In my second newsletter looking back, I wanted to share JMSG’s and my own connection with China.
Why Julia Morgan Designed Our Building
During the 1800’s and early 1900’s, the Tong gangs brought women and girls to San Francisco from China for profit (mostly prostituting them). What they didn’t expect was a formidable opponent in Donaldina Cameron, who, along with a religious group, helped to found several homes in the Bay Area to house and educate children, mostly girls, whom they had rescued off the streets from the Tongs. Donaldina Cameron had been known to risk her own life, even fighting the Tong members with her umbrella! The JMSG building was one of those homes for girls. As was common at the time and with condemnation to follow, Mills and the surrounding neighbors felt having Chinese girls so close to them would cause their property values to decrease. The home closed after eleven years and Mills purchased the property. There was a sense of full circle to once again have the building be for girls when JMSG moved to it in 2002. You can still see marks on the flooring where the small bedrooms for the first girls who inhabited the building used to be.
Going to China, Speaking on the Importance of Social-Emotional Development & Girls’ Education and the Relational Model
In 2014, I was honored to be a keynote speaker at the International Symposium on the Quality of Girls’ Education and Girls’ Rights to Education in Zhenjiang, China, hosted by UNESCO. Seventy educators and researchers, primarily from China, but also from Russia, the UK, Mauritius, Taiwan, and Hong Kong were invited. I was the only American.
As I made my way to the airport in San Francisco, walking to the gate to catch my flight, I happened to turn and see one of the airport displays. There in a glass case stood a stunning multi-colored glass lamp. And in large block letters below, it read “Radiant Light”. The Ming Quong Room is named after the Ming Quong Home for Girls that first inhabited the JMSG site. “Ming Quong” means “radiant light”! I took the lamp that I caught out of the corner of my eye as a good sign and it was indeed just that.
I landed in Shanghai on Friday night where I, along with my husband, met a faculty member from Zhenjiang Chongshi Girls’ School, along with a driver. After a four-hour drive, we arrived in Zhenjiang where the Assistant Head of Chongshi School met us in the hotel lobby. The next morning was the 130th anniversary celebration of the School.
Attending the anniversary celebration of the School, which is the school depicted by Pearl S. Buck in her writings, was beyond my expectations. We were invited to sit in the honored position in the front row with approximately 500 people behind me. Standing for the Chinese national anthem, enjoying singing and dance performances by middle and high girls, speeches by girls and adults, poetry readings all were part of the program. Since it was Saturday and not a regular school day, girls were asked to participate in their “activity” classes (non-academic classes) and greet the visitors following the program. Since the girls also learn English, I was able to speak with the girls as I observed them use scissors to create delicate intricate paper cuttings, do brush painting, make sushi, apply makeup in their makeup class, and play pool! The girls were affable, taking photos with their cell phones, laughing and clearly enjoying the day. This was especially evident with the girls who were making sushi and playing pool!
Zhou Zhiqin, Project Director of the Research Centre of Value Education, UNESCO Asia-Pacific Network for International Education and Values Education filmed an interview with me. She loved that Julia Morgan had designed our building for girls of Chinese heritage almost 100 years ago.
The Symposium that afternoon included a recap of the day before, hearing from two prestigious researchers from Russia, their talks being translated into Chinese, and then my interpreter translating the Chinese into English. Attendees were invited to speak extemporaneously about girls education and/or the Chongshi Girls’ School. I stood to share with the audience that what I experienced that morning at the school alone was worth my 20 hours of travel. And it was hands-down, the truth.
I gave my keynote, which was well received. In a nutshell, I spoke of the research-based reason for the founding of JMSG and the research based teaching we provide, along with outcomes. The talk was projected behind me in the Chinese language as I spoke.
The Symposium’s closing talk was given by Xiaoman Zhu, Professor of Education, Beijing Normal University, Director of the Research Centre of Value Education, UNESCO Asia-Pacific Network for International Education and Values Education as well as President of the Tao Xingzhi Research Association of China. My interpreter told me she scolded the mostly male audience to leave behind the "old" comfortable ways, disregarding research, and begin to shift by looking at the research and teaching accordingly - including having mostly women teach girls! She mentioned Julia Morgan and what we are doing as a model for the educators at the Symposium. And she adamantly told them they should be emulating JMSG with the relational model. She spoke of the orientation days that we have for the girls each August, our advisory program, and the community band of time each morning where we stop to connect with one another, each and every day. As I listened, I kept hearing "Julia" in her speech, with her noting JMSG at least ten times. It was quite the experience! In a later email, Zhiqin wrote me that my presentation describing our practices lifted the Symposium to another level. What we are doing at JMSG truly was Professor Xiaoman Zhu’s hope for the girls in China.
The Assistant Head of Chongshi School invited me back to visit, which I would love to do. Maybe someday, post Covid, I will plan another trip.
Why Do You Have That Photo?
On a personal note, a few years ago, Jess came into my office and looking at an old photograph I had on my shelf, asked me why I had a photo of an Asian woman. She did look a little surprised when I told her that the “Asian” woman was my grandmother!
My native Siberian grandmother left Siberia with four children in tow when war was breaking out over 100 years ago. She traveled through China, then to Japan, and landed in Hawai’i where she and her children became plantation workers and where my mother was born. I was the first person in my family to return to China since that time and I like to think, though the country is vast, I might have been where she was so long ago.
My husband and I were literally in China for only the weekend, leaving early Monday morning to return to SFO. It was one of those life experiences to cherish, and that helps to highlight the value of JMSG. I love the full circle of being in the Ming Quong Home and of my own personal story of my mother’s family. And I absolutely love to say out loud that I spent a weekend in China!