Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Xichuan "Matt" Zhang, March 9, 2019

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:05 - Introduction

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Partial Transcript: My name is Colleen Dougherty. I am here with Matt Zhang. We are at the Northeast Regional Library in Philadelphia.

Segment Synopsis: The interview starts with the introduction of Matt Zhang explaining the purpose of the meeting, which is to study his reasons for moving to the United States and later Philadelphia. The interview was conducted at the Northeast Regional Library.

Keywords: Matt Zhang; Migration patterns; Northeast Regional Library

00:00:25 - Early life in Shaanxi, China

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Partial Transcript: And to start, why don't we start with your childhood? So where were you born?

Segment Synopsis: Xichuan "Matt" Zhang starts by explaining where he grew up, in a small village called Pucheng County in Shaanxi Province, China. Zhang was raised by his mother and grandparents, while also living with his four siblings. His father did not live with the family full time because he worked as a technician in a state-owned factory in Xian City, which was several hours away.

Keywords: Childhood; Factory work; Grandparents; Pucheng County, China; Shaanxi Province, China; Siblings; Xi'an, China

Subjects: Childhood; Employment; Families.; Occupations; Pucheng Xian (Shaanxi Sheng, China); Shaanxi Sheng (China)

00:02:54 - Value of education

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Partial Transcript: At the time, so there was of course the Cultural Revolution in China.

Segment Synopsis: Zhang shares that he was born in 1964, toward the end of the Cultural Revolution. Zhang recalls the value of education in his hometown, growing up “under the red flag.” In school, he states, he was a good student and remembers leading the class in morning exercises and was the "monitor," or student leader of the class. Zhang describes how he was the first person in his family and village to pass the college entrance exam, and the whole town celebrated his accomplishment. Zhang moved to Xi'an city where he studied English literature, enrolling in Xi’an Foreign Languages Institute, now called Xi-an International Studies University.

Keywords: Confucian; Cultural revolution; Education; Language acquisition; Pucheng County, China; Shaanxi Province, China; Xi'an International Studies University; Xi'an, China

Subjects: Childhood; Education; Families.; Pucheng Xian (Shaanxi Sheng, China); Shaanxi Sheng (China)

00:10:42 - The roles of Zhang's mother

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Partial Transcript: So you mentioned it a little bit about how your village got so excited when you first--when you were--you passed the exam.

Segment Synopsis: Zhang notes the close relationship of the people in his village. He then explains the roles his mother played, such as seamstress, chef, and artist. Zhang's mother worked at the People's Commune where she cooked food for hundreds. Even though his mother did not receive an education, he describes her as a very smart woman who hand-sewed their clothes and gifts, along with his traditional tai chi uniforms.

Keywords: China; Communism; Community; Neighborhoods; People's Commune; Sewing; Tai chi; Traditional Chinese clothes

Subjects: Childhood; Communism; Education; Families.

00:13:52 - Expectations of the United States and English language acquisition

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Partial Transcript: And so before you came over to the United States and growing up, what did you know about the U.S.?

Segment Synopsis: Zhang grew up admiring the United States because of its freedoms. Growing up, he worked on a farm and knew that he had to work hard in hopes of one day moving. In high school, his English teacher initially taught Russian, therefore he did not learn the correct pronunciation until he began college. In college, Zhang recalls listening to the radio, reading newspapers, watching movies, and learning from native speakers which increased his understanding of the English language and American culture. He remembers expecting America to have a lot of high-rises and believed everything would look like New York. He jokes that when he first arrived in the United States in 1995 that it was not what he expected.

Keywords: English; Farm life; Language acquisition; Movies; New York City (N.Y.); Newark (Del.); Newark, Delaware; Radio; University of Delaware; Voice of America; Xi'an Foreign Language Institute; Xi’an International Travel Agency

Subjects: Childhood; Communism; Education; Emigration and immigration.; Families.; Immigrants; New York (N.Y.)

00:21:09 - Invitation to the United States

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Partial Transcript: So how did that whole process start of you being invited over?

