An American finds his sense of home in southwest China’s Yunnan

By Zhang Wenjie (People's Daily Online) 15:08, March 24, 2023

Judging solely by his appearance, one can easily distinguish American Brian Linden as an "outsider" in rural Xizhou township in Southwest China's Yunnan Province. Revered by many villagers as "yang Cunzhang" or foreign village head, however, he has made himself completely at home in this small, tranquil Chinese town.

The American author and entrepreneur has expressed his deep affection for rural China and its people in his latest publication, titled Redefining Diplomacy: One Village at a Time. "It's a love letter to China," introduced Linden.

Find a village

Literally titled "Finding villages in China" in Chinese, the book is Linden's memoir that chronicles his journey from the mid-1980s to 2020.

Born and raised in Chicago, Linden first visited China with minimal knowledge of the country in 1984. But "Chinese people instilled pride and confidence in me, and I became a better person. I always have this sense of gratitude toward the country," he recalled.

After working in and traveling to over 100 countries, the dream of living in China was still haunting him. He decided to make China his home and came to find his "village" in China.

"The sense of home shouldn't be reserved only for a place where you were born. I feel very lucky that I have been able to define where my home is, based on the values that I incorporated into life from my experiences," Linden told People's Daily Online.

Having explored many other places in China, Linden finally settled in Xizhou – a short drive from Dali – where he restored a national heritage site into the Linden Center, a hotel and education center, to launch his cultural exchange platform.

Brian Linden describes local culture to tourists in the Linden Center in Xizhou old town, southwest China's Yunnan Province, Aug. 27, 2022. (Xinhua/Cao Mengyao)

Growing hope and optimism in the rural area

"Very few Westerners and outsiders have experienced watching the changes of Chinese rural areas," said Linden. "Foreigners' views about China are restricted."

China has successfully fed a population of 1.4 billion and lifted over 800 million people in rural areas out of poverty. Linden was right here, in China’s rural fields, witnessing his colleagues, friends, villagers, and local neighbors now enjoying better lives.

The development in China during the past 40 years goes far beyond just the economic changes, said Linden. Most importantly, those physical changes gave people access to the outside world, rendering a sense of hope and optimism in Chinese people.

"I hope that the outside world can acknowledge that China has had a major impact on 800 million people who, in the 1980s, didn't have much hope. They are now able to dream much larger than they and their parents ever imagined. It's hard not to be seduced by this optimism," said Linden.

People-to-people diplomacy

Linden is passionate about rural Chinese culture and philosophy, which he believes should also be rediscovered. He thinks there is more pride among the local people for their old buildings and culture now. "I don't think the villagers should change their clothes to welcome outsiders. We, as outsiders, should change our clothes to go into their homes." To live there, and be a part of the community, is always the belief that he holds.

The charm of China rests in its people. As a foreigner, Linden said he benefits greatly from Chinese people's hospitality, patience, and acceptance. "My interaction with Chinese people over 40 years has been so pleasant and positive. What I wanted to do was to continue this friendship at this level," he added.

As an American charmed and seduced by this country, Linden hopes to be a persuasive and valuable spokesperson to tell his stories to the world, and restore the cultural exchanges between China and the US. "I wanted to present a more people-to-people kind of diplomacy, and share a foreigner's true feelings about this country," he told People's Daily Online.

Devoting his life to sharing China's story with the world, the writer also takes great pleasure in being a sentimental chapter in China's journey. "I hope for my future, I can remain a part of China. I am proud to be here and part of China's story," said Linden.

Brian Linden and his wife Jeanee walk amidst paddy fields in Xizhou, Southwest China's Yunnan Province. ((Photo provided by the interviewee).      

(Web editor: Zhang Wenjie, Du Mingming)


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