A Magical Journey Spanning More Than 30 Years – Brian Linden and Lu Xin in Nanjing

I first met Brian Linden and Xin Lu at the front desk of the green mansion at Hopkins-Nanjing Center (HNC). HNC has two buildings, one is an old building with a green roof built in 1986, which is for recreation and leisure; while another is a new building with red facades built in 2006, used for teaching and office space. HNC faculty and students call them the green and red mansions or the old and new buildings. In the 1980s, the green mansion was the tallest building in the surrounding area, and it had Nanjing’s first elevator. On a sunny afternoon in early March 2023, I walked into the green mansion with a courier in hand and suddenly saw Brian and Xin Lu checking in at the front desk. They returned to the HNC in Nanjing to share their stories and journeys. “Hello, you’re Brian, right? And You’re Xin Lu? ” I greeted excitedly, and Xin Lu smiled at me. “No, I’m not Brian, I’m Lu Xin. This is Brian. ” Brian jokingly pointed at Xin Lu and fist-bumped me, and we burst out laughing.

Alumnus with a gap of more than 30 years: Linden Brian and Lu Xin of HNC

Brian and Xin Lu are alumni with a gap of more than 30 years. Brian, a 1987-1988 HNC alumnus, is the founder of Linden Centre. He is a witness to China’s reform and opening up for more than 40 years and has worked as a journalist for Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS), interviewing many Chinese leaders throughout the 1980s. Brian studied at the University of Illinois, HNC, and Stanford University and has traveled and worked in more than 100 countries. After traveling the world, Brian and Jeanee Linden, along with their two sons, returned to Yunnan, China to create Linden Centre, a complex that integrates a boutique hotel, immersive education, experimental travel, and community building. Brian studied Chinese politics, law, history, and culture at the HNC. At that time, professors of HNC taught foreign students in Chinese, and foreign students had to complete homework and papers in handwritten Chinese. Brian felt that although it was difficult for foreigners to write a 10,000-word paper by hand in Chinese, he truly learned how to read and write in academic Chinese.

Lu Xin, a 2019-2020 alumnus, is a teacher at the School of Media Science at Northeast Normal University, specializing in audiovisual arts, cultural studies, international relations, and cross-cultural communication. She focuses on spatial politics and rural sustainability and has conducted fieldwork in the southern United States, Central America, West Africa, and Yunnan. In 2019, when Lu Xin was studying at HNC, Brian went to HNC to give a report and they met for the first time. When the pandemic broke out in early 2020, students at HNC were trapped at home to study online. They did not have a chance to return to HNC to study and were not reunited anymore during that semester. In June 2020, HNC held its first virtual graduation ceremony, where Lu Xin and her classmates graduated “on the cloud,” and Mr. Ban Ki-moon encouraged them: “Working together to make this world bests for all!” During this month, an opportunity to “make this world bests for all” awaited Lu Xin.

June 6, 2020, Mr. Ban Ki-moon sent a congratulatory letter congratulating the students of HNC on their successful graduation.

A book with 30 years of experience: One Village at A Time

The new opportunity was to co-author a book with Brian. In 2004, the Lindens returned to China and after surveying China, chose Xizhou, Dali, Yunnan–an ancient town–to renovate a heritage site and create the first Linden Centre with the Bai villagers. Since then, Brian has been very busy working Within the field of immersive education alone, the Linden Centre has hosted hundreds of field research projects and thousands of students from all over the world since 2010. While the outbreak of the pandemic in 2020 hit the tourism industry hard, Brian took advantage of his newfound time to write a book to tell his China story. In June 2020, Brian completed the first draft in English and invited alumni and students of HNC to assist with the translation into Chinese.

When the pandemic broke out in early 2020, Lu Xin’s fieldwork course “China on the border” was canceled, and all teachers and students of HNC were forced to adapt to distanced teaching. In June 2020,  just when Lu Xin thought that her study life in HNC would come to an end during the pandemic, Brain offered a summer internship to students and alumni of the Center. After several rounds of email communication and telephone interviews, Lu Xin finally flew from her home in Harbin to Yunnan to begin a year-long translation and fieldwork under the guidance of the Lindens (Brian & Jeanee).

On the afternoon of March 2, 2023, Brian and Xin Lu shared their book, titled Redefining Diplomacy: One Village at a Time with teachers, students, and alumni of HNC. This book is Brian’s love letter to China, telling Brian’s 39-year emotional interaction with this country. In 1984, Brian was a foreigner who didn’t know where China was on the map. 39 years later, Brian has become a localized social entrepreneur rooted in rural China and has changed from a “foreigner” to a “fellow villager”. Coming to China from the United States, Brian met movie stars and directors, teachers, students, policemen, drivers, monks, businessmen, painters, craftsmen, village officials, squires, and many other unique individuals. Each encounter tells a unique and forgotten story about China’s four decades of changes. After the publication of the book, Brian and Lu Xin and their publisher CITIC Press set off on a two-month-long book tour to Beijing, Nanjing, Shanghai, and Suzhou.  A cross-cultural, cross-linguistic, cross-border journey of continuous walking and encountering is embedded inside and outside the book. Brian and Lu Xin invite readers to enjoy this unparalleled conversation and journey.

