An exile that became an opportunity
FROM A DISTANCE - Carmen N. Pedrosa (The Philippine Star) - January 19, 2019 - 12:00am

There are exiles and exiles. But this one is special because it was so unexpected. I’ve heard of Jaime Florcruz. He was an activist when I was a housewife taking care of babies. He, like many other young men, could be bunched together as rebels with a cause.

A few weeks ago I met him and having been an exile myself I was surprised that he was as normal as I was while we ate breakfast at Italianni’s.

But he had a spectacular story and I will tell it in his own words.

“I was born April 5, 1951 in Malolos, Bulacan, hometown of many Filipino patriots and poets. My grandfather Felix FlorCruz was a young lieutenant of the Katipunan who fought against Spanish colonizers in my province.

In the summer of 1971 I was a senior undergraduate student and the outgoing editor in chief of Ang Malaya, the college paper of the Philippine College of Commerce (PCC). Now the Polytechnic University of the Philippines, PCC was one of the centers of student activism in the 1969-71 period, during the administration of President Ferdinand Marcos.  I was one of the officers of the League of Editors for a Democratic Society (LEADS) and the College Editors Guild of the Philippines. I was also a main actor of a student theater group, Samahang Kamanyang.

Like many youths of that period, we opposed the Vietnam War, condemned corruption and official abuses, called for land reform and advocated academic and press freedom. I paid a price for such activism and advocacy.

In August 1971 I joined a group of 15 student and youth leaders for a three-week study tour in China on the invitation of the China Friendship Association. Our group comprised of student leaders, campus editors, feminist leaders, a college professor, a professional journalist and a Muslim youth leader. Our Chinese hosts called our group the “Philippine Youth Delegation.”

We arrived in China on Aug. 21, 1971. By quirk of fate I unexpectedly found myself stranded in the People’s Republic. That day, unbeknownst to our group visiting Beijing, the Plaza Miranda bombing happened in Manila, which killed nine people and injured more. President Marcos cited that as a reason to suspend the privilege of habeas corpus, and swiftly rounded up hundreds of his political opponents without warrants and indefinitely too. Many more who he could not arrest were put on blacklist. I was one of the five in our 15-member tour group who was blacklisted and was forced to indefinitely extend our China stay for fear of possible arrest if we went home. Marcos declared martial law in September 1972 and  yet another year later, my Philippine passport expired. I was a stateless citizen stranded in China for 12 years.

While in China, I studied, worked and traveled extensively. I worked for a year (1972) in a state farm in Hunan province, Mao Zedong’s birthplace. I also worked in a fishing corporation in Shandong Province (1973-74).

In Beijing, I took a two-year associate degree program in Mandarin and translation at the Beijing Languages Institute (1974-76).

In 1977, I enrolled at Peking University and obtained a B.A. degree in Chinese history (1982).

Over the years – as a student, a teacher, a journalist – I’ve tried to serve as a “bridge” between China and the “outside world” through language and cultural exchanges.

Twice weekly, I gave English lessons to professors at Peking University (1978) who were preparing to do post-graduate fellowships overseas. While studying at Peking University, I taught conversational English to students at Peking Normal College (1979-81). I also appeared on Chinese national television, CCTV, teaching English songs in a weekly program “Let’s Sing.” In collaboration with a Chinese translator, I translated a Chinese version of Bayan Ko, which can be sung in Mandarin.

I started my journalistic career as a Beijing reporter for Newsweek while I was a senior at Peking University completing my graduation thesis. In 1982, I joined TIME Magazine’s Beijing bureau, and served as Beijing bureau chief from 1990 to 2000. In 2000, I was the Edward R. Morrow Press Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, the first non-American journalist chosen for the prestigious fellowship.

After completing the fellowship in 2001, I was hired by CNN as Beijing bureau chief and correspondent.

As a foreign correspondent in Chiba, I have witnessed and reported the most significant events of China’s past three decades. In addition to my on-air reporting at CNN I contributed regularly to CNN.com and wrote a weekly online column “Jaime’s China” offering analysis about Chinese society and politics.

I was considered the dean of the foreign press corps in Beijing, having been the longest-serving foreign correspondent in China until my retirement in 2015.

I was a two-term president of the 400-member Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China (1988-90 and 1996-1999), and founding president of the Peking University International Students’ Alumni Association (2010-present).

I continue to play my role as a “bridge” in my own limited ways by serving as a professor at Peking University’s School of Journalism and Communications, where I teach a course on media and news literacy. I frequently serve as a commentator in Chinese and foreign television programs and also give lectures in Philippine and the US schools and universities.“

Despite ignorant propaganda, the election of President Rodrigo Duterte to open friendly doors with China is a good time to know more about this huge country predicted to wrest the no. 1 superpower role.

The exhibit covers China’s evolution from an isolated dystopia to a rising superpower. Along the way, Jaime witnessed the massive changes in China from his distinct perch, as an exile, a farmer, a student and as a China-watcher. He remembers much of what he witnessed through a kaleidoscope-like collection of memorabilia that he now shares.

Opening today, Jan. 19 at 3 p.m. (RSVP for this date) Exhibit runs until Feb. 17.

KAISA HERITAGE CENTER, call (0922) 8901357; 5276083 or email info@bahaytsinoy.org, 32 Anda St. cor. Cabildo St., Intramuros (near Manila Cathedral), 1002 Manila, Philippines

ACTIVIST JAIME FLORCRUZ
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