Chu Chin-Ning has created a life of
achievement and success in the United States. Born in Tianjin in 1949, her
family moved to Shanghai and subsequently, Taiwan. She is an international
lecturer, corporate trainer, consultant and author of The Chinese Mind
Game, The Asian Mind Game and Thick Face, Black Heart. She is
considered a leading expert on Asian wisdom, business psyche and strategic
winning tactics. CNN regards her as the leading authority on the inner
workings of Asian affairs and frequently books her as a guest. Corporate
honchos from multi-national giants pay top dollar to hear her. To the
Americans, she holds the key to deciphering the mystique of the Orient,
while in the East, she is regarded as the successful consultant from the
US. Marie Claire's Janet Ong caught up with her when she was in Singapore
to participate in a conference.
Marie Claire: Under what
circumstances did you go to the United States?
After I graduated in 1967 at the age of 20, I worked for the US Navy based
in Tainan, Taiwan, and that was where I met my husband, Gary. He was a
young American kid who had served in the Vietnam War. When he got a
transfer back to the US, I decided to marry him because I would lose face
if I was left behind. My father was very mad because he disliked
Americans. Actually I wasn't very sure if I should marry him but since my
father was so furious. I was certain I had to marry him.
MC: What happened?
Gary was a very fine man. We were together for six years and separated for
one year. He is one year younger than me. We talk but we do not
communicate. Being so naive, I didn't even realize that there was a
cultural problem and other problems underlying our non- communication. I
worked at the bank in the day and at a toy store at night in order that
Gary could take an entry-level job at the Stock Exchange. This went on for
a year. Then I went back to school. Since my father had always wanted me
to be a singerCnot
the lounge variety but a classical singerCI
decided to study music. He had even wanted me to sing Chinese opera but
unfortunately I was too tall. He had always dreamt of becoming a musician
so he hoped I would fulfill his dreams. I got 'A's for the course but I
didn't have the talent to be something great. I had a sense that I was
going to accomplish something but I didn't know what. I was very depressed
for a long time. I didn't want to be lying in bed at 80 and dying and
wondering what had happened to my dreams.
MC: What was the turning point in
The turning point in my life was my divorce. Gary was not very supportive.
He only saw me as the woman he had married and nothing else. It was
painful but I knew I didn't want to be with my husband anymore. He moved
to the east when he got a job at the Chicago Exchange and I stayed behind
to sell the house. I met an actor and for a while I lost my head. But
actually he was only the catalyst in our divorce. It was a learning
experience. I began to question what my life was all about. Sometimes,
pain wakes you up. When life is good, you are in blissful ignorance. When
something bad happens to you, personally or professionally, then you start
to examine your life. It was a confusing and painful period. I was riddled
with self-doubt and uncertainties. I was a virgin when I married and so
was my husband. When the marriage ended, I started to question my
sexuality. I felt so miserable then. I thought even a bad marriage was
better than no marriage. I have learned how to live with myself. I have
gained a sense of who I am instead of being an extension of someone else,
a Mrs. So-and-so. I tried to find out what life was about as a Chinese and
a Catholic in a foreign land.
MC: How was it different the second
second husband. Curt, is the one who saw the potential in me. He was the
one who told me to write books. He imparts his vision to me. When I
finished my first book, he said I should be on CNN. He called them and I
was invited to appear on the show. He was also the one who got me on the
Larry King show. He is a very positive influence on me. I am fortunate to
have Curt. I can be totally unreasonable and I know he will still be there
MC: So how did you meet your present
saw me in a dream 10 years before we met. In his dream, I was wearing a
pair of Wrangler jeans and a blue top. I really did have those clothes
then. He had never dated Asian women before. He then moved to San
Francisco's Chinatown to live in order to find me. So when he first saw
me, he recognized me, but I didn't know who he was. I ignored him for over
a year because I was involved with an actor, but he was persistent because
he knew we were fated to be together.
MC: That sounds really romantic.
Well, it does but I find that romance alone does not a relationship make.
A relationship should be based on common goals that both parties share.
