By profession, Berlin Fang is an instructional designer. As associate director for the North Institute for Teaching and Learning at Oklahoma Christian University, he teaches professors how to use technology to enhance lesson plans and promote understanding with their students. As a blogger and translator, Fang uses these same skills to reach millions of Chinese readers around the world. “Everything I learned about connecting with others, I learned from blogging,” says Fang, a native of Anhui Province in China.
Fang left China in 2002, enrolling at Syracuse University as a graduate student in the School of Education’s Department of Instructional Design, Development, and Evaluation. In 2004, he attended a lecture by a School of Information Studies professor about blogging and social bookmarking that planted the idea of creating a blog. “I was thinking, ‘Why shouldn’t I start something like that myself?’” he says. “I always enjoyed writing and I always need an audience to listen or read the things I write about.” So, in a South Campus computer lab, Fang launched his blog, then called “Nightly Talks from the Snow City,” a reference to the local Chinese community’s nickname for Syracuse.
Although he originally began the blog to share what he learned in classes, Fang found it as a way to share his insights into American culture from a Chinese perspective. “The Chinese are learning a lot from this country, but lots of times, they learn from imitating the actual ways Americans do things without understanding the reasons behind them,” he says. “I wanted to share what is really going on around me and use this blog as a window, so to speak, for those who are going to come here, or for those who cannot come here, but want to learn about the culture.”
Since then, the blog, now named “Nan Qiao’s Blog” (a reference to his Chinese pen name), has garnered more than three-million page views and attention from Chinese media outlets. He has blogged about everything from the institution of marriage to potluck dinners, and regularly receives requests to write commentaries for newspapers and magazines on issues ranging from health care reform to American unions. Although researching such topics can be overwhelming, learning about American culture fascinates Fang. “In a way, I feel like a cultural anthropologist,” he says with a chuckle, “but I hope people don’t mind that I do that.”
One subject he discusses in his blog is his work as a renowned literary translator. In a 2010 entry titled “Translator’s Block,” Fang called literary translation “one of the toughest and most rewarding pursuits in the world.” Although translating doesn’t pay very well ($10-$15 for every 1,000 words), it’s well worth it to have “a dialogue with the literary masters in the world,” he says. Fang has translated works by such authors as Nobel Prize winner V.S. Naipaul, National Book Award winner Colum McCann, and Betty Smith, many of which became best sellers and award winners in China. For instance, Fang’s translation of McCann’s Let the Great World Spin won the 2010 Weishanhu Prize, China’s highest award for an international author.
Whether it is through his blog, literary translations, or helping teachers incorporate technology into their lesson plans, Fang has made a career of helping different cultures understand each other. “I’m a living testimony that you can use an online platform to have an influence on people,” he says. “I’m also a living testimony that you can build a presence when you’re at a distance—since I’m so far away and left China so many years ago.” —Charnice Milton
From Syracuse University Magazine, reprinted with permission