By Wu Huanshu
Joseph Foster Ellis, a student from New York who now studies at the China Central Academy of Fine Arts, speaks fluent Mandarin.
Joseph Foster Ellis, a student from New York who now studies at the China Central Academy of Fine Arts, speaks fluent Mandarin. He has a Chinese name 周易(Zhou Yi), 易(Yi), which in Chinese means the Eighth Diagram.
The story of Joseph's overseas studies began at Beijing Language and Culture University in 2005. When his tutor advised him to go to China to further his studies in sculpture, he knew this would mean big changes in his life.
Studying in China
Before coming to China, Joseph spoke no Chinese at all. But having a gift for languages, he was already making progress with his Chinese after only a month's study at Beijing Language and Culture University. And he was fortunate to receive an offer from the China Central Academy of Fine Arts to study sculpture in the Faculty of Plastic Arts.
Sculpture is a five-year course but Joseph required only three years of study because he had already completed the first two years in America. He says that the decision to study in China was a very good one.
"I like the campus; it's not only beautiful and quiet but also filled with an artistic atmosphere. The thing that attracts me most is ceramics, and this is also the reason I came to China", said Joseph.
On one hand, China is one of the countries with the longest traditions of pottery-making, and this offers a perfect background to study ceramic arts. On the other hand, the price of pottery clay is much cheaper than in America. This reduces the problem of budget when creating new works, and of course it makes it a lot easier to improve your skills through practice.
"At the very beginning, teachers allowed me much more spare time to help me adapt to the Chinese approach to study", said Joseph, "but now I attend classes just like other Chinese students. My tutor has high hopes that I will turn out to be an outstanding artist." Besides sculpture, he also takes optional courses in graphic arts and photography.
Working in Beijing
For a foreigner, a three year stay in China is not long, but for Joseph it has been enough time to set up his own studio.
In "Porcelain Capital" Jingdezhen, he has set up a studio to create pottery according to his own style. "The place is a great source of inspiration to me to create quality works and I go there when I have free time", says the man from New York. "I also sell my works, and they can sometimes be quite popular."
This year he has set up a small company in Beijing to produce sculptures for art companies.
He plans to stay in China after finishing his course. "I don't want to go back America after I graduate. I like China very much. I know Beijing well and I feel like this is my home."
He has been to many of China's cities, such as Shanghai, Hangzhou and Suzhou, and has even been to build ice sculptures in Harbin, the capital city of China's northeast Heilongjiang Province.
"I believe I will find a job after graduating," says Joseph. He thinks that English-speakers are popular with Chinese companies, even more so those who also speak fluent Chinese. He has confidence in himself and says that he is already a popular artist.
Life in Beijing
'China Hand' is the nickname given to Joseph by his Chinese friends, because he not only speaks fluent Chinese but also has a good knowledge of Chinese culture.
He holds China's dining culture in high esteem. Compared with America's AA (Algebraic Average) approach, China's dining seems more 'human touch'. "I like Chinese people's manner of inviting others for dinner. If you give a gift to someone, they will remember and invite you for dinner".
It is no exaggeration to describe Joseph as a real 'China Hand'. He has a good understanding of China's 'seating culture' and 'toasting culture' at the table. He explains that "different seats around the table have different meanings. For example, seats facing the door carry respect, meaning that they are normally reserved for the host and the most important guest. And during the dinner, people always toast again and again for friendship or other reasons."
Speaking about Chinese people, Joseph uses the word "open". He says China is different from what he had read in newspapers before he came here. Perhaps because China is so huge, people have very different views on things depending on which area they come from, and they are always ready to share their ideas. He did not realize that China was such an open country when he was in America.
In Beijing, he has had all sort of interesting experience as a result of being a foreigner. Chinese people always find it incredible that he speaks fluent Mandarin, and he often plays a joke on them, saying he is a Uigur from northwest China's Xinjiang Province. However, he sometimes find Chinese people's ideas strange-for example, he has been asked twice if he comes from Korea or Japan.
Come to China to study
Joseph enjoys his life in China, and has invited many of his friends to come to China to study. One of the extra advantages he has gained from studying in China is learning how to resolve problems by combining Chinese ways with America ways.
"China is a good country for overseas students because life is full of challenges and you can have some very memorable and distinctive experiences. But make sure you learn some Chinese before you come here, as many Chinese people don't speak English-even your teachers and classmates," says Joseph to students who plan to come to China in the near future.
For information about studying at the Central Academy of Fine Arts, check here
(China.org.cn December 2, 2008)