Yue-Sai Kan vividly remembers what she was doing on February 23, 1986. "I was in my room waiting for my program to be aired on TV," she recalled excitedly.
The program Kan was expecting was called "One World," the first TV series produced and hosted by an American-Chinese on China's national networks. Tens of millions of Chinese people were amazed by the show's unprecedented broader view of the outside world. The show also made Kan an overnight star and a household name in China. "I am probably the most famous Chinese American woman in China," joked Kan.
With her fame and beauty, Kan is regarded as a TV hostess, writer and trendsetter. Her name, Yue-Sai, has also become a well-known brand tagged onto cosmetics, toys and TV series.
Kan was born in Guilin, and her father was a respected painter in the traditional Lingnan style. Kan began practising ballet and piano at the age of four after her family settled in Hong Kong. But after years of hard work and a degree in music from the Brigham Young University in Hawaii, the clearheaded girl made a brave decision to promote ties between Asia and the West because "I felt that I could never be another Rubenstein, and if you can't be the best at something, why do it?" So at the tender age of 16 she packed her bags and headed for the United States.
In 1972 she moved to New York, where she and her sister, Vickie, started a successful trading business with China. She also volunteered to host a TV show in English and Chinese on a local Manhattan cable station. Realizing the power of TV as a means to bridge the enormous gap in understanding between Asia and the West, Kan devoted herself to creating her first major TV production, a weekly series called "Looking East" which introduced Eastern cultures and customs to a growing and evermore receptive American audience. The program stayed on air for 12 years, helping more Americans understand the "mysterious orient" making Kan a TV personality and leading to PBS and CCTV inviting her to produce programs in the mid 1980s.
In addition to her TV exposure, Kan was actively involved in many other fields: setting up her own cosmetics company in 1992, producing a Yue-Sai Doll, writing various articles and taking part in numerous social events that have made her arguably "the most famous woman in China."
Having been off the public radar for a while, the restless Kan is making a strong comeback with what she is good at, a new TV series called Yue-Sai's World. Different from her earlier shows "One World," "Looking East" and "Journey Through a Changing China," which offered rudimentary introductions to people in China and the United States, her new program features some of the most interesting people and most fascinating current events.
After living in both cultures for more than 20 years, Kan is surprised to find that there is still limited understanding about what's really going on in the world among many Chinese people, even though they have much wider access to the outside world than before. "For example, a brand that hasn't been introduced into China just does not exist to the people because they have no idea about it," said Kan. "This could pose a serious problem for deeper mutual understanding," she added.
Kan's solution to the problem is the new program.
Kan placed herself in the roles of financier, executive producer, host and promoter of the interview show that she believes is something China really needs right now. "There are too many popular entertainment programs but less serious programs of high quality in China today. If TV stations are too busy airing programs like 'Super Girl' and Korean dramas, there is no way for China to produce something exceptional and thought provoking, and I want to do that better than anybody," said the determined TV presenter.
Already being aired on Beijing TV and many other provincial TV stations across the country, the program features Kan interacting with such notable celebrities as Naomi Campbell, Queen Noor of Jordan, fashion designers Valentino, Jean Paul Gaultier, artists Christo and actors Adrien Brody and Andie MacDowell, learning the stories behind these famous names and faces. But audiences still have their eyes on Kan and her recent image change.
"I changed my haircut two years ago as I thought it had been too many years for me to have the same hairstyle," she said. The bob of yesteryear has been cut shorter to spread casually and comfortably around her head. The reason for the change might be lack of time to fuss over hairstyling, it might be her age, or it might even be boredom.
"The curiosity of doing new things is the driving force behind what I have done over the years. I don't make money but enjoy getting involved in something that can do good for society," she laughed. "As you said, I am sort of an activist."
Kan's program is aired at 1:00 PM, every Saturday on BTV-5, in English with Chinese subtitles.
(China Daily March 28, 2006)