Segment Synopsis: Zhang discusses how he applied for a student visa twice to earn his masters degree in physical education but was rejected because he did not have a sponsor. After he graduated, the government assigned him a job at Xi’an Physical Education University as an English as a second language instructor. In 1993, U.S delegates came to speak at his university and they were interested in martial arts. At the time, Zhang was the interpreter for the conference, and because he was well versed in both English and martial arts, they invited him over to teach for the University of Delaware Physical Education College.

Keywords: Beijing, China; Chinese martial arts; Interpreters; Invitations; Kung fu; Tai chi; University of Delaware; Visas; Wu shu; Xi'an Physical Education University

Subjects: College environment; College students--Social conditions; Education; Emigration and immigration.; Immigrants; Universities and colleges.

00:26:44 - Moving preparations / First day in the United States

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Partial Transcript: How did you prepare to come to the U.S after you were invited?

Segment Synopsis: Zhang remembers the preparations he made to move to the United States. While preparing, there were things he had to leave behind in China and others that he found essential for teaching. He also jokes about his first day in the U.S and what he expected versus what he experienced. Zhang mentions several of his colleagues and friends who helped him prepare and those who helped him after his arrival. He remembers being very hungry, and to his surprise, he ate his first meal at Burger King or a similar fast food restaurant. Several neighbors and colleagues helped him to get settled by supplying a bed for his new apartment in Newark, Delaware.

Keywords: Beijing, China; Bicycles; Burger King; David Barlow; Immigration journey; Japanese; John F. Kennedy Airport; Martial arts; Rooms for rent; Tim Miller; U.S; University of Delaware; Xi'an, China

Subjects: College environment; College students--Social conditions; Education; Emigration and immigration.; Immigrants; Universities and colleges.

GPS: University of Delaware
Map Coordinates: 39.677942, -75.750547
00:33:53 - Teaching in the United States

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Partial Transcript: So what was it like teaching in a different country?

Segment Synopsis: Zhang discusses that he was surprised when he first started teaching that those who may have had disabilities, were in poor shape, or who were not athletic were allowed to take a physical education class. In the beginning, he received feedback that his teaching style was too strict. To help his students, Zhang developed a simplified version of tai chi that still focused on the fundamentals of the sport. Zhang also mentions the challenges he faced when trying to teach Americans tai chi as it forces you to be patient and relax.

Keywords: Breathing; Chinese martial arts; Education; Folding Tree posture (Tai chi); Kung fu; Meditation; Meridians; Qi gong; Shadow boxing; Shaolin boxing; Tai chi; Teaching; University of Delaware; Xi'an Physical Education College

Subjects: Education; Immigrants; Martial arts.; Teachers; Teaching

00:41:00 - Tai chi

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Partial Transcript: Why, why did you want to study it? Why did you want to study tai chi?

Segment Synopsis: Zhang highlights the benefits such as relaxation, patience, and balance that tai chi offers. To protect himself and his family in his neighborhood in China, Zhang originally practiced martial arts as a form of self-defense. At first, he had little interest in tai chi because it appeared too slow. In college, Zhang discovered the different styles of tai chi, such as Qi Gong, which focuses on breathing techniques and even helped him with his forgetfulness. Zhang jokes how one of his tai chi students reminded him to use the strategies he taught them when he went to take his driving test.

Keywords: Chinese martial arts; Health; Philosophy; Shaolin boxing; Tai chi

Subjects: Education; Immigrants; Martial arts.; Teachers; Teaching

00:44:13 - Education in China / Learning English

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Partial Transcript: Um, what was school like back in China?

Segment Synopsis: Zhang recalls the education back in China and how at times it was difficult without fancy facilities or heat in the winter. The English teachers were supportive and helped him pass his college entrance exam. Zhang states that college was better because they lived in dormitories and received funding from the government that covered tuition, food, and textbooks. He also mentions that in the big cities English is taught in middle school, but in the countryside English began in high school due to a shortage of available teachers. Zhang started to learn English his second year and even recalls one of his favorite teachers, who he still connects with, who helped him to pass the college entrance exam. Zhang also shares that along with martial arts, he was a nationally ranked gymnast.

