Home >> Cultural Exchange

An American shares his 'Chinese homeland' with world

Updated: 2023-10-05 12:19 ( Xinhua )
Share - WeChat
Brian Linden introduces local culture to visitors in Dali, Yunnan province. CAO MENGYAO/XINHUA

American Brian Linden first came to China at the end of August 1984. That month of this year, the 61-year-old man visited his hometown, Chicago. But wherever he is, Linden always holds China dear in his heart as his "spiritual homeland".

His plans for September called for visiting Japan and delivering lectures with a focus on China, before returning to Xizhou town in the Dali Bai autonomous prefecture in southwestern China's Yunnan province to oversee the operation of the Linden Center — his namesake hotel brand and cultural exchange hub founded in 2008.

The building that hosts this flagship Linden Center was previously the old mansion of local merchant Yang Pinxiang.

Since 2008, Linden Centers have also been opened in other places like Dali's Shaxi town and Jiangsu province's Suzhou.

"The initial intention behind establishing the Linden Center was to construct a bridge for cultural exchanges between China and the world," says Linden.

That's why they're called "Linden Centers" rather than "Linden Hotels".

"What China has accomplished in 40 years is a miracle for humanity," says Linden. "I want to tell a better story of China to the world."

Speaking of his arrival in the country in the 1980s, he quotes the 2,500-year-old Confucian maxim: "It is such a delight to have friends come from afar."

Linden is from Chicago. Before coming to China, he was a part-time night school college student, who cleaned carpets for a living. One day, he went to clean the carpet of the home of an instructor who had just returned from China. The lecturer asked him to help place a marker on China on a world map. Linden replied: "I'm sorry. I don't know where China is."

He was captivated by the teacher's stories about China. Soon after, he saw a poster announcing scholarships to study overseas in China and applied.

"It changed my life," he says.

During his stay, Linden had the opportunity to star in a movie that told the story of an American student who loved China. He later interned at CBS News and was fortunate to witness China's process of opening up to the world.

While undertaking graduate studies at Nanjing University, he met Jeanee, a Chinese-American woman who became his wife.

The couple embarked on train journeys across the country, not only exploring China's magnificent landscapes but also feeling the people's warmth and kindness.

"When the Chinese people see someone like me who makes an effort to speak their language and respect the Chinese people and traditions, they have always given me more respect than I deserve," Linden says.

China has given so much to Linden that he, in turn, wanted to contribute to China's growth and promote the country to the outside world.

Because of his China experience, a Swedish company hired him to engage in cross-cultural education work in 1990. This led him to realize how lacking Western understanding of the country was.

This prompted the couple to return to the US and found an art gallery showcasing Asian artworks in Door County, Wisconsin.

The couple moved back to China in 2004, this time, with their two sons. "I wanted to expose them as well to China's cultural richness," he recalls.

They spent two years traveling much of the country before deciding to open their first center in Xizhou.

Linden's team renovated the courtyard into a hotel according to the principle of "preserving the old as it was", conserving the ethnic Bai architecture, layout, wooden carvings and murals.

International visitors not only booked guestrooms at the center but also explored the surrounding Bai villages under the guidance of its staff.

"We have thousands of people coming every year," Linden says.

"I live in the hotel, so my passion for Xizhou and China is immediately shared with these people."

Linden hopes to go beyond enhancing global understanding of China in general to proactively boosting people-to-people exchanges with the US in particular.

Last year, he published his memoir of his 40 years in China, One Village at a Time.

Before the pandemic, the Linden Center hosted visiting programs for students from the DC-based Sidwell Friends School, a private school previously attended by several former US presidents, among other top international schools.

Some students stayed for several months, conducting field surveys in Xizhou and writing papers about their stays.

"I felt that, if I could influence the younger people to have a deeper experience and understanding of China, maybe they would carry that respect and understanding into their future careers," says Linden.

Linden plans to publish an English version of One Village in the United States next year.

"What I want is for Americans to know that there is so much more to China," he says.

Hot words
Most Popular