Andrew Halper

Andrew HalperI did a BA in Chinese at the University of British Columbia in the mid-1970s, when there was absolutely no economic reason for learning Chinese. I cannot claim I was somehow visionary in deciding so long ago to study Chinese; I was simply drawn to the culture and fascinated by the language. But this was during the Cultural Revolution, when reading Chinese literature was like crossing a desert. I experienced a combined sense of interest and horror at what was happening in China at the time, and sought to understand how a culture which had produced Tang poetry could have also produced the madness then rampaging through the street, factories, campuses and villages. I suppose I took refuge from the aridity of contemporary Cultural Revolutionary era Chinese by diving into the classical language, pre-modern fiction and drama, and early 20th century literature (Lu Xun, Hu Shi and others) under some very inspiring teachers in Canada.

After completing my degree, I left Chinese behind, studying law in Vancouver, followed by graduate work in African law at the Sorbonne, and then practicing as a barrister in Vancouver. I didn't really start using my Chinese until I joined the Canadian diplomatic service in 1989. A diplomat by day, I struggled by night to regain my lost Chinese, with some helpful one-on-one tuition funded by the Canadian government. Based on that painful experience, my advice to anyone who has studied Chinese is, Don't ever let it slip!

After working on the China desk in Ottawa, I was posted to Hong Kong for a year, and then Beijing for 3 years. At the end of my posting in 1994, I left the foreign service and stayed in Beijing an additional 4 years, practicing law. I moved to London in 1998. As head of the UK China Group at legal firm CMS Cameron McKenna, I act for Western corporates doing business in China, and Chinese companies doing business in the West, and I return to the PRC 6 times a year. So since 1989 I have been using my Chinese continually (not that it has necessarily advanced to the level I would have wished!). As is the case for most of us foreign speakers of Chinese, I am never really satisfied.....it's a lifelong effort.

We are grateful to the following organisations for their support
BACS University of Leeds
China-Britain Business Council
British Council