Let's start at the beginning, since childhood experiences are the events which mold your perspective on the world and your views on spirituality. In my case, these early experiences would eventually lead to my practice of using taiji to analyze the world: the relationships between people and governments, men and women, teacher and student, work and life.
Lots of people ask me if I was sent to study wushu because I was a naughty kid. Actually, I was a poster child for obedience. The mischief came later...
Yeah, I was such a good kid. My family consisted of my mother, two older sisters and two older brothers. I was the youngest. When I was two years old, my father passed away, so I never knew my father's picture in my mind. Because I was the smallest, my mother never allowed me to go swimming or ride the bicycle. Any risky activity -- any kind of exercise that was even slightly dangerous -- was off-limits. So while kids my age were out playing in the street, this docile little boy stayed inside. "Don't touch that!" adults would tell me, and it would never occur to me to touch it. "Don't eat that!" -- and I would leave it alone. Those are my earliest memories. That's the kind of environment I grew up in.
Even after I started going to school, I didn't know how to ride a bicycle. Everybody else was riding around, and I didn't get around to it until I was 14 or 15! Swimming, ice skating...these were all things that the other kids could do, but not me. My mother had said no, and I would never try it behind her back.
I was already 8 years old when I started school, which made me a year older than all the other kids. For some reason, I was very popular with the teachers. I have no idea why! Maybe because I was always honest and did what I was told. The teachers liked me so much, they made me Physical Education monitor. In every class, certain outstanding students are appointed to be monitors; they assist the teacher by keeping order, recording attendance, things like that. There were Reading Monitors, Math Monitors, but the Physical Education Monitor was responsible for leading grades 1 through 6 through the daily set of national calisthenics.
So there I was every day, standing on top of this big platform, leading the masses. "One, two, three, four... Two, two, three, four..." Some people might not be familiar with the Chinese school system. After the first two class periods, there's a recess and all of the grades line up in the schoolyard. Everybody starts doing state-mandated exercises in time to the recorded music playing over the loudspeakers. And me in front of everybody, on that platform. Very serious. "One, two, three, four...Two, two, three, four..." I don't know whether it was a good thing or a bad thing that the teachers coddled me, but I find it interesting that I ended up earning 100% on every test. In every class.
Sometimes, while taking a test, I might forget to write a dash or a decimal. When I would go up to the teacher's desk to turn it in, she would ask me. "Are you sure you want to turn that in? Are you sure you've thought everything through?" Lying directly in front of me was a copy of a perfectly-scored test. "You sure you're ready to turn in your test?" she demanded. "Have you checked everything?"
"Uh... uh..." Eyes skipping back and forth. Maybe my test did need a little more work. I hurried back to my seat to make the corrections. Only music class gave me trouble, because I had no sense of pitch. Whenever I sang, the tune would wander off-key. For the life of me, I couldn't hang on to the key. I knew I couldn't sing. The teacher knew I couldn't sing. So when it came time for the final...well, let's just say that all the students had to sing individually. As I waited for my turn, I got more and more nervous. "I'm dead," I thought to myself. "There's no escape." But I really wanted to keep my perfect record. See, I was a serious student. When I got home after school, the first thing I had to do was finish my homework. Not until it was done would I let myself eat dinner or go outside to play. If I didn't finish, I would feel guilty. But none of that hard work could do a thing for my singing skills.
So the music teacher finally called out my name. (Damn!) I stood up. "Li Lianjie, you have a sore throat today, isn't that right?" I gaped. "Huh?" Here was my chance to escape! But my mother had raised me not to lie, so I just stood there with my mouth open in confusion.
"If you have a sore throat, then you don't have to take the test. Sit down. 100%."