March 2, 2023, From HNC to China, “One Village at a Time,” Book Talk with HNC Alumnus Brian Linden.

Nanjing developed for more than 30 years: traditional China and modern China

In Brian’s “Odyssey Journey”, Nanjing is an important city. Brian remembered the details of Nanjing in the 1980s, such as the only café in Nanjing, the Jinling Hotel, the small library of HNC, the “big roof” building of Nanjing University, and so on. Brian’s best China story happened in Nanjing while at HNC when he met his wife Jeanee on the basketball court of Nanjing University. After that, Brian and Jeanee traveled and adventured together, taking a few days by train to Baotou, the largest city in Inner Mongolia, and then jumping on trucks and buses in Baotou to Xi’an, passing through Ordos on the way to find the Mausoleum of Genghis Khan. In Brian’s words, China is the backdrop of their friendship and love. Brian also appreciates Nanjing’s modernity. In his view, Nanjing is a city that balances tradition and modernity, building skyscrapers while retaining beautiful ancient buildings. Nanjing has preserved the world’s longest and largest ancient city wall, and the 25-kilometer intact city wall 600 years ago shares a space with the stunning 450-meter Zifeng Tower. Brian loves the rich and diverse traditional Chinese culture and long Chinese history and is committed to promoting the connection between traditional China and modern China and the relationship between China and the world.

September 16, 2022, the North Building of Nanjing University which was built in 1917, and Nanjing Zifeng Tower which was completed in 2008 behind it on the right.

September 16, 2022, the North Building of Nanjing University which was built in 1917, and Nanjing Zifeng Tower which was completed in 2008 behind it on the right.

1987, Brian and Jeanee’s Baotou tour. (Photo courtesy of Xin Lu)

In 1987, Brian and Jeanee in Yan’an.(Photo courtesy of Xin Lu)  

1987, Brian and Jeanee on a trip. (Photo courtesy of  Xin Lu)

For Xin Lu, Nanjing is a historical city with a deep cultural heritage. Nanjing has also witnessed the beginning of China’s modern history and the end of its darkest hour, and it is a thousand-year-old capital with special political and cultural charm. In 2011, Xin Lu’s aunt was invited to visit Nanjing to participate in the commemoration of the “Centennial of the Xinhai Revolution.” Xin Lu learned from her aunt that Nanjing is an open, inclusive, and energetic city with plenty of room for dialogue. In 2019, Xin Lu got the opportunity to study at HNC and live in Nanjing. During her studies at HNC, Xin Lu took a large number of interdisciplinary, cross-field, and cross-cultural courses focusing on both China and the United States. The professors at Nanjing University are erudite and elegant, while the professors at Johns Hopkins University are rigorous and humorous. The school includes many diverse mini-courses and expansive alumni resources. The experiences with mentors and friends at HNC constitute Xin Lu’s warm and beautiful memories of the historical city.

March 2, 2023, the LIBRAIRIE AVANT-GARDE Main Store held the sharing session on “Redefining Diplomacy: One Village at a Time” offline and online, readers presented Brian with their own hand-drawing. (Photo from LIBRAIRIE AVANT-GARDE)

March 2, 2023, Xin Lu hosted a discussion “Redefining Diplomacy: One Village at a Time” in the LIBRAIRIE AVANT-GARDE Main Store. (Photo from LIBRAIRIE AVANT-GARDE)

This magical journey spanning more than 30 years came to Nanjing, and Brian and Xin Lu shared their stories with everyone in separate discussions at the HNC, the Popular Bookmall at Nanjing University, and the LIBRAIRIE AVANT-GARDE bookstore in Nanjing. At the LIBRAIRIE AVANT-GARDE, Brian was asked “why was the English version of the book not published in the United States?” Brian laughed and said that if people in the United States were as willing to hear his story as Chinese, he would be more than happy to publish it in English. At the end of each book talk, Brian said to everyone when signing for readers: “Be sure to ask Xin Lu to sign together, this is our joint creation!” I took the book and asked Xin Lu to sign it, then asked Brian to sign it, and joked: “Could you sign me a work contract on the book? Working at Linden Centre will definitely be a blessing.” Brian laughed and said, “Please come to Yunnan as soon as possible!” The invitation is not only for me but for everyone. Confucius said, “Is it not delightful to have friends coming from distant quarters?”

March 2, 2023, Brian and Xin Lu signed for HNC readers.

March 3, 2023, From foreigner to fellow villager: Brian Linden Alumni Sharing Session-One Village at a Time.

March 2, 2023, Brian was interviewed by Nanjing TV at HNC. (Photo courtesy of Xin Lu)

Source: Hopkins-Nanjing Center

Author: Liu Zijing

Editors: Guo Ankang, He Yao