Thursday, July 18, 2019

Hopkins-Nanjing Center Alumni Profile: Brian Linden

Brian Linden, Certificate ’88, is the co-founder of the Linden Centre in Dali, Yunnan province, China. He and his wife Jeanee restored and repurposed a national heritage site into the Linden Centre, which they operate as both a hotel and a venue for community development. He is also currently developing other projects based on the same values of sustainability and cultural heritage preservation that he draws on at the Linden Centre.

Can you talk a little bit about what you’re doing now? What exactly is the Linden Centre and what inspired you to establish it?
 [My wife and I] came to China with the hopes of creating a social enterprise--more specifically, a values-driven business that could serve as a model for more socially responsible development in rural China. The goal was to preserve China’s national heritage, demonstrating its economic value and ambient meaning to the community, while incorporating the region into our projects via sustainable tourism, intangible heritage preservation, education, and microfinance.  We want our brand to stand for these values, to embody integrity and reverence, and we used our restored hotels as the social enterprise upon which we pursued this mission. We were not hoteliers, we had no experience in tourism, but we felt that developing a more balanced approach to tourism was the best way we could start our efforts. 

We came with passion, patience, and respect. We had limited personal financial resources.
By engaging with perplexing, tangible assets like national heritage sites and incorporating the local community in our projects via restoration, planning and management, we have demonstrated to the government that value-driven businesses can have long-term impacts. It takes time to build friendships and relationships in the community. The government put us in a very good position because we demonstrated right from the start that we were able to achieve our sustainability goals. Nobody can question our success in preserving and revitalizing the tangible. That is clearly manifested in our historic complexes that will live for centuries after we have gone. The intangible was kind of icing on the cake.  We did not realize how closely we would be embraced by the government, media and local community.  They inspired us to do more.  Clearly the Chinese government sees how much [we’ve done for] the community, how much buy-in and support we’ve had, and how values-driven businesses can make a difference in rural areas.

How did you become interested in China and end up at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center?
China should never have been on my radar...I was cleaning carpets and doing other odd jobs as a high school student, 30-40 hours a week. Then I went to community college because my family had never had anyone who went to university and we did not have the financial resources to go immediately to a four year school. My father didn’t have the opportunity to finish high school. In 1983 I was cleaning carpets in a University of Chicago professor’s home. He asked me to put a pin in China because he had just returned from China, but I didn’t know where it was on the map. He pulled me over and said, “Is this all you want to do with the rest of your life, clean carpets?” I told him I [didn’t] have many options and he said, “Why don’t you consider China?”

The next day I went to the night school international office and saw there was an opportunity to study in China through the Ministry of Education. I applied and figured China didn’t want me. Yet three months later, I received the opportunity to go to China. I asked, “Why did you choose me?” I was told I was selected because I was from a working-class family and that this was seen as a great opportunity for me.

The second day I was in China, I was stopped and recruited by the head of the Beijing Film Studio. I was out jogging and [the studio head], a movie director, and an actress saw me. They said they were making the first movie to star a foreigner since 1949. They want[ed] me to play the role. I didn’t speak a word of Chinese, but they said they’d dub the movie.

I filmed for four months, made the movie, and CBS came and interviewed me. After getting a one-month internship opportunity at CBS, I transferred over to CBS [full-time]. From then on, I met with many Chinese leaders, including Deng Xiaoping. Suddenly, I’m the carpet cleaner who’s a leading actor who has met famous Chinese people, including Chinese leaders. China changed my life. The idea of pursuing my dream in China happened more quickly than I imagined it could. After further study and completing a master’s degree in Asian Studies in the U.S., I went to the Hopkins-Nanjing Center mainly because I wanted to come back to China and continue my education. The Hopkins-Nanjing Center gave me a wonderful scholarship to come back.

How did your experience at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center prepare you for your future endeavors?
The Hopkins-Nanjing Center provided me with the real education, the history, economics, and political science knowledge that I needed to function effectively and long-term in China. Language is not enough. China respects familiarity with its history and culture. The Hopkins-Nanjing Center provided this. My interactions pre-Hopkins-Nanjing Center were all in the workplace. I really didn’t have a strong feel or understanding of China. Studying in Nanjing gave me that foundation. By doing things in Chinese such as writing papers and attending classes, I realized that China could be a place where I could function as effectively as I would be able to in the States. I am forever grateful that during my time at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center I also had the opportunity to meet my wife. It’s so important that I’ve had a partner who is equally passionate about China. Without the Hopkins-Nanjing Center, none of this would have happened.

