'Selling' Chinese history to the world

Updated: 2014-06-29 09:12

By Liu Xiangrui (China Daily)

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'Selling' Chinese history to the world

Steve Temkin, aka Laszlo Montgomery, launched his China History Podcast four years ago, which is now downloaded 1.5 million times a year. Liu Xiangrui / China Daily

When Steve Temkin launched his ambitious China History Podcast program four years ago, he decided to go by the pseudonym Laszlo Montgomery to avoid embarrassment in case it failed.

Since then, he has uploaded 135 audio episodes, over 80 hours.

"My idea was to explain China to my fellow Americans and spread goodwill between the two peoples," says the 54-year-old Illinois-born businessman.

Montgomery, as he asks to be called, didn't expect that his self-produced free podcasts on the Internet would connect him with so many people; a recent system statistics report shows that he is downloaded 1.5 million times a year, with about 45 percent of his audience in the United States, 15 percent in China and the rest in some 100 other countries.

"After more than 25 years doing sales and marketing of 'made in China' products, I've now become a sort of a salesman of Chinese history," says Montgomery, who visits China several times a year and speaks fluent Chinese.

When China and the US normalized diplomatic relations in 1979, Montgomery, who was at college, believed he'd find his place in the future interactions between the two countries, and decided to study the Chinese language.

"My friends laughed at my decision," he recalls. "People in the US knew little about China then. Who knew what China would become in the 21st century?"

To find a "China-related" job after graduating from university with a degree in history and Asian studies, he moved to Los Angeles. Since then, he has been a businessman involved in US-China trade, and he is currently doing business consulting for Chinese companies trading with their US counterparts.

Traveling and meeting people in different parts of China, he found that the more he learned about China, the more he was fascinated by its history and culture. When he found that there was no English podcast about Chinese history in 2010, he decided to launch one himself.

He works from home using very simple recording and editing facilities. Each of the half-hour episodes takes him 18 to 20 hours to research, write, record and edit. He tried to imitate other broadcasters at first before he found the formula that works best for him.

Montgomery says he enjoys the work: "It's my hobby."

But it is also about his passion to make a contribution to building friendly relations between China and the US.

"China has a great history. I try to get Americans to appreciate it more and promote the mutual understanding," says Montgomery. "There are many topics to talk about. I use my common sense to feel what will be interesting to most people."

Over the years, he has received a steady stream of appreciative e-mails, and he has met some of his fans face to face, too.

"It's fun to meet my listeners. They treat me like a star," he jokes.

His program has been effective in attracting listeners like Scott D. Seligman, who wants to know more about China but doesn't want to read it in a book.

"I downloaded a few episodes and discovered that they were perfect for those days when I drive a long distance. It turned the boring hours into enjoyable learning experiences," says Seligman, 62, an author who spent eight years in China.

He is impressed by Montgomery's engaging and enthusiastic narration.

"Lazlo brings Chinese history and culture to life. As you listen, you often get the impression that he was a witness to the events he described," says Seligman.

Many overseas Chinese are grateful to Montgomery for reacquainting them with their ancestral roots. And to his surprise, local Chinese are also welcoming the show as a great resource for learning English.

"I guess for them, it's fun to listen to a laowai (foreigner) introduce their history and share a third-party view," says Montgomery.