Julian Jeffrey Photo: Feng Qingyin/GT

In front of a red wall decorated with Chinese carved wood panels, sits a Chinese-style bench. Next to the bench is a small table with a tall ceramic vase holding some lotus pods.  

This office looks like it belongs to some learned Chinese scholar or artist, but actually belongs to Julian Jeffrey, the British master of the Wellington College International Tianjin in North China‘s Tianjin Municipality. 

“I like it this way because the setting is so wonderful. I‘m really proud to be working here. We are here to absorb Chinese culture as much as anything else. To me, it gives me great pleasure to go around seeing Chinese art, Chinese calligraphy and Chinese history,” Jeffrey told the Global Times. 

Jeffrey first began working at Wellington College in England in January 1997, performing a variety of roles in teaching and administration. According to the staff introduction on the school‘s website, from 2014-17 he was the second master and head of the Senior School of Wellington College International Tianjin, prior to his appointment as master of the college. 

First impression

Jeffrey said he first heard about China from his father. 

“It is a country that drew my family together,” he noted.

“My father used to work in [the] fertilizer [industry], helping to develop China‘s agriculture in Beijing in the 1980s. He went to many rural areas in China, and always shared very brilliant stories with us. He was very passionate about his Chinese colleagues. We used to enjoy the presents he brought back to us because those were some souvenirs he bought from China. He would keep the expensive stuff, like some Chinese pottery, for himself. For us, we would get some wooden backscratchers and head scratching things and some little toys. I remembered one backscratcher was my favorite, but that was one of the gifts that we all got the same one at . You know, we had to share it. Unfortunately, since I was not the oldest one, I did not get it,” Jeffrey said, smiling. 

Jeffrey said he first came to China in the winter of 1999-2000. He visited many places in China including Shanghai, Xi‘an in Northwest China‘s Shaanxi Province, Hangzhou in East China‘s Zhejiang Province and finally Beijing during the Christmas holiday. 

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“When I first came to China, I was very impressed by the sheer size of China. For example, a two-hour journey is quite a long one in Britain, while in China, two hours would only be a trip to visit a neighboring city. Also, the noise in China, especially in the city, made me feel excited,” he noted. 

Having lived in China for many years, Jeffrey has witnessed many great changes in the country. 

“I‘ve seen more cars appearing on the street, and more Western brands are opening in China. The tourist spots, like the Great Wall, when I visited at that time, were almost completely deserted, whereas now, buses and tours to these places are very developed. The other thing I noticed over the last five years has been the improvement of the air quality. China‘s air pollution, as in Tianjin, has had an enormous impact, and I am very happy about the progress they have made,” he said. 

Different but similar  

As an educator with rich experience both in China and UK, Jeffrey said that he sees both differences and similarities between Chinese and British students. 

“The traditional view of them is very different – Chinese students are very focused on work. Book learning is often the method that I associate with them; British students tend to learn in teams and like to communicate with teachers. But for me, I see more similarities – they are young and have big ambitions. They all tell me they want to change the world. Interestingly, I can always find someone in the UK who is very similar to my Chinese students here,” he said.

Jeffrey said he is very glad to see that the UK is leading the way when it comes to Chinese language teaching and intercultural communication between China and the UK. 

“I am very proud that some of my British students have chosen their bachelor degree in Chinese and study in China‘s leading universities, and many of my Chinese students have gone to the UK‘s top universities for further education and can speak better English than me.” 

Jeffrey pointed out that China‘s continued reform and opening-up has been a good thing as it has created the opportunity for the world to know more about the country. 

“China is becoming a wealthy country in a very short time. In many ways, the evidence shows that China will become the leading global superpower in the next 50 to 100 years, so China needs to engage with the world,” he said.
Newspaper headline: Bearing witness


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