Neil Burton - bio
Neil Burton, the compiler of the materials that now go into the construction of this website, lived in China and Japan from 1973 until 1998. His principal “culture shock” occurred upon his return to Canada. He thinks he now understands the children’s story of Rip Van Winkle.
He’s never been quite certain what initially got him fascinated with China, but he does remember that the interest dates back to childhood. Was it the “Chinaman” grocer that came along the street in an old modified Ford truck to bring fresh vegetables from the truck gardens on the outskirts of Vancouver to the busy housewives along his routes? Was it the small boxes of candied ginger he handed out to all his customers every Christmas? Was it the interest in the third Chinese child, Elizabeth Ko, he had ever seen in Gilmore Avenue Primary School? Or was it something in the encyclopedic collections, his family—all teachers—had on their bookshelves (including a many-volumed, moroccan-leather bound, encyclopedia with a title that included, if he remembers correctly, the term “civilizations”)?
Burton’s first long love affair was with photography; it began in early middle school years, lasted through his first year at the University of British Columbia (UBC), and persisted for several years beyond. At UBC in that first year he spent more time taking pictures for the student newspaper “The Ubyssey” than he did in classrooms. It was 1958, the Soviets had lofted “Sputnik” the year before, and students were somehow led to believe that sciences should be our priority if we had any aptitude for them. Burton’s course lineup included the mandatory English, a single mandatory second language—in his case Scientific Russian—mathematics, chemistry and physics. Passing these courses (mathematics only barely by taking a summer make-up course), and possibly wondering why international events should determine his choice of careers, he dropped out of university to further indulge his photographic passion. Five years later he was back at UBC, taking Asian Studies 205, an “Introduction to East Asia”, and first-year Chinese. (Why?) (He ultimately became a Teaching Assistant in the 205 course. He was interested, money was scarce as he had a young family, and the income from a weekend job in a camera store wasn’t sufficient to keep things going.)
The most interesting thing that happened to Burton in Asian Studies 205, when he himself took it, was the presentation by a “Chinese” guest lecturer, newly arrived from the People’s Republic after some ten to fifteen years. (Burton much later found out that the “Chinese” lecturer had been born in Vancouver and spent part of his formative years in Vernon, British Columbia, where his father was the first Chinese priest in the Anglican Church of Canada.) That man, Lin Daguang/Prof. Paul Lin became through sheer chance Burton’s mentor and career benefactor for life. His death several years ago was devastating, but Burton has since had the comforting pleasure of getting reacquainted with his widow Eileen.
Politically hounded out of UBC, Paul went East to Montreal to found the first Asian Studies Department at McGill University. He was deeply involved in Canada’s recognition of the PRC, and is now known to have held secret talks with a confidant of Henry Kissinger -- a Dr. Winter -- about the likely reaction by China to a potential USA recognition of the PRC. After retirement from McGill, he served as Rector of the University of Macau, and later ended up back in Vancouver on the UBC Senate!
Getting back now to the time of that “interesting” guest lecture: Several days later, Burton got a telephone call from his father: “Neil, I thought of you when my old UBC schoolmate Moore Whaun ‘phoned to say there’s a person newly arrived from China that he’d like me and your mother to meet. We’ve invited Moore, his wife Diamond, and his guest for dinner on Saturday. Care to join us?” Burton went and the unknown guest turned out to be Paul Lin. The rest, as the saying goes, is history.
After following Prof. Lin to McGill several years later, with his help all along the way, Burton personally organized the first all-Canada student tour of China in 1973, again fully supported by Prof. Lin through his Chinese connections. (In 1967-8 Burton had been hired by the Student Christian Movement of Canada to lead a young people’s group to Japan for a joint Canadian-Japanese seminar on China’s ongoing Cultural Revolution. A couple of years later, in 1970–71, he was hired as the assistant to the organizer and leader of the first all-Canadian academics group to visit China, Prof. Ken Woodsworth, head of UBC’s Continuing Legal Education Dept.)
Towards the end of the 1973 student tour, Burton received a telegram from Prof. Lin informing him that he had been chosen to be a member of the first official Canada-China student exchange program, and so Burton, now in his second marriage, had better start thinking about the problem of being away from his wife for up to two years. Burton was torn, but the decision was to go for it (which he did in October), while his wife worked with the Chinese Embassy in Ottawa to find a teaching job in Beijing so as to rejoin her husband. As it turned out, a job was found for Burton’s wife Ayako, and she eventually arrived in April, two weeks before their first child was born in Beijing’s Capital Hospital (Shoudu Yiyuan, originally built with Rockefeller money). The by-then-elderly Dr. Lin Qiaozhi, China’s most famous woman doctor and obstetrician, supervised the birth.
