Interview with Prof. Liu Xiaojuan
Interview with Prof. Liu Xiaojuan
"100th Anniversary of the Founding of the Communist Party of China" Special
Liu Xiaojuan is a teacher and founder of OiChina, a Chinese language school based in Rio de Janeiro. She was born in China, in a province close to Beijing, graduated in Shanghai and worked for over 10 years with international relations for the Chinese government. She came to Brazil for the first time in 1993, fell in love with the country and established the Brazil-China Exchange Centre. Since then, she has sought to facilitate communications between the two nations in the spheres of business and culture, as well as taught Chinese to Brazilians in companies, universities and schools.
Pedro Steenhagen. Since the Communist Revolution of 1949, the People's Republic of China has undergone many transformations. Having been born and having lived there until the 1990s, you were able to experience the development process taking place before your eyes. In your opinion, what were the main structural changes which took place in China when you lived there?
Prof. Liu. Before the Communist Revolution of 1949, China went through many socio-economic difficulties. Moreover, the Western world and Japan, in the second half of the 1940s, were trying to recover from the tragedies of World War II, while the Cold War was already in sight. In the midst of all this, the People's Republic of China was born under the leadership of the Communist Party, which managed to quickly gain the people's trust.
Mao Zedong was an influential persona and a great reference for the entire nation, which began to leave its sad and difficult past behind to enter an era of prosperity. I was born in the 1960s, and, even then, despite all efforts and progresses, especially in terms of access to basic services, such as education and health, there was not enough food for everyone. We had a certain amount of money, and we could buy a limited quantity of food. There were consumption quotas for the population, for China was not a market-led economy, but a planned one.
In the middle of the following decade, Mao Zedong passed away, and I remember very well how people cried and said they would miss him. Then, Deng Xiaoping did an excellent job as his successor, launching China’s reform and opening-up policies. Meanwhile, Brazil already had more developed cities, elevator buildings and well-equipped cinemas, but in China, it was difficult to buy products such as a bicycle or a watch. Furthermore, in the early 1980s, the lack of food was still latent in the lives of the Chinese people, and an example of this is the fact that, still today, people usually ask “did you eat?”, instead of “how are you?”, when meeting someone.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, things began to improve, and China started to have better clothing, telephone, television, beauty salons and a good quality of life in its cities. More importantly, the Communist Party, which has always valued high-quality education and considered it as one of its priorities, began to heavily invest in the area and make efforts to retain talents in the country. The result is that, nowadays, education in China is highly qualified, both in schools and universities.
Besides basic education, China has paid a lot of attention to its universities and companies, aiming to become an innovative country and a leader in science and technology. Cities like Shanghai and Shenzhen have extremely futuristic urban landscapes and have become symbols of the Chinese development. Family tables, whether at home or in restaurants, are plentiful, and there is no shortage of food for the people. The transformation that China has undergone over the second half of the 20th century and the subsequent decades of the 21st century is remarkable, and the Chinese people owe the Communist Party for it.
Pedro Steenhagen. Since 2009, China has been Brazil's main trading partner and one of its main investors. Furthermore, the presence of Chinese companies has grown enormously from the 2000s onwards, raising Brazilian awareness regarding China. In your opinion, what was the importance of the Communist Party of China when it comes to the successful development of the country? How has China’s greater national and international notoriety in the 21st century impacted your work at OiChina?
Prof. Liu. China is changing so fast that every year, when I return to my country, I notice that new technologies and ways of doing things have emerged. I still haven't learned how to use the face-reading payment, for example, something that is already very common there. The feeling I have is that China is still on an upward trajectory, very strong and very fast, but more importantly, Xi Jinping has been talking about a development with more quality and welfare. This is very important and demonstrates how the Communist Party puts its people first. It was thanks to correct and well-intentioned governmental guidelines that China has achieved such a level of success in its development.
Unfortunately, some Western countries are not well-informed about the Communist Party, its history, its relevance to the Chinese society and its functioning. When it comes to communism, no one is willing to learn more about the Party or China’s philosophy and its thought. Differently, the Chinese seek to know other ideologies and cultures, absorbing what is good for them and adapting the differences according to their reality. It may even be that communism is very different from capitalism and liberal ideas and that it does not work for everyone, but it certainly has a lot to teach, to serve as an alternative and to stimulate new ways of thinking about society.
In Brazil, many people told me there was no democracy in China, because there were no elections. In addition to this being misinformation – there are elections and there is a lot of popular participation in State affairs, just not based in Western ways – this type of questioning made me reflect on the concept of democracy. After all, the Communist Party was and is chosen by the people every day, having a very high approval rating.
We, Chinese, have our own way of solving things and organising China’s society, acting in accordance with our reality and our culture. This pattern may not fully suit Western governments and societies, just as their ways may not totally suit us, but we can learn from each other and live in harmony. We are very humble when it comes to getting to know and learn about other cultures, as well as we value balance, peace, conciliation, but this is a two-way street and demands respect, consideration and a genuine willingness to exchange, not to foist unilateral impositions.
