George Christopher’s tip to Americans who want to learn a new language is simple: Travel to the country where the language is spoken and then live there, teaching ENGLISH!
It’s not as crazy as it sounds, as in the course of such interactions, you will pick up the language while also seeing a bit of the world and other cultures, and of course, making friends.
The American from Chicago has done it himself with spectacular results. In 2007, after obtaining a degree in religious studies, he first travelled to India and then China.
At that time, he said, he was “just a traveller,” but one with a mission. He travelled by train so that he could strike up conversations with people and practice his Chinese. He learned 1,600 Chinese characters – a fairly high number for a new learner whose native language is not Chinese – and even lived for a while in a monastery.
All this led to a tremendous turnabout. He became a Chinese teacher for foreigners and published author, with a book titled “Best Way to Study Chinese in China” to his name.
But there was more to come. In China, he discovered a new passion – acting.
“Acting is storytelling,” he explained. “It’s something that human beings have been doing since the beginning of language. What really makes it valuable is that we are telling good stories to the people who are watching right now and those stories are meaningful to the people who are watching.”
After a stint of training in acting in Chicago, he came back to China and embarked on a full-time acting career in Chinese TV dramas and films in 2014.
At first, he played mostly Western professionals from the 1930s and 1940s — engineers, doctors, and even a pilot.
The biggest role he has played was Edgar Snow (1905-1972), the American journalist who became a legend with his first-hand accounts of the Communist movement in China, the first Westerner to do so.
Snow, who lived in China from 1928 to 1941, was the first Western journalist to meet the top leaders of the Communist Party of China (CPC), including Mao Zedong (1893-1976). He spent four months in the CPC headquarters in Yan’an city in northwest China’s Shaanxi Province, recording their goals, struggles and achievements in his remarkable book “Red Star Over China.”
Year 2016 marked the 80th anniversary of the end of the Long March, the strategic retreat by the CPC’s Red Army from Jiangxi Province in southeast China to Gansu in the northwest. It started in October 1934 and ended in October 1936.
Hunan TV, one of the most popular domestic Chinese channels operated by the government of south central China’s Hunan Province, decided to make a history drama as a tribute to the odyssey. It was also called “Red Star Over China” and Christopher was chosen to play Snow.
“I was very honoured and challenged by the opportunity to play Edgar Snow,” Christopher said. “He was the original China-U.S. friendship ambassador and did more for the relations between these two nations than anyone else.”
The U.S. actor takes great pride in the fact that his dialogues in the 34-episode drama were almost entirely in Chinese and he did all of them by himself, without any dubbing.
With his career now having taken off, Christopher has no plans to return to the United States in the near future.
“The development of the TV/film industry in China is unbelievable,” he said. “How can I transition back to the U.S. when there are literally more than a half a dozen roles (for which I am qualified) happening at the same time? It’s crazy, the momentum of China. This is the future centre of the world. Wait and see.”
At the same time, despite all the progress, China remains a warm, hospitable host who has welcomed him and made him feel at home with a culture that is uniquely Chinese.
He feels it in his every-day life through the most humdrum things that are also a symbol of the people-to-people links that create a feeling of harmonious rapport between individuals.
As the camera followed him in and out of the sets of a wrecked building, supposed to resemble Edgar Snow’s office in Chongqing in southwest China — the War Capital of the then Chinese government — after it was devastated during the Japanese occupation, he switched between explaining the surroundings – “A scene in Chongqing. My office was destroyed in a bombing” – and expounding on his long-term ambition in China.
“China has given me a lot. I have learned so much living in China. My dream for me in China is to get back through my life and work hopefully (so that) I can help more Chinese people to understand American culture and English language culture and help Americans understand Chinese culture.” – Xinhua