Cao Guilin: Chinese immigrants in US still attached to motherland

Cao Guilin

Cao Guilin, or Glen Cao, is the author of the novel Beijinger in New York, which reflects on the life of immigrants in New York. He will publish Beijinger in New York II in November.

Having lived in the US for 30 years, Cao still speaks perfect Beijing dialect. “I am not a professional writer. I just write about myself. Only those Chinese immigrants of my age could feel the “twist” from the bottom of our hearts,” he said.

Starting from nothing in the US

Cao was a cellist of China Broadcasting Performing Arts Troupe. His salary was only 42.5 yuan per month. “You can count on your relationships with other people in Chinese society, but if you don’t have money in the US, you will always be at the bottom of society. So life was hard for the early immigrants,” he said.

Just like the protagonist Wang Qiming in Beijinger in New York, Cao started his own company C&J KNITWEAR, designing and producing top-grade knitted clothing.

In 1989, the US economy experienced a period of depression, which gave Cao some time to return to Beijing. He was the envy of his relatives and friends. “A lot of them thought I had become a successful businessman, but I said nothing because I couldn’t explain it clearly in one or two words,” he said. On the plane back to the US, he had a sudden impulse to write about himself.

Back in New York, Cao started writing after distributing work in the factory every day. “I didn’t mean to publish it. I just wrote about my own experiences,” he said, “I believe you have the chance to succeed in the US as long as you are smart enough and work hard. You will have to work even harder when you succeed because everything can disappear anytime.”

Always having the motherland in mind

Cao’s wife is named Ye Ying, dean of the music department of California State University. She was admitted to the Central Conservatory of Music in 1977 and went to the US for further study in 1985.

“Just like my wife, many of my friends in the US have integrated with the US mainstream society. Beijinger in New York II is also about these people,” Cao said.

Cao threw a party at home in the last Mid-autumn festival. He invited his Chinese friends from all over the world. “They brought various kinds of Chinese food. We ate and talked together. Suddenly, somebody suggested singing an old Chinese song. We sang and tears began to stream along our cheeks. We didn’t know why we shed tears at that moment—for the beauty of the moon or the memories of the past? Then we didn’t talk anymore and they went home in silence.”

Cao said he could understand what those Chinese people think about.


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