Britta interviews Lihui Wang- the First Loyal Reader and Supporter of Su Yen Hu and Snowflake Books

19 October 2017 by Christina Barker

Hiya Lihui - sorry, I should really address as you Dr Wang, correct?

Well technically right. But I prefer to be called Lihui.


Did you do your doctorate here in the UK? What about, what are you trained in and briefly, what is your day job?

I did my PhD in the UK and was trained in molecular biology. I am a researcher as my day job.


That must have been hard for a young woman whose mother tongue is not English?

Usually Chinese students worked very hard to prepare when we were still in China (at least my generation). So reading and writing would not be such a struggle when the actual study commenced. It was speaking the English language to get one understood at work and in daily life that could be really challenging and frustrating.


When did you move to the UK...what were your plans and expectations? How much did you already know about Western Europe...and where did you get your knowledge (books, television, internet or another way?)

I arrived in the UK in 2004 with the one sole ambition to obtain my PhD. Though I studied science since university, I was quite widely and broadly influenced by my mother since my childhood. The only 'western or foreign' culture my mother's generation received was from the USSR. When I was born, it has been shifted to English and English speaking cultures until now. My mother had the foresight to know more about a different world for future. So I studied reading English novels from quite young age around 8 years old in original English. So I remember my first English novel was a simplified children's version the 39 steps. I pictured my western world as I found out from those novels: Mark Twain, Agatha Christie, Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters (Jane Eyre used to be very influential in China) and Charles Dickens. I must say when we say Western culture we could not distinguish much America from Britain or the Continent from Europe. So my image of the Western world used to be romantic and mysterious. Of course the image of freedom is obvious from the TVs and news.


How fascinating!! I guess the same would be true for most of us Westerners...we have a fairly basic, naive and mysterious idea of China in our imagination, from old martial arts movies and souvenirs that one finds at antique markets or clichéd TV spots of wise old Chinese men with long thin beards.
How long did you expect to stay over?
And how did you meet Suyen….was she already planning to become an author or book publisher?

My original plan was to go back home after three years of my study. I met Su Yen when I just finished my study in 2007. Su Yen wasn't thinking for a second to become an author or to be in the publishing industry when we met.

Britta interviews Lihui

In her memoir Suyen writes about living with you in a students´ flat when she was struggling to do her Master’s degree. She said it really helped her that you had a serious outlook on life, and that together you ended up seeing the funny side of your lives over here. Where do you see differences in attitudes/characteristics between Asian people and Brits?
And having lived here for a number of years, have you adapted, maybe even feel more comfortable with certain traits?

When we met, Su Yen was in serious financial hardship to continue her masters. Her parents cut off any form of connection and refused to lend any form of support as they simply could not understand the decision of not using a degree from Oxford to get into a lucrative career in Taiwan. Su Yen was the first friend I met from Taiwan. From her stories, I came to realise that Taiwan has been a more traditional Chinese society than mainland China. In mainland China, we certainly have enjoyed certain level of freedom from the traditions such as a blind piety and obedience to parents and seniors in your families. So I was astonished to find out Su Yen's study was not supported but actually punished in a way by the parents. My mother was the generation who were deprived of higher education opportunities due to Cultural Revolution. So I sympathised tremendously for Su Yen's desire to seek for knowledge and truth. That's how I started to contribute a little bit to her living so that she could carry on her study.

During the years we spent together while she was studying, I was influenced by her and Roy heavily (who was Su Yen's tutor I met and we became friends as well afterwards). Not to mention Asian peoples and the British, Chinese from mainland China and Taiwan are so different. The first thing I learnt from both Su Yen and Roy was to be tolerant and open to different opinions and to accept the difference. Particularly from Roy, a very knowledgeable English scholar, he introduced me the idea of open-mindedness, which seemed a key stone for my changed attitude from my background. After all these years in the UK, it has become difficult for me to accept a life that no different voice can be allowed.

Britta interviews Lihui

Wow, what a moving story that is!
Are you still dreaming or planning to go back to China one day? And if so, what would you hope to bring back and maybe teach the people over there what you picked up from living here?  Or do you think the cultures are too far apart for now, still?

This is a difficult question for me to answer. To share what I have received positively, useful and meaningful messages in the UK to improve my own native land has always been a dream. But when it comes to reality, I must say I am not brave enough to call for or advocate any dramatic or urgent social and political change. There is so much in common between the Western values and ancient Chinese wisdom. It would be great for the western society to find solutions from the East for some of the social issues in the age of individuality and diversity. This is exactly the reason I am a supporter of Su Yen and what Su Yen is doing now with Snowflake Books. She is using the books and arts she has created with a team of artists and authors in Taiwan and England, to gently break down the cultural misunderstandings or biases between the English-speaking world and the East. When the whole world can recognise the power of traditional Chinese values to change and improve a community and a society, the Chinese have no reason not to embrace the good values back to the land. When the Chinese know the essential things we should learn from the western world may be such as to preserve the cultural and historic roots, they will know that countries like the USA and the UK are not Heavens but a place of full of humans living on the legacy of their ancestors too.

How has working with Suyen and Snowflake Books impacted your life?
Are you getting a lot of positive feedback from people visiting your events, what does that mean to you?

To participate voluntarily particularly on the translation and editing of the traditional stories into good English and accessible to children has been tremendously rewarding to me. I've learnt many of the stories first time in my life too due to my growing up. The process to try to get our English speaking friends to understand our stories and even to identify with us can be extremely mentally challenging such as the right word choice to express the closest equivalents in both languages and the word order and arrangement to make the story and expression logical but not to lose the original morals and meaning.  Su Yen has been instrumental to organise the translation and production team. I've benefited by knowing and understanding more of the two cultures and the people by the best and effective way to communicate cross-culturally. Working with Su Yen has made me to be humble, tolerant and respectful to people from all different backgrounds.

By attending some of the events I can see that Su Yen's idea of bringing the traditional Chinese culture alive and into British people's lives is working nicely and beautifully. I was sceptical at the beginning that British people might feel the language and the culture so alien and strange to be interested at all. However, Su Yen and the team's imaginative and artistic approaches have made all the workshops, exhibitions and events realistic, practical and exciting. I am always amazed at how many children and parents without any knowledge from the East can take away from the books, the games and the artworks from the activities. This has a significant meaning to me that that art and culture is for everyone to enjoy and to become one but not to separate us. 

Yes, very true...and Snowflake Books is making a massive contribution by showing that in a very gentle, playful and yet shall I say stylish way!
You are so happily intertwined with the bookish life outside uni by now...could you imagine being without it, is it a good balance for your scientific part?

I am doing my best to support Su Yen and Snowflake Books. Firstly I really like reading and enjoy the magic power words can bring to us in nearly every aspect of our lives. The time spent with Su Yen made me aware that word is also a form of art and books can be treated as pieces of art. The unbounded imagination Su Yen and the team can always come up with to solve real life problems is definitely a good balance and also can inspire my scientific career.