The Art of Chinese Living

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Bless this child with so many talents

Gu Zhengqiu 顧正秋

November 2013

Her father and I named our daughter Xiang – meaning ‘auspicious’ – after Tan Xiang, the wife of Chen Cheng. She was beautiful and intelligent, and exemplified what a woman should be. We hoped our daughter would be similarly blessed. In the family we call her Meimei, little sister.

Meimei always wants to do things quickly, but she’s spent more than five busy years patiently producing these books. She was born prematurely and spent over a month in an incubator, and some say that such children are more sensitive. Perhaps that’s how she recalls so many details from when she was very young.

Meimei has an abundance of creative ideas, but she was always inclined to dabble in something for a while, then move on. But whatever field she chose, she always had to achieve something before she was willing to abandon it. When she started high school, she wanted me to teach her Peking opera. I wasn’t prepared to teach this wild young creature, so I asked a friend to help with voice training. After tasting a little of what was involved, this young lady then wanted to learn the guzheng. She practised for a few days, and then picked up a guitar, which she decided she preferred. When I asked if she’d like me to find her a teacher, she said she would teach herself. Some time later, she told us that her school had asked her to give a performance, and a few days afterwards, that a radio station had asked her to take part in a programme.

A year later, Meimei said that she wanted to sing regularly at a Western restaurant in town. When I heard this, I had to take charge, and I went there with her. It was on a main road but very dimly lit inside. How could I allow her to? But she insisted, promising that it wouldn’t interfere with her schoolwork. I finally agreed to her singing there once a week: her brother would take her there at 8 pm and pick her up at 10 pm. Then a few months later, Meimei said that someone wanted to help her to make a record; she ended up producing two. She also adapted a traditional guzheng piece for the guitar, gave innovative performances of classical poems and cover versions of songs. She was also asked to host a musical programme...

Nevertheless, I wouldn’t allow Meimei to make music and singing her career, and in the end she chose to become a fashion designer. As ever, she was busy, day in and day out: a presentation one day, a fashion show the next; taking me to go and choose buttons, or to see her latest window display. The pace she worked at made my head spin. She later gave this away and started to design jewellery instead.

After marrying Kris, she suddenly became a general manager. I was beside myself with worry – she could barely manage herself: how could she manage others? I’d see her clutching a computer every day and she often worked late into the night. After a while, she began doing interior design work as well. Her office was filled with design materials, but the more there were, the more she enjoyed it.

Meimei also threw herself into raising her children, treating it as something to enjoy. She took her three little ones with her in a wild whirl of activities; sometimes to summer camps, sometimes making teaching materials, constantly ferrying them to and fro. She and Kris took nurturing and educating them very seriously – they must’ve created great merit in previous lives to have been born to such good parents.

Meimei’s children are adults now, and I thought she’d finally ease her pace. But she became busier than ever, working on this project to let her children know the many wonderful aspects of our Chinese heritage, and to let the world know that tea ceremonies and flower arranging actually originated in China, and that Confucius wasn’t Korean. She just couldn’t accept our good things being stolen by others, so she declared that she’d publish a set of books about Chinese culture and the Chinese art of living. She gave me her draft for this volume, and I could see how seriously she’d thrown herself into her project, and how much it encompassed. She’d spent years organising her materials, and then analysing them and deciding what to pass on.

Housework, for example, is something I’ve never been good at, but it’s a skill I instilled in her from a young age. But who could’ve imagined that she’d even include housekeeping in these books? She’d occasionally done some writing, but I’d never thought that she’d be able to write about such an enormously complex, vast jumble of topics. I now recognise her ability to learn something, then share what she’s learnt. And she’s finally completed this vast map of life. I’m sure some mistakes may have crept in, but I hope that readers will all generously point out any that they notice.

My wonderful son-in-law Kris supported Meimei as she completed her books. But I’ve also felt that someone beyond this world was helping her bring it about. When I asked her how she’d thought of it all, she said, ‘Mama, I’ve learnt that you have to make a vow and, once you do this, you’ll find you have an invisible helping hand’. And when I asked how she had so much time, she said, ‘I keep working, and time just appears!’ This child is just like her father – enthusiastic, warm-hearted, capable, and someone who bravely forges ahead.

As her mother, I hope that all her heart’s desires will come about, and I pray that Heaven will bless her, and that like the name we gave her, everything in her life will be auspicious.