What was your most memorable moment while you were in Nanjing?
I think that my most memorable moments at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center revolved around the interaction with the professors. 1980s China was still fairly closed, but I remember how open the professors were. They inspired me through their curiosity in us as students and their willingness to share their stories at a time when very few local people had interacted with foreigners. Their willingness to open themselves personally to us inspires me to this day. That type of genuine interaction, between professors and students, between students and students, is the soul of the Hopkins-Nanjing Center.

What advice would you give to current or future Hopkins-Nanjing Center students?
I want to remind future students that Hopkins-Nanjing Center graduates will return to their home countries and share their views about China. They will be the cultural ambassadors that inform many countries about the values of China. Unless we gain a well-balanced understanding of this vast country, we are limited in how much we can objectively share. Many of us focus on certain subjects like finance or business or, in other words, how to monetize our time spent studying. We do not venture beyond the network-building activities in the big cities. China is so diverse and inspiring outside of its coastal, urban veneers. I want to encourage more students to take their skills and passions to areas that may not lead to immediate monetary gains, but will provide them with unmatched social and spiritual rewards. Get out and see China beyond the walls of a classroom.  The Hopkins-Nanjing Center provides students with the platform to fully immerse themselves in China’s noble culture and promising future.

Interview by Cady Deck, Certificate ’19

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Student Activities at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center

Cady Deck, Certificate ’19, reflects back on some of the activities she has been involved in at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center this past semester.

These past few weeks at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center have been super busy, both in terms of academic events and extracurricular activities. Below is an overview of what’s been going on recently.

Last semester, the banwei (student committee) organized a ping pong tournament. This semester they hosted a giant badminton tournament. The top four teams advanced to the next round. An intense battle determined first, second, and third place. I managed to win second place with my partner!

The field of competitors
The final four teams

A group of students arranged a Super Smash Bros. tournament in the student lounge, which was intense. In addition to the players, there were play-by-play announcers and a captive audience. I didn’t participate, but I was part of the captive audience.

Left: Play-by-play commentators; Right: Smash Tournament participants and spectators

Dragon boat practice has begun. This year, the dragon boat festival falls before the end of the semester, so the Hopkins-Nanjing Center is entering not one, but two dragon boat teams! Every weekend we practice at Nanjing University’s 仙林 (Xianlin) campus, which is about an hour away by metro. We will compete against many other teams from around Nanjing on 百家湖 (Baijia Lake) on June 7.

Dragon Boat Team One: The (long, or dragon) Shots
Dragon Boat Team Two:龙舟的船人 (Dragon Boaters)

Academically, there have also been a lot of organized activities.

I recently participated in a criminology mini-course. City University of Hong Kong Professor Eric Chui came to the Hopkins-Nanjing Center to teach a three-day class. His class focused on three main questions: why people commit crimes, why criminals desist from crime, and why there are drastic differences in reported crime rates in Asian countries compared to those of Western societies. In addition to introducing us to criminology theories, he frequently paused to pose critical questions. We broke into smaller groups to discuss our opinions and present them to the class.

Criminology mini-course participants

 Students in the course on Islamic Fundamentalism took a field trip to a mosque in Nanjing. The course includes a general introduction to Islam and Islamic practice, and this field trip was an opportunity to learn more broadly about Islam and Muslims in China. We took a tour of the mosque and spoke with a scholar there.

Learning about the history of Muslims in China

The Criminal Law class took a field trip to the江苏人民检察院司法鉴定中心 (Jiangsu People's Procuratorate Forensic Center), which is within walking distance from the Hopkins-Nanjing Center. We took a tour of the facilities and had a question and answer session with several of the officials. I’m not enrolled in the class, but the professor allowed me to tag along.

Chinese Criminal Law class at the Jiangsu People's Procuratorate Forensic Center

One of the things I enjoy about being at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center is that there’s never a shortage of activities, both academic and extracurricular. Academically, I really enjoyed the criminology mini-course because it gave me insight into an interesting field that I have never studied in-depth. In terms of extracurriculars, I am super excited for the dragon boat festival. As one of the team captains, I can safely say that while it is definitely a lot of work, it is also a lot of fun to struggle through practices with everyone.

Written by Cady Deck, Certificate ’19