A Self-Portrait of Liu Xiaofeng, Visiting Edgar Snow Scholar 2017-2018

Liu Xiaofeng (Rocky)

By Liu Xiaofeng

Liu Xiaofeng (known as Rocky to his American friends) is an English teacher and director of the English Department at the College of Foreign Languages, Civil Aviation University of China, in Tianjin. His teaching experiences include teaching English and translation courses at the undergraduate and graduate level. He has taught courses on English-Chinese Translation, Chinese-English Translation, Listening Comprehension in English, Introduction of European Cultures, Appreciation of Classical English Poems, Practical Rhetoric in Chinese and English, Appreciation and Criticism of Literary Translation. His research interests include translation, comparative literature, and cross-cultural communication. His publications include translations of modern Chinese writers such as Jia Pingwa, Wu Kejing and Yang Zhengguang. He currently serves on the Tianjin Translators Association.

Rocky came to the USA in August 2017 for a full year of research as a visiting faculty member in the UMKC Honors College, with generous fellowship support from the China Scholarship Council. Thanks to the Edgar Snow Memorial Foundation (ESMF), Rocky’s life as a Visiting Snow Scholar in Kansas City, the hometown of Edgar Snow, has been diverse and dynamic. He has made substantial progress in his research in the Edgar Snow Reading Room in the UMKC Library. He has participated in many events hosted by ESMF at the Diastole Scholars’ Center. Through these experiences, Rocky has learned a great deal about American culture, and he has shared his understanding of Chinese literature and culture with colleagues and friends in Kansas City through several lectures and presentations.

Rocky at Chinese New Year Celebration in Kansas City, Missouri

The Edgar Snow Memorial Foundation is a nonprofit organization that aims to preserve and promote Edgar Snow’s life and legacy. In Rocky’s view, it seeks to build a bridge for communications between the Chinese and American peoples, creating numerous opportunities for improved exchange and understanding through such programs as the traveling Edgar Snow photo exhibit, the biennial Edgar Snow Symposium, and the Visiting Snow Professors and Scholars. Through the hard work and lifelong commitment of Dr. E. Grey Dimond and Mrs. Mary Clark Dimond, Diastole Scholars’ Center has become a living embodiment of Chinese culture that has made possible countless face-to-face and heart-to-heart exchanges between local citizens and Chinese visitors, which sows the seeds of friendship, sincerity and goodwill.

Rocky with a painting of Helen Snow

Rocky’s first contact with Edgar Snow’s life story could be traced back to a lecture on Edgar Snow and Helen Foster Snow by Mr. An Wei, former director of the Center for Snow Studies in Shaanxi Province, who has devoted his entire career to the translation of Helen Snow’s writings. It was through this moving and inspiring lecture that Rocky started to learn more about Edgar Snow. It is said that Heaven invariably rewards those who are diligent. In Rocky’s own view, such qualities as diligence, honesty and sincerity have always inspired him to work hard and stand out from his peers. Had he not prepared a paper on Edgar Snow and his influential collection of Chinese short stories, Living China, Rocky would not have impressed many foreign friends while delivering his presentation at the Snow Symposium in Xi’an in 2016, which unexpectedly enabled him to go abroad as a Visiting Snow Scholar. Rocky’s dream of becoming a Snow Scholar came true, thanks to the help of so many friends from the Snow Foundation, including ESMF president Nancy Hill, who met Rocky in Xi’an and replied to his inquiries about becoming a visiting scholar; Honors College dean Jim McKusick, who offered to serve as Rocky’s faculty advisor during his visit; and UMKC Library dean Bonnie Postlethwaite, who provided a lovely office for Rocky in the Edgar Snow Reading Room, which guaranteed him direct access to the Edgar Snow Papers.

Rocky counts himself lucky not only to have found a wonderful faculty advisor at UMKC, but also to have the full support of the Edgar Snow Foundation, a great organization that is always open and friendly to Chinese visitors and scholars. ESMF offered a perfect platform for Rocky to befriend some local Snow experts such as Professor Robert M. Farnsworth and Professor Robert Gamer, deepen his understanding of Snow studies and broaden his horizons for the future development and concentration of his research. ESMF has given him a profound sense of belonging, which makes him eager to maintain a long-term relationship with the Foundation and to sustain close friendships with many ESMF board members.

Rocky at Angel’s Landing, Zion National Park

Rocky’s Chinese name is Xiaofeng, which means “mountain at daybreak,” marking the precise time of his birth (daybreak) and his birthplace, Double-Peak Mountain, where his father worked in a steel mine. He chose “Rocky” as his English name for two reasons: (1) the famous movie about the boxing champion Rocky and (2) the Rocky Mountains of the western USA. He is inspired by a well-known saying of the movie character Rocky: “Life is like a boxing match. It doesn’t matter how hard you can hit, but how much you can get hit and keep moving forward.” He hopes that through his relentless struggle he will become a victor of life, standing at the summit of the mountains and savoring the marvels of life with a heart of gratitude.

“Life is just like a box of chocolates. You never know what you are going to get.” This is a remarkable line about the possibilities of life from the movie Forrest Gump, the first American movie Rocky watched as a freshman at Northwest University in Xi’an, the ancient Chinese city noted as the starting point of the Silk Road. Just as Edgar Snow, who had planned to stay in Shanghai for several weeks to earn enough money for his world trip, would never have predicted that he would stay in China for thirteen years, dedicated the prime of his life to the liberation cause of the Chinese people and made himself world-renowned for his observations of China in the decades of chaos and crisis – so too Rocky, who was born and raised in a remote village, would never have predicted that one day he would come to the United States as a Visiting Snow Scholar.

The caution and warning of Rocky’s English teacher at his senior high school still resonates in his ears: “You shall not choose English as your major, otherwise your whole life will be ruined.” He totally understands his teacher’s feeling and kindness because at that point both she, an elegant and energetic lady, and he, who spoke English with a heavy hometown accent, found that teaching and learning English was an extreme torture. When looking back upon his life, Rocky is full of gratitude to her, because she pointed out his disadvantage in English learning to give him a chance to catch up with the others, even though the whole process up to then had been painful and backbreaking to him. Although he was fairly good at English grammar and vocabulary, his listening and oral English was really awful during his middle school and the first two years of his college life. So Rocky summoned the courage to take every chance in his English classes to read passages, participate in discussion and ask questions. In the beginning his heart raced, his voice quavered, his hands sweated and his legs trembled. But gradually he overcame his fear and could finally display his command of English with some degree of ease and elegance.

Rocky at the Central Exchange of Kansas City

“Thrill stands at the end of the comfort zone.” This is a sentence that Rocky learned while attending the TEDxRockhill at the UMKC Student Union. And his story of English learning could be a footnote of this sentence. When Rocky’s mom got the news of his visit to UMKC, she told him with pride: “Son, you are the first one of our village who has had a chance to go abroad as a scholar.” Her remarks gave him a sense of fulfillment in life. When he returns to China, Rocky will commit himself to the cause of helping more students accomplish their dreams, enhancing Edgar Snow’s life and legacy among China’s younger generations, and promoting friendship between the Chinese and American peoples according to the example set by Edgar Snow and the Edgar Snow Memorial Foundation.