According to some scientific studies, romance is merely a matter of
chemistry that scientists are trying to duplicate in the lab. It doesn't
last for more than a couple of years. What are you going to do then?
"Most women have a head full of trashy dreams. We are
conditioned from young to think that way. We get more realistic as we grow
MC: Do women tend to have more
unrealistic expectations of romance?
Yes. Absolutely! Women tend to carry images that were picked up from
novels and movies as to what romance is. They want expensive gifts and
candlelit dinners but most men don't even know or care about it. Women
can't understand why their men can't surprise them with a long-stemmed
rose or a gift. In America, the men's idea of a good time is sitting
around and watching a football game. Men and women have different
expectations. Most women have "a head full of trashy dreams". We are
conditioned from young to think that way. We get more realistic as we grow
MC: What then sustains your
relationship with your husband?
Technically, I am not married to Curt. We have lived together for the past
16 years. As we don't have children. I don't find it necessary to have
MC: Does that make you feel
insecure, knowing he can leave you anytime?
No. In fact the opposite is true. Knowing that your husband or wife can't
walk out on you so easily, you tend to take each other more for granted.
Also I am very secure about my position in his life. It is my decision
whether or not I want to be married. I always have that choice. I just
don't find the need for it. He is very good for me. We make up for each
other's shortcomings. We have a strong bond. I can call Curt from anywhere
in the world and he will be there for me. I suppose you could call it
romantic but in a more sophisticated way. It is a very good partnership.
The truth is, I am a very practical person although there is a part of me
that is romantic too. What's more important than a Prince Charming is
someone who has substance and who will make a good partner. Our
relationship works because he is very useful to me. He contributes to my
life. The truth is that if your relationship with a man is such that you
don't contribute to each other's lives, you wouldn't stay together.
Ultimately, we all live for ourselves. If someone can make us feel good
about ourselves, we like that person. If you can do that, then you fulfill
a purpose in my life.
MC: That sounds a tad too practical.
no, it is not. Read the book, The Utility Value. It says that all
people have to be useful to one another. Even a mother and child
relationship is based on that. People always think that mothers are
unconditional in their love. That's not true because mothers feel good
about themselves in return. When you give, you feel good and selfless.
MC: Now that you have become
business partners, do you bring your problems from the office back to the
entrepreneurs, we are constantly thinking about work, so it is no
different whether we are at home or in the office. I enjoy working with
him. He takes care of the business side of things while I do the creative
work, like writing books and giving lectures. It is a good partnership.
However, that does not mean we do not fight. Little things can irritate,
but we have more than romance to fall back on. We have a common objective,
that is, we want our business to do well and we have a message we want to
share with the world. It makes the daily annoyances easier to deal with.
MC: Does working together put a
strain on your relationship?
don't find it more difficult to work with my husband. We are more willing
to tell each other the truth, even if it is ugly. With a stranger, you are
afraid to hurt their feelings. It is all right to have disagreements. In
fact it makes for a stronger relationship if it can survive both personal
and business differences.
MC: What role did your parents play
in your success?
parents gave me contradictory messages. My father always says, "If you are
not working, then you must go to school, in order to keep in touch with
society and not get left behind." On the other hand, when my parent's
lives didn't go right, they would beat us up. I am the eldest daughter and
I had to bear the brunt of their anger. My parents come from Northern
China and they themselves are victims of child abuse, both physical and
emotional. I never thought it was wrong of my parents to physically and
mentally beat me up. I think a lot of my creativity came about because I
had them for my parents. I became very strong and creative because the
abuse stirred up a lot of emotions. After my divorce, I started to
question my life and I have begun to see that not all my parents' ways
MC: How did you deal with this?
had to go through a great deal of self-healing. Curt has been very
helpful. He became my best friend, father and mother. He knows I need to
be reassured and loved. I finally realized that some one can be nice to
me. My parents do love me but they do not know how to express it in a way
that I feel nurtured. Human beings need to receive love.
"When women have arrived professionally, men are very
attracted to them. It is because these women have power and men like
It was a long transition period and
it didn't happen overnight. I had to slowly chip at my negativity, hurts
and insecurities and peel it away layer by layer.