Faculty Profile: Ying Leach
A native of Northeast China, Ying Xue came to BJU in 2001 to fill the need for a Chinese language teacher. Since moving to the U.S., she met and married Dan Leach, and they have two little girls: Christina (nicknamed “An-An”) and Abigail (“Ai-Ai”). Ying not only teaches the complex Chinese language but also prepares her students to visit the country by exposing them to many aspects of Chinese culture.
Here is an expanded version of the interview that appears in the Fall ’11 issue of BJU Magazine.
How many dialects of Chinese are there?
There are so many. … Chinese is over 3,000 years old, and in the past people didn’t have convenient transportation, and because of that they just stayed in one area. And so their accent [became] so strong [and turned] into a dialect. So you’ve heard about Shanghainese, Hokkien, Cantonese. If we write it down, the Chinese is the same, but when we talk we can’t understand each other. So the government started to promote Mandarin as the official language—standard Chinese—and tried to standardize pronunciation so we can understand each other.
So nowadays we can order some food from South to North just by a phone call, otherwise it just won’t work. [With the English alphabet], if you see it, then you kind of can pronounce it. But Chinese characters have no relationship, no connection with the sound. That’s why the pronunciation can be very different.
What do you teach in Modern Chinese Culture class?
I try to divide [the curriculum] into different topics, like Chinese history and Chinese food, Chinese medicine, … Chinese art—especially the calligraphy. I really like to share that with my students. And also all kinds of folk customs, including the festivals and how we decorate, and what kind of food [goes] along with different festivals, and different greetings and what kinds of activities we do. So these are all very interesting things to share with the students. And even martial arts, and operas—because our music is different.
But one of my favorite topics to teach is Chinese ideology—Buddhism, all the teaching about Confucius. The main focus is on Christianity in China including the current issues. At the end of the semester we always do a project to make some gospel tracts, and I know my students have a better understanding—using what they know about the Chinese people and culture—since they [demonstrate] a better way [to] present the Gospel. For example, it is so important to begin with the book of Genesis—who God is.
What are some of the major differences between American and Chinese culture?
In America, it’s more individual-oriented. But Chinese culture is more group-oriented.
In China probably the first word most people learn is guanxi, connections. So everything that you’re working [within] is like a circle, a connection of a group of friends. … It’s all about the group when you talk, when you do things and interact with each other. You make sure you don’t make your friends lose face in front of other people. … In China when you see a person, somehow you see their connections, what kind of group, what kind of circle of friends they are in.
[Guanxi is based on family and] friends you get from classes, from schools, and then friends from your family are related circles. Then these all turn into your own circle and your own group. … You help people not to lose face. To support your friend, giving face—“gei mian zi”—that is a big thing, too. For example, if a friend is going to have a wedding, you’ve got to go there; that’s a part of the reason why weddings are so well attended—you’ve got to support your group.
In America … you always say “thank you” for everything. But in China, especially within family and friends—again, your group, your circle—you don’t really say “thank you.” Because if you say “thank you,” people will feel very uncomfortable— literally it means you’re too polite, that you’re trying to distance yourself from your friends. So within my family, we never really say “thank you” at all—that’s just part of the culture. However, we do have other ways to express our gratitude by doing something that is very meaningful for that person. Another thing is “I love you.” Here you say it a lot, even on the phone. In Chinese culture, we don’t really say “I love you” in front of people’s faces because it gives people goose bumps; it’s just the culture. But you can write it in a note or letter. Even within family, we almost never hug or kiss each other.
For these reasons, American people are very attractive to Chinese people, because they are so outgoing and so friendly and so passionate, where the Chinese people—we don’t have that [kind] of personality. That’s why when American people visit China, Chinese people really adore them and enjoy being in their company, because they are so different, actually the opposite of Chinese culture.
Because America is such a superpower in the world, Chinese people really adore the culture of [America], longing to see the country, the nation. So English is very, very popular, and we put [it] in our schools’ curriculum early as one of the major foreign languages that we teach our children. When I started, I was in middle school, but now they already start [in] kindergarten. And there are a lot of bilingual kindergartens going on as well. And English is one of the major subjects they will test students [on] every semester all the way to college. So most of the students can speak some English.
So you emphasize writing and reading Chinese characters in your language classes?
Yes. I teach simplified characters. Chinese characters are changing all the time like most of the languages in the world. Today’s simplified characters are not completely new “inventions.” Many are borrowed from the past. Compared with the well-known 600,000 characters (this is not the total number of the characters), just over 2,000 characters were actually simplified. Taiwan and Hong Kong are the main places where traditional characters are still practiced. In mainland China, simplified characters are commonly used. However, traditional characters are still studied and well practiced at schools for artistic purposes.
The Chinese character to me is the heart of the Chinese culture, the heart of the Chinese language. I love Chinese calligraphy and so I have such passion for teaching Chinese characters. I’m so glad my students are so diligent and work hard to master all those characters.
Sometimes they say I’m [a] pretty hard teacher, because even the first day when we meet, I always tell my students I’m going to teach them the real Chinese characters. … The first semester, [my students] counted all the characters that they have learned, and it’s over 300. And I’m very proud of them, and I know the Lord really, really blessed their work and helped them.
I have so many students already in China—some already [have lived] there for more than four or five years—and so many of them come back to thank me that I insist on the learning of the Chinese characters. They benefit because other Americans over there, or foreigners, will ask them to be their translators or travel with them … because they are the ones [who] can read the map and the signs. They are the ones [who] are truly literate in the Chinese culture. So they are very thankful. And it’s so much easier for them to continue to pick up more Chinese over there because they know the real Chinese.
What is your favorite part of your job?
My favorite part of the job is teaching Chinese in a Christian school to many young people who really have hearts to serve the Lord. Nothing else can compare with this. … This job means so much to me and to my family.