Keywords: Education; Gymnastics; Language acquisition; Martial arts; Pucheng County, China; Pucheng Middle School

Subjects: Childhood; College environment; College students--Social conditions; Education; Teachers; Teaching; Universities and colleges.

00:49:58 - Bringing martial arts to Philadelphia

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Partial Transcript: What--how did you get to Philly? What made you move to Philadelphia?

Segment Synopsis: In 1997, Zhang met his wife, Georgina Doherty, at an annual spring festival in Delaware. Zhang and his students performed a tai chi demonstration, and it caught his wife’s attention. After they were married, he spent several years performing tai chi demonstrations at the spring festival until one year he received an invitation to bring his skills to Philadelphia. At the time, there were no groups in the Philadelphia area that taught the full series, and he believed that teaching kids who tended to lean more towards drugs and crime martial arts could lead them towards success.

Keywords: Ambler (Pa.); Ambler, Pennsylvania; Chinese Military Police Boxing; Chinese festivals; Chinese martial arts; Georgina Zhang; Kung fu; Mayfair Community Center; Montgomery County (Pa.); Montgomery County, Pennsylvania; Philadelphia (Pa.); Tai chi; University of Delaware Spring Festival; Willow Grove (Pa.); Willow Grove, Pennsylvania

Subjects: Education; Immigrants; Martial arts.; Philadelphia (Pa.); Teachers; Teaching

00:55:45 - Building a martial arts community

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Partial Transcript: Before you moved--before you re, re, relocated to Philadelphia, what were your expectations of the city before you moved here?

Segment Synopsis: Zhang talks about his goals to open his own martial arts school. At first, he offered free classes at the Mayfair Community Center, but attendance was low. Zhang recently opened a studio between Magee Avenue and Bustleton Avenue in the Northeast, but still experienced low turnout because many of the residents in the area did not drive. He explains that as a committee member for Philadelphia International Martial Arts week he plans to promote Chinese martial arts. Zhang and about twenty martial arts schools will have a kickoff event with free and discounted classes at the courtyard of Philadelphia's City Hall.

Keywords: Caster Avenue (Philadelphia, Pa.); Chinese community in Philadelphia; Magee Avenue and Bustleton Avenue (Philadelphia, Pa.); Mayfair (Philadelphia neighborhood); Mayfair Community Center; Philadelphia 76ers; Philadelphia City Hall; Philadelphia Councilman David Oh; Philadelphia Eagles; Philadelphia International Martial Arts Week; Roosevelt Boulevard (Philadelphia, Pa.)

Subjects: Education; Immigrants; Martial arts.; Philadelphia (Pa.); Teachers; Teaching

01:00:25 - Northeast Philadelphia--The second Chinatown

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Partial Transcript: So how's the--cause you mentioned a little bit that they're all coming together, which is incredible.

Segment Synopsis: Zhang only lives a few blocks away from the Northeast Regional Library on Brighton Street. He details the thriving Chinese community in Northeast Philadelphia, which is now more populous than the community in Chinatown. Zhang is the main organizer for the Chinese New Year festival where he invited not only the Chinese but a Russian group that also does martial arts called Sambo. Zhang highlights how the Chinese community works with places such as the Northeast Regional Library offering free tai chi classes and hopes to provide English as a second language classes.

Keywords: Brighton Street (Philadelphia, Pa.); Chinatown (Philadelphia neighborhood); Chinese New Year; Community; Culture; Islamic mosques; Mayfair (Philadelphia neighborhood); Northeast High School (Philadelphia, Pa.); Northeast Philadelphia; Pennsylvania State Representative Jared Solomon

Subjects: Community; Education; Immigrants; Martial arts.; Philadelphia (Pa.); Teachers; Teaching

01:04:28 - Zhang's book, "Pronunciation Skills of American English"

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Partial Transcript: So how do you compare Delaware and Philadelphia in terms of culture?

