Li’s parents were committed Communists who heeded Chairman Mao’s call, in the late sixties, for students to train the peasantry. After college, they settled in the remote northwest province of Xinjiang, in a town so bleak and cold that the Chinese describe it as “a place haunted by the Devil.” The family was privileged, with a house equipped with an indoor toilet. Li’s father, Li Tiande, ran the provincial broadcasting bureau, and his mother was a senior engineer there. They were essentially high-ranking propagandists. Until he was four, Little Yang, as Li was known, lived thousands of miles from his parents, in the care of a grandmother, because his parents felt ill-equipped to raise him in rugged Xinjiang. After the family was reunited, Li’s father spent most of his time on the road, returning every two or three months.
When Li Tiande was present, he was severe. Once, after Li and his friends were caught poking holes in melons on a farm, his father was incensed. “I felt I’d lost face,” he told a Chinese interviewer years later. “When I got home, I hit him. This incident let everyone see that this quiet kid of few words also had another side.” His mother was equally stern. She would watch as Li practiced his penmanship. If he made a mistake, she tore up the page. Even so, he remained an uninspired student.
In time, Li developed a crippling shyness. A ringing telephone unnerved him. “I would count it: one, two, three, four,” he recalls. “I’d say, Should I do it? Maybe something important? A phone call for me? Still I could not. I don’t know why. It’s really hard, even for me now, to directly address my parents. I cannot blurt out ‘Mama!’ or ‘Baba!’ ”
In high school, Li grew his hair to his shoulders and considered dropping out, but, ultimately, he enrolled in the mechanical-engineering department at Lanzhou University, in one of China’s poorest provinces. He failed his classes. Wu Jianjun, an older student who taught Li, recalls, “He was very introverted. He was not good at expressing himself.”
Toward the end of 1987, with a mandatory English test looming, Li and a friend decided to practice reading in an outdoor campus pavilion every day at noon. Li discovered that the louder he read, the better he felt. “I could concentrate, I felt really brave,” he recalls. “If I stopped yelling, I stopped learning.” He had harnessed something universal—the cloak of confidence that comes with slipping into a language not one’s own—and added a Chinese twist.
On Chinese campuses, there’s a tradition of reading aloud to hone pronunciation. Li simply turned up the volume. He began reciting English everywhere. “Lights-out in the dorm was at eleven o’clock,” Wu Jianjun, who is now a professor of mechanical engineering, told me. “After the lights were off, he would read English in the hallway outside his room. His reading drew criticism from other students, since it disturbed their rest.” But when the annual English test came around, Li told me, he took second place: “I became instantly, instantly famous.”
After graduation, Li obtained a state job at an electrical-research institute, and taught English classes to groups on the side; he charged students eight yuan per month—a little more than two dollars, at the time—a fine haul in 1989. With his father’s connections, he soon moved to Guangzhou as an English-language host on radio and television. After two years on the air, he was well known but bored. He quit and founded a company whose name was a phonetic spelling of “crazy”: the Li Yang-Cliz International English Promotion Workshop.
He hired his sister, Li Ning, and they rented a single room, which served as both the company’s headquarters and their home. They had desks but no beds, and slept on an oversized windowsill. They posted flyers for lectures, and they began to draw crowds. From across China, letters started to arrive, asking for teaching materials. Li’s sister was in charge of the mail, which she carried home from the post office each day in a backpack. Soon, she needed two large nylon sacks to hold it all, and, eventually, a second person to help drag them. “Then we stayed up all night opening letters,” she told me.
incensed --- CET6+ TEM8 be made extremely angry
crippling --- A crippling illness or disability is one that severely damages your health or your body.严重的，极有害的
introverted --- Introverted people are quiet and shy and find it difficult to talk to other people
mandatory --- CET6+ TEM8 If an action or procedure is mandatory, people have to do it, because it is a rule or a law.强制性的
with sth looming --- sth is to be happen soon
auspicious --- TEM8 Something that is auspicious indicates that success is likely. 有望成功的