In China, the Communist Party considers the collective harmony as one of its main goals. In Chinese culture, collective freedom is above individual freedom, and the idea of collectivism takes precedence over individualism. Taking as an example the hanzi which mean nation, “国家 (guójiā)”, the first is linked to the idea of country, and the second, of family. Thus, if there is no good country (collective plan), there will also be no families in good condition (individual plan). This means we look at the nation as one big family.
Consequently, the relationship of the Chinese society with its government is deep and significant, for our leaders are responsible for us. The Communist Party is, then, responsible for the Chinese people, and not only do we highly respect its authority as such, but also we count on it to lead us towards a more prosperous and harmonious future. During the pandemic, for example, we trusted the government, we never had any doubt that it would be able to control the new coronavirus in China, and they did it. My mother has more than 90 years-old, she lived in China during all those turbulent times of the last Chinese dynasty, she says there is no new China without the Communist Party, and truly, she only managed to live in peace and security when the People's Republic of China was founded.
The Chinese have a very strong feeling of unity, and the Party has made China more united than ever. China is what it is today thanks to the Party's leadership and the spirit of sacrifice of the Chinese people and its leaders. Some people in the West do not understand this connection, because they do not know the Chinese culture. Successively, they do not realise that, when they talk to a Chinese citizen and criticise the Communist Party, even without proper knowledge of the Chinese society and believing they are separating the individual (the person they are talking to) from the collective entity (the Party), they also criticise the Chinese people in general, as everything is connected in our society. We are a family.
All that I mentioned is important not only to reinforce the relevance of cultural exchanges between peoples of the world and of the pursuit of knowledge about others, since the lack of the former results in prejudice and ignorance related to the unknown, but also because widespread misinformation about my nation was one of the great factors which led me to launch OiChina in Brazil, a country which won me over right at the beginning. I love China, but I also love Brazil, and that is why I felt the need to build a bigger bridge between these two great countries full of opportunities and partnership possibilities. As I worked with international relations for the government, this was both an objective and a responsibility for me.
Today, I am very happy to see more and more Brazilians are interested in the Chinese language and culture. At OiChina, we have students from all over the world. The number of students enrolled in our school has grown year after year, many have already gone to my country in exchange programmes, others work in areas of interest to bilateral relations, and I am sure part of this phenomenon is related to the growing importance of China to Brazil and the world’s economy. Brazil and the world. I feel joyful and with a sense of accomplishment to see that OiChina has been able to fulfil the dreams of its students, and, consequently, I fulfil mine. I alone am a bridge, but a small one. Being a teacher and having so many students enable me to build something much bigger and better, counting on the Brazilians themselves to continue this work.
Pedro Steenhagen. In 2021, the Communist Party of China celebrates its centenary under the leadership of Xi Jinping, boasting very high approval ratings from the Chinese society. Based on your experience as a Chinese resident in Brazil, why the Party’s 100th anniversary is relevant for China, Brazil, and the world?
Prof. Liu. Over these 100 years since its founding, the Communist Party of China has constantly shown it thinks about the Chinese people and that it is a good leader for them. This is the inescapable truth of its story. In approximately 40 years, China has lifted more than 850 million people from extreme poverty, accounting for over 70% of the global reduction of poverty. In fact, China’s development also helps to develop the world, for the Chinese do not exclusively care about themselves and seek to share their experience, achievements, and gains. Again, this is all about collective thinking, as shown by Xi Jinping's strategy to achieve a “community with a shared future for mankind”.
Indeed, I can only thank the Communist Party of China for all the Chinese people and I have achieved. I am very proud to be Chinese, and this feeling can be seen in two family stories. The first is about my daughter, Wang Yili, teacher and co-founder of OiChina. In addition to working in the field of education, she works with simultaneous translation and has already had the opportunity to provide her services at important events, such as the BRICS Summit in 2014 and 2019. On three occasions, she provided translations for President Xi Jinping, Prime Minister Li Keqiang and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, and the fact that these three great government leaders have listened to her voice is a source of great honour for me and the whole family.
The second story is about a family member who was very loyal to the Communist Party of China and, after he had retired, moved to a village in Hunan Province, which, at the time, lived below the poverty line. He took all his savings and invested it all to improve local education and infrastructure. He felt he had this mission, even though he had already retired, and, because he was a member of the Party, he wanted to do even more and sacrifice himself for his people. Unfortunately, he passed away in 2017, but his daughter, who used to work in Beijing and had a very good living condition in the country’s capital, decided to continue her father's work. She went there alone to fulfil his dream, and, today, the village is seen as an example in the region, as it was lifted out of the poverty line. This attitude from father and daughter was recognised by the Party, and both of them were awarded by Xi Jinping earlier this year – the father, posthumously.
In China, there are several similar stories, and this is just one amongst many others from different families. With China's development reaching a good level for its people, it starts looking after its friends in the world. After all, it will never be good enough if only our country develops, as Xi Jinping says. In this sense, China's progress, in some ways, is also the progress of the international community. Congratulations to the Communist Party on its centenary, and congratulations to our great country. I love China and miss it so much. I hope our dear nation can continue to prosper in the coming years under the leadership of the Communist Party. I wish China the best of success always!
Interview conducted by: Pedro Steenhagen Translation from Portuguese to English made by: Filipe Porto Date of Publication: July 1st, 2021