Segment Synopsis: Zhang remembers living on campus at the University of Delaware filled with college students and faculty. His transition to Philadelphia was different as his circle of friends grew, as well as a feeling of relaxation. Zhang recalls attending the English Institute, also known as the University of Delaware English Language Institute, to improve his English. Feeling inspired to help others, Zhang wrote a book called “Pronunciation Skills of American English,” making him the first author in China to write a pronunciation book with audio tapes. He has plans to write a second book.

Keywords: Authors; Martial arts; Newark, Delaware; Pronunciation of American English (Book); University of Delaware; University of Delaware English Language Institute; Xi'an Foreign Language University; Xi'an International Studies University

Subjects: Authors.; Education; Immigrants; Newark (Del.); Teachers; Teaching; Writing

01:08:14 - From tai chi to computer science

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Partial Transcript: So you have a ton of plans for yourself.

Segment Synopsis: Zhang recalls that when he first got married he hoped to move back to China, however, after the birth of his two sons, he had to find a job to support his family. Zhang earned a degree in computer networking and data engineering from Chubb Institute and a master’s degree in computer science from Syracuse University and has worked for the Wissahickon School District and Pennsylvania Department of Education, as a technical specialist. He also worked with the Pennsylvania Training and Technical Assistance Network, known as PaTTAN, teaching special education teachers how to use technology to help their students. Zhang mentions how he is in between projects, but one day hopes to continue work with his studio and promote not only Chinese culture but also his skills in English language and computers.

Keywords: Chubb Institute; Comcast; Computer networking and data engineering; Computer science; King of Prussia, Pennsylvania; Leo Zhang; Luke Zhang; Pennsylvania Department of Education; Pennsylvania Training and Technical Assistance Network (PaTTAN); Syracuse University; Technical specialists; Wissahickon School District (Philadelphia, Pa.)

Subjects: College environment; College students--Social conditions; Education; Immigrants; Philadelphia (Pa.); Teachers; Teaching; Universities and colleges.

01:16:20 - The ancient cities of Xi'an and Philadelphia--Education and crime

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Partial Transcript: How has Philadelphia changed the way you see home?

Segment Synopsis: As a community leader, Zhang attends several meetings that focus heavily on the improvement of education. Originally from Xi'an, the ancient capital of China, Zhang comments that he considers Philadelphia to be the ancient capital of the United States. He compares the education systems of both Philadelphia and Xi'an and hopes that the two cultures can work together to make improvements. Zhang describes how there are kids involved in drugs and crime and believes that education here in Philadelphia should be as strong and vital as it in China.

Keywords: Ancient city; Community leaders; Education; Improvements; Pennsylvania Department of Education; Success; Wissahickon School District (Philadelphia, Pa.); Xi'an City; Xi'an, China

Subjects: Education; Immigrants; Philadelphia (Pa.); Teachers; Teaching

01:22:04 - Future plans

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Partial Transcript: Where do you want to be ten years from now?

Segment Synopsis: Zhang's goal is to continue working on his studio, the East West Institute, and plans to offer not only martial arts and tai chi but also Chinese, English as a second language, and computer courses. Due to Zhang's strong belief in education, he talks about finding sponsors to help his school become a non-profit. Zhang describes how he wants to share his knowledge with the people of Philadelphia so that they may have a better life.

Keywords: East West Institute; Education; English as a second language (ESL); Kung fu; Martial arts; Non-profit; Tai chi; Teaching

Subjects: Education; Immigrants; Martial arts.; Philadelphia (Pa.); Teachers; Teaching

01:23:31 - Final statement--Free education for all

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Partial Transcript: So my final question, is there anything that I didn't ask that you want to add for someone who will be listening in maybe ten to twenty years from now?

Segment Synopsis: In the future, Zhang wishes for better communication between China and the United States; hoping we can develop a deeper understanding of the different cultures. In ten to twenty years, he hopes that students don’t have to pay for tuition for all those seeking higher education. Zhang envisions a prosperous country where people are not searching for jobs and are unable to pay their bills but instead are successful and happy. Zhang believes that knowledge is power and one day hopes that we are free to learn.

Keywords: "Melting pot"; Culture; Free education; Knowledge; Open policy; Power; Prosperous; Success

Subjects: Education; Employment