THE Artistic Upbringing

Being the daughter of a calligrapher and ceramist artist, I grew up immersed in art and with a deep appreciation of the beauty of the Chinese language. I was the youngest among 3 daughters and there was a majority of women in my familyand I grew up to be more of the tomboy! I was very independent and slightly rebellious. Raised as a Taoist it was important for me to find my path and what could become a form of legacy. Not setting out to be famous, but to contribute positively to the world.

From when I was about nine years old, I started losing sleep worrying about what I would become. I couldn’t paint, I couldn’t write and I couldn’t play the piano – I had no obvious passions. Everyone in my family is very artistic except me. So when I was 11, I convinced my parents to allow me to join a nearby boarding school. I would still come home and see them every weekend. They fully supported my choice and I had an incredible experience that allowed me to have my own time and space to work out what my purpose should be.

The Young writer and Business Cofounder

In school, besides academic studies, I embraced every opportunity to take part in community activities. To me, those activities provided a great learning environment, and it’s also what I firmly believe ever since my young age – learning by doing and playing. I embedded this belief in my very first own creation as well – a book. The book was meant to be a user manual for Microsoft. Instead of sticking to what could be a pretty dry (not to say potentially boring) piece of text, I used my creativity to make it engaging and enjoyable, quoting poetry and music lyrics. That’s when I became a writer. The book was a big success and I wrote three more books after that, which were awarded ‘book of the year’ after their publication.

The success of my books gave me the means to dive into an emerging industry that I had been really excited about: Internet. At age 24, I co-founded pAsia, a Chinese language search engine that came to compete with the like of Yahoo in its heyday. It was really exciting times to be in that industry, commercial web ventures were in their early days and the learning curve was steep and fast. In 2001, I decided to move away from pAsia. When I reflected on my time in pAsia I asked myself what I did well and what I would have done differently. If you asked me whether I have any regrets about my experience in pAsia? I would always say no because I appreciate what I learnt from cofounding a company in my youth and acquiring this first-hand experience.

Around the World

I have always had a passion for traveling but never found the time to make it happen. After leaving pAsia, I followed my passion and started to travel around the world.  By exploring the world, I came across many interesting people who enriched my life and thoughts. I also stepped out of my comfort zone by taking challenges which I did not even dream about. The challenge that I am most proud of myself is rock-climbing, which some of you might consider as a leisure activity, but not for me, not for the ones who fear of heights so much. That time, I was scared, I was terrified but I also knew that I wanted to challenge myself with experiencing the life outside my comfort zone.

In 2002, I started my other adventure in my life. I chose to come to the UK for further education and I enrolled for a Master degree in International Economics at Cambridge University. I tend not to follow a standard path and my Master’s degree was also the time I became a mother. MuLan, my daughter, was born just a couple of weeks or so after my course started! I went back to University a couple of weeks after giving birth, the lectures weren’t going to pause and wait for me. I hired a nanny and carried on studying while looking after MuLan. I was pregnant again a year after MuLan was born. MuAn, my son, was born shortly before I completed my masters. In addition of being a student and a mother of two, I was advising young technology companies as well. No matter how busy my life is, it never stops me spending quality time with my children.

Also, the busy life didn’t stop me asking myself ‘who am I’ and ‘why am I here’. Those existential questions led me to take a sabbatical in 2010. I went travelling again. This time I chose to some disconnected destinations, including Botswana, Columbia and the Arctic Circle, and the trips there forced me to step out of my comfort zone again and gave the space and time I needed to find myself.

Share the Hobby – Chineasy

As a mother, we are all bounded to give our children the best. One of the best I can give to my two lovely children is my enthusiasm on Chinese language. From my childhood, one of my most treasured memories was my mother showing me the beauty, the shape and the form of Chinese characters. Ever since then I have been fascinated by this incredible language, and I wanted to give my children the similar experience they can have from learning this beautiful, fascinating language. Nevertheless, my children said ‘it wasn’t cool’ and trying to teach them Chinese was a torture – for them and for me.  So I looked for a fun way to get them started, and when I couldn’t find one, I decided to develop my own –Chineasy. Chineasy is a learning method that breaks down thousands of Chinese characters into a few hundred base building blocks. When these building blocks are combined, they form compounds that can in turn be combined to create phrases. Through this method learners can quickly build a large vocabulary of characters with very little effort.

After I introduced my system – Chineasy in a rousingly well-received TED talk in Feb 2013 in Long Beach, California, more than 8,000 people tracked me down on LinkedIn asking for more information. Several months later, I built Chineasy into one of the most popular methods of learning Chinese across social media and the Internet. Now I look back, I couldn’t believe that my own hobby and creation for my children has turned into an educational project and it is embraced by so many of my online and book fans who all feel benefit of learning Chinese with Chineasy.

Future Projects

Chineasy represents a return for me to my artistic upbringing and is in many ways also an arts project. This project is the culmination of my life’s journey through the East and West. My ultimate aim is to bring down the great wall of Chinese language and allow Eastern and Western cultures to communicate freely. Moreover, I would love to spread my belief on life-long learning and learning by playing, and I think the best way to achieve that is through community learning. How I define the community learning is that it can be done through either in physical or cyber communities.

In Chineasy, advanced people help beginners. They share information, tips, news, creations, and they encourage each other. In addition to that, I frequently ask my followers what they want from me. We are not only learning but also sharing the knowledge we gain. It is my goal and it is the legacy I would love to leave behind.