Greg Brubaker, an American who works in China most of the year as an adjunct law professor, spoke to the Pacific Palisades Optimist Club on February 1, about his life in China.
Brubaker, who was born and raised in Los Angeles, traveled to Beijing in 1989 after graduating from UC Santa Barbara. He planned to work on his Chinese, and “I was interested in China during college, because the country seemed filled with possibilities,” he told CTN after his talk.
But, Brubaker was caught in the Tiananmen Square protests and had to evacuate the country on June 8 that year.
He returned home and attended law school at the University of Wyoming, graduating in 1992. He practiced law in Northern California for 13 years, and then decided to move to China in 2006.
Brubaker lived and taught English in two cities before settling in Nanchang, the capital of Jiangxi Province, which is where he met his wife. The couple has a son.
He became an adjunct professor at Jiangxi University, and generally spends about three months of the year in the United States.
Circling the News asked if he has dual citizenship that allows him access to both countries. “I hold a Chinese green card that is valid for another six years, but I am still a United States citizen and would not give that up,” Brubaker said, noting that his son’s situation is complicated because China does not recognize dual citizenship.
He was questioned about governmental surveillance.
“I don’t know what they [the government] know,” Brubaker told the Optimists. “I have heard some stories about the use of facial recognition and artificial intelligence that turned out to be not true. I often suspect people ‘hype’ the capabilities of the government to be all knowing.”
Brubacker said in the past, millions of Chinese would freely travel to their hometowns to celebrate the “Spring Festival,” or Chinese New Year. This year, the faculty at his university received a notice that all teachers had to report any proposed travels.
“My boss told me she submitted a two-page application to travel outside of Jiangxi Province and that application was formally denied,” he said. “She is an assistant dean in her early 40s and would never risk her job status to travel to Hubei Province over Spring Festival.”
Brubaker’s wife received permission to travel from the couple’s downtown apartment to an apartment they have in a rural neighborhood in the same county.
CTN asked if there is not extreme surveillance, how would the government know if his wife traveled? He said he doubted that if his wife used her phone to purchase goods, anyone would notice it, but “if she got into a car accident or word about her trip got back to her boss at work (she works for a public university) she might face some job consequences.”
But that might be reported by a policeman speaking to her boss – not from surveillance data.
Brubaker then provided a quick history lesson about Chinese politics over the past 40 years, which he broke down into thirds.
From 1980 to 2002, state socialism was dismantled. He called the Tiananmen Square protests one of the most important events in the country because it demonstrated the limits of what was going to be allowed.
Hu Yaobang, who was beloved by young people, died in 1989, which sparked the protests.
Deng Ziaoping, recognized as the “architect of contemporary China,” came to power in 1976 following Mao’s death. Deng was the Paramount Leader of China rather than General Secretary, the title taken by his successor, Zhao Ziyang, and then President Li Xiannian and Yang Shanqukun.
The second third was from 2003 to 2013, during which time China hosted the 2008 Summer Olympics. “The country spent three to four years getting ready for the event,” said Brubaker, who noted that Hu Jintao was the leader (2002 to 2012) and presided over a decade of economic growth. He was known for his consensus-based decision making.
“He had an engineering background and ran the country like an ‘engineer,’ making it efficient to grow the economy,” Brubaker said. In 2010, the World Exposition was held in Shanghai.
Brubaker said the current history is defined by the Comrade Xi Jinping era. Bo Xilai had been a likely candidate to take a top leadership role, until he was found guilty of corruption and sentenced to life imprisonment in Qincheng prison, leaving a clear way to power for Xi.
At the meeting, Burbaker was asked his impression of the competition with the USA. “They all hated Trump,” he said.
CTN asked Brubaker afterwards how long it took him to become fluent in Chinese. “I am functional in Chinese,” he said. “I hate saying fluent because the minute I think I’m fluent I get in a conversation and understand a little. Basic pronunciation takes a year or two.”
He was asked what both countries could learn from one another. “I would like the people in the United States to think more about young people and the future,” he said. “China needs to import our spirit of innovation and creativity.”