Jerry Chan is a devoted father, music lover, editorial director at True Run Media, and all-around nice guy. He currently oversees three of the most popular Beijing-based publications, the Beijinger, Agenda, andbeiingkids, and talked to us about his decade-long journey in the Chinese publishing industry.
When and why did you first come to China?
I first came to China in 1993 to study Chinese at Peking University with the CIEE program, but didn’t move here until 1999. I had just finished grad school and intended to teach English and travel around China for a year, which somehow got stretched out to 13 years.
So what have you been doing these 13 years?
I’ve been working in media since just about day one and have helped launch and mold a variety of publications and websites with some very talented people who have taught me invaluable things about business and life. The list includes Chinabuzz, China Now, LE Magazine, the Beijinger, Agenda, Urbane,beijingkids. I’ve also been inspired recently to get involved again in the local music scene after many years, having played in bands and promoted and written about the scene earlier in my time here.
What are you busy with now?
We are continually striving to improve our company’s editorial products, events and culture and will continue to develop all three of our titles (the Beijinger, Agenda and beijingkids) next year, as well as have more branded events and sponsorships. We will also launch a Chinese version of beijingkids, which will be a first for us. Personally, I have been blogging about music for fun and would very much like to get more involved in making and promoting music. And last but not least my wife and I have been raising our daughter, who is almost four, and are expecting our second child in June.
Any standout experiences in your time here?
This may be politically sensitive but one of my most memorable nights in China was the night protests broke out over the Chinese embassy bombing in Belgrade in 1999. I remember going to my first rock show (a Tang Dynasty concert at the old Keep in Touch bar) and walking around the streets of Beijing with Kaiser Kuo afterwards observing all the ruckus. I met a few people that night that would change our lives.
I met Christiaan Virant—he was a former journalist who got into the music scene and we became good friends. I’ve lost touch with him over the years but he influenced me a lot at the time. I also met Leslie Chang, a WSJ reporter who went on to write Factory Girls and whom I’ve always really respected. Other people I ran into that night included Jeremy Goldkorn and Ada Shen. Both were involved with Beijing Scene—the first “expat weekly” of its kind in Beijing. I had also known them previously but that night stands out in my mind because I was so new and it was the first night in Beijing that I really got a sense of the “scene.”
What are the biggest changes you’ve seen over the last decade?
I’d say the people of Beijing, especially the young people, have changed the most. When I first arrived, people would still stare at foreigners in the street like you still might find in the rural parts of the country. Today, Beijing’s young people in all walks of life are increasingly sophisticated, worldly, style- and fashion-conscious, and speak English very well. My entire career in publishing and media has been based on my life and experiences here in China, and Beijing more specifically. I feel extremely privileged to have been able to witness and be a part of all the changes that have taken place in the past 10-plus years.
As a Chinese-American, what can you say about the two cultures?
That the mentality of everyday Chinese people is the exact opposite of Americans. In fact, I find that the two cultures have striking similarities in both good and bad ways. Explaining thoroughly would take an entire book, but three positive traits that both societies share are: a solid work ethic, ambition and pride. But three bad traits would be: self-righteousness, overemphasis on money, and being too “centric,” as in Americentric and Sinocentric—not understanding that there is an entire world out there.
At the end of the day, where do you go to relax?
Other than the comfortable confines of home, I love the various cultural and historical areas of Beijing—Guozijian, Ritan Park, and so forth. Outside of Beijing, I have really enjoyed traveling to different parts of Yunnan and look forward to going back there with my kids.
Photo courtesy of the Beijinger.