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Pursuit of American Dreams

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When Zhong-jing Fang was asked, "How did you think about coming to the U.S. from Shanghai just by yourself?" The young ballet dancer answered, "Just for a dream. I wanted to see the real art of western ballet."

The conversation was part of an online talk show, called JingLi US, that featured Fang, a Chinese girl who became a stellar ballet performer at American Ballet Theater, one of the leading classic stages of the world.

It is just one of many interviews on JingLi US, which is dedicated to covering subjects of interested to Chinese living in the U.S. The show has covered diverse subjects of western lifestyle from fashion, celebrities, success, to business leaders, to guide its audience, and has a following among a younger generation of Chinese who plan to start their career in the U.S.

Behind it all is Jing Li, founder and host of the online bilingual TV program. "More and more Chinese, either students or investors, are coming to the U.S. or intending to move to the U.S. to pursue their 'American Dreams'," said Li, "I think it (JingLi Us) is a platform to provide them a better understanding about American culture to guide and help them make their dreams come true."

Since initialized in early 2013, JingLi US has attracted extensive attention from China and overseas. It's being aired on Sina.com, a Chinese online media company, with whom JingLi US currently partnered. The show is produced in Mandarin but has subtitles in both Chinese and English. An online community for fans and comments was built to promote JingLi US through Weibo, a Chinese microblogging website that has over 500 million registered users.

Before JingLi US was created, Li was an award-winning journalist who had done interviews with prominent people such as former New York City mayor Micheal Bloomberg, and movie star Angelina Jolie. Over the past seven years, she had anchored, reported, and produced countless news and features for SinoVision, CBS News and NBC News. Yet, the former journalist gave up everything she earned and chose to sail away from the safe harbor to start her journey as an entrepreneur.

Raised in Beijing, China, Li was influenced by an ancient oriental mindset of "know your place." She had never imagined that some day she would be a television reporter and have her own TV program on the other side of the world.

"My parents were both old-schooled academics, they expected me to grow up as a traditional Chinese woman who lives her life with a routine, which my only older sister did," said Li, "But I'm always determined, even I was little, I always made decisions based on my own judgement."

Like Fang, when Li was a kid, she was tempted by the world outside of her less than 120 square feet room, where she spent her entire childhood with her family of four. But Li had never felt unfilled by her poor family. When most of teenagers were asking money for toys from their parents, Li had began to gain her allowance by modeling for magazines and commercial ads. By the time she was 13, she had invented a jar opener that certified by the national patent.

After being offered a scholarship in her early 20s from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, P.A., Li set landed in America with a luggage of curiosity, not knowing what uncertainties she would face by herself.

It was 1999. Li spoke broken English and began her adventure like millions of American dream seekers. She dealt with culture shock and was often homesick and could feel lost. At the time, "I really hoped there was something or someone that could teach and give me the courage and motivation." Li recalled.

One day, the Oprah Winfrey Show drew the young student's attention. As one of the most influential shows for mass American audience, Oprah has provided viewers with "a positive, spiritually uplifting experience," through which, she started to look for life advice. "I was so inspired and touched by Oprah's personal experience and the stories that told by her guests." said Li.

Compared to Americans who can move forward in their own country, however, Li realized for international students like herself, it is far more challenging and time consuming. Thus, she began to think even more about creating a show that only reflects on and customized for overseas Chinese.

"It's hard for people like me who came here from another country with nothing," said Li. For a long period, she was haunted by the struggle of the language barrier, the culture differences and the temporary visa status.

People say, "It will happen when it happens." After being rejected for hundreds of times during the job interviews, Li finally got a position at CBS News. "At that moment, I was so thrilled," Li said, and for her, the best way to showcase her enthusiasm was to work harder and harder.

The timing of "making her own show come true" was accidentally inevitable. At the time, Li was helping NBC News launch a new program in China. Due to her multi-language skills, she was able to establish the business to a sophisticated product. The entire producing experience, according to her, allowed her to expand her solid skills as a TV program producer. More importantly, she felt the spirit of the entrepreneurship. In the summer of 2010, Li stopped taking her paychecks from her then employer, the NBC News, and created Culture Li, an early version of the JingLi US.

With success has come some criticism. There are negative feedback online about the image quality of the show. "Too bad to bearable," a comment has made. Even worse, a webpage that shows passive reviews about JingLi US goes back and forth among various social media tools.

On top of that, Li wasn't born as a business woman, nor trained as one. "Starting up your own business is like you are learning a new language," said Li, "I'm glad that what I've learned over the last year was so much more than what I've gained when I was working for someone else." The online show has been financially endorsed by Li's friends and investors, including Weina Zhang, an award-winning Asian American entrepreneur who owns Zetian Systems, Inc., a California-based construction firm.

Indeed, as a startup amateur, it is challenging for the former journalist who had zero business background to be knowledgeable as to business operation, cash flow management, marketing planning or cost controlling.

Facing the feedback, however, Li thinks the honest comment is fair. "Neither my show nor I am perfect," she said, "Sometimes you have to think the negative voice as a way to improve your brand."

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