my mum would prefer me to eventually end up with a Caucasian girl - my dad doesn’t mind as much. I’m not sure exactly why mum wants me to end up with a Caucasian girl but she definitely thinks that’s the natural progression of my life because I’ve always lived here. That’s interesting because, I’m not particularly drawn towards a Chinese girl or a Caucasian girl. Your heritage does influence you as a person; which country you have grown up in does have a large impact upon your personality. I think maybe I am drawn to people who have had a more similar upbringing to me because there’s a lot of mutual empathy there. But I think we will just see what happens and leave it to fate.

My name is Jim Zhong, I’m twenty-two years old and I’m a student at Edinburgh University.

Do you think you could tell me a bit about your parents’ background?

My parents are both from Mainland China; my mum is from Beijing and my dad is from a place called Guangzhou in South China. They spent all their childhood in those places. They were in their early twenties when the Cultural Revolution happened so after high school they actually spent quite a long period working in the countryside, mining and farming, because they had to do. They didn’t actually start university until they were probably in their late twenties - they went on to study Fine Art and Design at Beijing University in the ‘70s and ‘80s. My dad decided after he graduated and after a few years of teaching that he wanted to come and pursue some further education in the UK. He came over to do a PhD in Leeds, my mum followed a couple of years later and they had me here. They’ve lived in the UK ever since.

"I know that when my parents were growing up they didn’t have as many opportunities as I have – because of the Cultural Revolution’s restrictions for them back then. I think I could’ve definitely worked harder at times, but recently I’ve come to realise how difficult it was for my parents."

What do you think it was like for them in the Cultural Revolution when they were sent away from the cities to the countryside?

I think it was very hard because obviously as you are growing up you want to pursue your dreams. They came from quite good backgrounds in a way: my dad’s parents were both surgeons and my mum’s dad was quite a renowned architect. So their parents were very worried that their kids were being sent to the countryside to do work which basically requires little thought. I think there was a lot of fear at the time because they didn’t know where their lives were headed. It was quite a sudden thing when they heard that the Cultural Revolution was slowly diminishing and they were going to be given the opportunity to go to university. I think everyone was very excited and they have been very grateful since.

What do you think it was like for your parents when they first arrived in the UK?

Well, my dad had studied English before he came to the UK, so for him to integrate into British society was easier because he had knowledge of English and he could actually talk to people. I think it’s very hard for anyone to move from their home nation to somewhere like England and to use a second language, no matter how good they actually are. When my mum came to the UK it was different because she hadn’t studied English before. For the first year or two she was pretty much isolated within the Chinese community in Leeds; going to the supermarket she got by with a basic ‘yes’ or ‘no’. But my mum is more extroverted so she does like to chat a lot and that has helped a lot with her picking up the language quite quickly. She’s just so willing to speak, whereas my dad who does have a good grasp of the language, interestingly, is not as willing to speak.

Can you tell us a bit about your own upbringing in the UK?

I was born in Leeds in 1989; I’ve always lived in the UK but I’ve moved around a lot. So whilst I remember growing up in Leeds, the first few years are quite hazy. I was in nursery in Leeds and then we moved to Durham because my dad’s work carried us there. Durham is where I went to primary school; that was my first clear memory of meeting friends and playing football and learning things in school. That soon came to an end because we spent about four or five years in Durham before moving on to London, so we moved around quite a lot.

I always realised that I was different in terms of how I look. Even from a very young age, I’ve realised that I look different from the other children in school. I’ve never been bullied or teased, but there was a kind of stigma attached to being non-Caucasian. It wasn’t until I went to university that I had a better perception of myself as British-born Chinese. Before that I never thought too much about the fact that I was Chinese and I had a different culture or heritage from my white, Caucasian friends. I think as you get older and more mature you realise how different people’s upbringings have been and I realised that I am from a very Chinese family but I am Westernised at the same time. I have a lot of beliefs from both cultures and I think that has helped me a lot; I’ve been able to almost pick which ideas to hold on to and which to - not discard - but to put less importance on.

About being able to choose what areas you like about each culture - Chinese and British. What areas do you like?

Well, with regard to the beliefs of Chinese culture, my parents have always raised me with the constant emphasis on how important it is to work hard. They realised that when they were growing up they didn’t have as many opportunities as I could potentially have – because of the Cultural Revolution, there were a lot of restrictions for them back then. I think that’s the reason why they came here - they thought raising their children in Western society would give them more opportunities. I think I could’ve definitely worked harder at times; I’ve been a disappointment to my parents at certain times, but definitely in the last few years, I’ve come to realise how difficult it was for my parents. I see that in a lot of British-born Asians as well, so I think it’s quite a cultural thing.

"Your heritage does influence you as a person; which country you have grown up in does have a large impact upon your personality. I think maybe I am drawn to people who have had a more similar upbringing to me because there’s a lot of mutual empathy there."

I think over the last few years I’ve become more mature: I’ve been able to think from other people’s perspectives much better, and the empathy which I’ve also developed being in medical school and speaking to patients has made me realise that my parents have sacrificed a lot. Growing up I felt that there was a lot of emphasis in school to have the confidence in yourself to, say, speak in public. That’s not always something which is emphasised as much in China because I think there’s a lot more emphasis upon hard work and remembering a lot of facts, and less on the social and communication skills which are very developed in Western society. When I go to China now, people always comment on how refreshing it is to see someone in their early twenties be so confident. For me that’s quite a difficult concept to grasp because all my friends in the UK are very similar to me, whereas in China people my age are generally more introverted. It’s a very interesting contrast between the two societies.

Could you see yourself living in China in the future?

I could definitely work in China I think, although as an aspiring surgeon, I definitely would rather train somewhere like in the UK, because I feel my social skills are more geared towards Western society. It would definitely be interesting to work in China for a period of time or even do some work experience there because the way they do things is obviously very different.

I think if I moved over there and I was working, it would be difficult to do a lot of the work aspects of life. As a doctor, you have to write a lot of patients’ notes up and have to read up a lot as well. But definitely there is a niche area for specialists who can’t speak the language. There are many Western doctors in China; some patients exclusively see Western doctors for example. With medicine there’s a lot of contrast between countries - how things are done and the techniques that are used. Whilst I would be a little bit disadvantaged because of my reading and writing ability, I think there are different things that I could bring to Chinese society.

What do you think your parents would want for you from a relationship, in respect of the future or now?

My parents’ views towards me and my relationship is quite a traditional Chinese view - they still want me to be more career-focused for the time being because they want you to establish yourself before you think about things like that. Their principle is that you have to be able to take care of yourself, which is important before you take care of other people.

Would they prefer it if, eventually, you were in a relationship with a Chinese girl?

It’s interesting that you ask that because actually my mum would prefer me to eventually end up with a Caucasian girl - my dad doesn’t mind as much. I’m not sure exactly why mum wants me to end up with a Caucasian girl but she definitely thinks that’s the natural progression of my life because I’ve always lived here. That’s interesting because, I’m not particularly drawn towards a Chinese girl or a Caucasian girl. I think it’s very specific and personal towards that person and when you meet someone you don’t try to judge them based on their looks, you try to learn about them as a person. Your heritage does influence you as a person; which country you have grown up in does have a large impact upon your personality. I think maybe I am drawn to people who have had a more similar upbringing to me because there’s a lot of mutual empathy there. But I think we will just see what happens and leave it to fate.