Fairy tales writer brings his unique perspective to US

Updated: 2014-08-01 11:52

By Cindy Liu in Los Angeles(China Daily USA)

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Tens of millions of Chinese have grown up reading his stories about the naughty but kind-hearted boy Pipi Lu and his little sister Lu Xixi.

Chinese writer Zheng Yuanjie, after finishing 30 years of writing for the children's literary magazine King of Fairy Tales, has now traveled to the US on his own.

With 6.7 million fans on Weibo, China's version of twitter, non-English-speaker Zheng interacts with his fans on a mobile phone to get information on what to order in a restaurant or where to go.

"New experiences excite and inspire me in my writing," said Zheng. "My next stop is Central Asia."

Zheng was a bookworm as a child. He dropped out of primary school in 1966 when the Cultural Revolution took place. In a small rural place in Suiping country in He Nan province, he had no access to class, but lots of free time for reading and playing. "It was hard for the nation but a blessing to me," Zheng said. "I read what I liked to read."

Fairy tales writer brings his unique perspective to US

His father, who was once a teacher in the army, gave him lots of Chinese classics like Journey to the West. However, he and his father had to hide some Western books due to restrictions at that time. "I remember how I searched for a secret place to read War and Peace," Zheng recalled.

After joining the army at 15, Zheng used every single opportunity he could find to read books. "I often told the nurse that I was sick so they would put me to in a hospital for days, where I got to read books. I was pretty good at heating up the thermometer to produce a fake fever," he said.

Five years later the soldier quit the army and went to work in a factory to watch over water pumps. Several years later when he heard that publishing houses were paying money for new works, he began mailing his poems to publishers all over the country. After countless failures, he finally had one poem published in Fenshui, a magazine in Shanxi province.

By 1984, Zheng's works had appeared in more newspapers and magazines. When the writer was refused a pay raise he began thinking about setting up a new magazine devoted to his work. The magazine eventually became the King of Fairy Tales and the first issue came out in 1984 with Zheng as the only writer.

The magazine for children which Zheng founded has been published for 30 years. At its peak, it had a monthly circulation of over one million. Through the magazine children in China got to know Pipi Lu, Lu Xixi, Shuke the Mouse and Rock the Wolf. Zheng's work continues to attract millions of adults and children.

Zheng made news in 2012. He had earned $6.3 million from book royalties and ranked first on the millionaire writers list released by China's Chengdu-based newspaper, Western China City Daily.

Zheng has always been critical about China's mainstream education. "The biggest problem of the mainstream education system is that children have little dignity," he said.

When Zheng was young, his mother told him "never believe what is being told without critical thinking," resulting in a great impact in Zheng's philosophy that can be found in many of his stories.

Zheng is now an icon in China. When his son Zheng Yaqi graduated from primary school, the writer decided he would educate him at home and wrote a 400,000-word textbook instead of sending him to middle school.

The writer's own life experiences have made him a bold iconoclast as his explanation for not sending his son to middle school or college shows. "College education tends to make simple things complicated and hard to understand. What we should do is to teach our children the most essential and simple principles of life and ways to handle problems."

According to Zheng, there should never be a bad student.

"A bad student is usually a creature made by a bad teacher and bad parents. A child should be free to be himself," he said. "Education is not about following rules or getting high scores. Education is what a teacher demonstrates to the children and how he guides the kids to seek the truth of the universe on their own."

According to Zheng, the textbooks he wrote include sections on history, philosophy, law, finance and other subjects, all of which he considers as essential knowledge. All teaching in his textbooks is described by many reviewers as people-oriented since "humans are always above the knowledge".

The textbooks have been better sellers than his storybooks these days. "I am glad that my textbooks make learning fun and enjoyable," Zheng said.

In the textbooks and fairy tales from Zheng, students can lay on the floor in class. They are also free to take a break when they need to. Talking about his visits in many elementary schools and middle schools in Los Angeles, "I joked on my Weibo to my followers. I said American schools copied mine," said Zheng.

Since 2007 his son Zheng Yaqi established the Pipi Lu Class in Beijing to coach kids in writing. Teachers are trained with Zheng's educational philosophy.

Zheng was surprised to meet so many readers of his books in Los Angeles where many of his readers are now in their 30s. One of the readers wrote on Weibo: "I attributed my success in my life to the spirit of self-innovation, a free will and creativity that I acquired from the characters of Zheng Yuanjie who makes us forever young at heart."