Two years later a second daughter was born to the Burton-Shinomiya family. Burton’s stint as an exchange student was drawing to a close, decisions had to be made. With wife working in a job she enjoyed, and two children being looked after by caring people at absolutely no cost to the Burtons, the decision wasn’t hard to reach. Burton would find a job—with the help of Lin Daguang, of course. He was formally assigned by the “Foreign Experts Bureau”, tasked with employing the handful of foreigners living in China, to Beijing Radio as an English-language polisher. Hence he was present in September 1976, when a Politburo heads-up arrived at the station to be prepared for the announcement of Mao’s death; he still has the cassette he recorded on his desktop Sony of the initial announcement itself accompanied by China’s funeral dirge, and the background wailing of the Radio’s Chinese staffers.
Not long after that, and presumably somehow related to his abilities in written Chinese, Burton was transferred to the Central Translation Bureau (in those days the full name was “The Central Bureau for the Translation of the Works of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin and Mao Zedong”—a mouthful whether in Chinese or English, and so generally emerged only when printed on paper. In fact, the Bureau also translated UN documents and key pieces of Chinese legislation. Burton participated, sometimes peripherally in translation, but mostly as a “polisher” of, among other things, the new Code of Criminal Procedure.
During his last year in China (1981), Burton taught a course at the School of Journalism under the newly formed Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. The class was made up of bright young students who were enthusiastic to be back at school, could read English well, but, lacking in exposure to the outside world and Anglo-American culture, couldn’t make head nor tale of much of he content of Time or Newsweek articles to which they now had access (“I know that stock markets are evil, but how do they actually work?”.)
In 1981, Burton was offered a summer teaching job at Sophia University's English-language campus in Tokyo, and a research fellowship at Keio University. He taught there for the rest of his 17 years in Japan, but also served as an English-language editor/polisher for the Japan External Trade Organization [JETRO]'s publication China Newsletter.
For fourteen years Burton also personally compiled a database indexing BBC Monitoring's daily reports on China [Summary of World Broadcasts, Pt. 3, Asia–Pacific], a previously non-indexed compilation placed on the desks of need-to-know bureaucrats in Whitehall every morning. Like the CIA’s Foreign Broadcasts Information Service [FBIS] daily monitoring reports, it was then sold to whomever cared to buy it and could afford it, in order to recover some of the costs of operation. Without an index, however, the bulk of it made it all but useless to academics, as well as to Burton, whose motive for paying BBC Monitoring for its version—less strategically oriented than FBIS, perhaps reflecting Britain’s longstanding connections with China—was to provide students in the PRC-related course with a weekly printout about what went on “yesterday” in China that related to the topics then being discussed in class. A couple of years after he started indexing for his own purposes, he realized that he had a marketable item at hand, advertised it, and soon had a clientele for his monthly printed version of 30 pages or so and including hundreds of items. The subscribers included a number of embassies in Beijing, the Beijing bureaus of some well-known newspapers (NYT, The Los Angeles Times, The Christian Science Monitor), many major China-research universities (Harvard, Australian National, etc., University of Hong Kong, etc., etc.), and BBC Monitoring itself. He ceased publication after eight years when BBC Monitoring finally put the whole thing on line, making it eminently searchable from then on.
In closing, Neil Burton would like to pay special tribute to the technological skills, dedication, and indeed enthusiasm, of his good friend Brian Smallshaw, without whose constant work and encouragement this website would never have seen the light of day in its present form.
时至今日，Burton教授仍然不甚明了究竟为何对中国如此着迷，只能试图在幼时的美好记忆里找寻一点线索：是那些每日清晨用改装的福特卡车将新鲜的蔬菜从温哥华郊区菜园输送给沿路上的家庭主妇们的勤劳的中国人？还是在圣诞节时，那一箱箱来自中国菜农的代表节日问候的糖姜？或是Elizabeth Ko，他在Gilmore Avenue小学看到的第三代中国孩子？抑或是那些收藏在父辈和老师书架上的关于中国的书籍，尤其是那套用摩洛哥皮革包裹着的名为“……的文明……”的百科全书？或许兼而有之吧。
在1973年加拿大学生访华团即将回加之际，Burton教授接到了一封来自林教授的电报，告知Burton教授入选了第一次由中加双方官方组织的学生交流项目。当时Burton教授觉得左右为难：一方面历史的机遇垂青自己甚是难得，另一方面要离开怀有身孕的妻子两年之久又何尝不是一种煎熬？但心里有一个声音明确地告诉他：一定要去！最终，Burton教授排除万难，在1973年10月正式成为第一批从加拿大赴中国的交换生。而后，他的妻子Ayako Shinomiya也与次年4月顺利通过中国驻加拿大使领馆在中国找到一份工作，并来到了中国。2个月后，在中国团聚的Burton夫妇，在北京首都医院，在当时中国最有名的妇产科医生Lin Qiaozhi的帮助下，迎来了他们第一个孩子的降生。