Who Am I? – From Julia Lovell
About the author
Julia Lovell teaches modern Chinese history and literature at Birkbeck College, University of London. She has written three books about China, most recently The Opium War: Drugs, Dreams and the Making of China, which won the 2012 Jan Michalski Prize. Her several translations of modern Chinese fiction include Han Shaogong’s A Dictionary of Maqiao (winner of the 2011 Newman Prize for Chinese Literature), Zhu Wen’s I Love Dollars, and Lu Xun’s The Real Story of Ah-Q, and Other Tales of China.
Who Am I?
I grew up surrounded by books and music – before they retired, my parents were both teachers (of music, and Latin and Greek). I’m the middle child of three, so we always had plenty of fun outside our reading and music lessons. The only slightly unconventional aspect of my childhood was that my parents moved around a lot: they were very curious to see different parts of the country. So as a child I lived in a succession of houses, and went to a number of schools. Organising the moves must have been very tiring for my parents, but for me exploring new places was great fun. We were lucky to live in some of the most beautiful parts of the country: in the Yorkshire Dales, in north Cornwall and in Norfolk. My parents chose houses with big gardens, so I had a sense of space and adventure as I grew up.
I always loved reading and languages; I think that I probably always wanted to be a translator. But while I was growing up in rural England in the 1980s, there was never any opportunity to learn Chinese. I learnt French, Spanish and German, but China still seemed very remote. I think that I probably hadn’t even met someone from China until I suddenly decided to study the language at Cambridge, where my excellent language teachers were all Chinese. I am very happy that China and Chinese culture seem so much more familiar now; both my daughter and son study Chinese, and they have very good Chinese friends at school. They wish they could eat Chinese dumplings every day, but whenever I try to make them they always fall apart in the water! Luckily, my Chinese friends sometimes take pity on me and make me some.
In comparison with my childhood, I’ve led a very settled adult life. I met my husband while at university in Cambridge, and we have since settled here with our three children. It is a wonderfully lively, cosmopolitan city. But if ever I feel tired of being in the same place, I am refreshed by my frequent trips to China. I first visited the country in 1997 and I still remember how surprised I was by my sense of culture shock and my frustration at not being able to express myself properly. But on that first trip, as on every trip that I have subsequently made, I met many kind people and new friends; I am still in touch with them today, which is a source of great happiness. I always feel sad if a year passes without my going back to China.