‘Meet the Author’ with Jaime FlorCruz

From student activist to farm worker to TV journalist, Jaime FlorCruz’s arc of life. Photos by Nanding Mendez.

By Ambassador Mario Lopez de Leon Jr.

Members of the Ateneo Alumni Northeast Inc and the Fil-Am Press Club of New York organized an informal “meet the author” event with Jaime “Jimi” FlorCruz, former Bureau Chief in Beijing of Time Magazine and CNN. During the event, Jimi, who was joined by his wife Ana, shared his personal and campus experience amidst the great historical, social and economic transformation that happened in China.

One of the 15 Filipino student leaders who participated in a study tour in 1971, Jimi said he opted to stay involuntarily in China when he learned that he was among those in the blacklist of the Philippine Government at that time. Philippine passports then were stamped “Not Valid for Travel to the People’s Republic of China.” Among those who stayed with him were four others including Chito Sta. Romana, who later served as Philippine Ambassador to Beijing and Eric Baculinao, NBC News Beijing Bureau Chief.

Having arrived amidst the turbulent Cultural Revolution, he served in the countryside as a farm worker like the rest of the population. He also studied Mandarin at the Beijing Language Institute for three years which served him well when Mao Zedong passed away in 1976. Jimi noted that the Chinese people mourned more the death of Mao’s Premier, Zhou Enlai, who helped minimize the excesses of the Cultural Revolution.

Dinner chat at Tito Rad’s in Queens. Ambassador de Leon is seated to the right of FlorCruz.

The reformist Deng Xiao Ping took over after Mao, and reopened higher education to the youth. Jimi passed the tough entrance exams to study history at the prestigious Peking University with the famous Class of 1977. Among his schoolmates were the current Premier Le Keqiang, and politician Bo Xilai who rose to be minister of Commerce, but was later jailed. There were many other schoolmates who became prominent entrepreneurs, dissidents and scientists, such as Wang Juntao, a whiz nuclear physicist who was unfortunately jailed and exiled to the U.S.

According to Jimi, his unexpected long stay and studies in China eventually opened opportunities for him to assume positions in journalism. Jimi was the editor of the school newsletter at the Philippine College of Commerce when he left Manila. He started with Newsweek, and later Time Magazine and CNN, where he was Beijing Bureau Chief till 2014. As a journalist and correspondent, he covered milestone news such as the death of Jiang Qing (Mao’s widow), the Tiananmen Square protests, and various geopolitical developments on the rise of China as an economic powerhouse.

Listening to Jimi gives one a ringside view of the massive changes that unfolded in the post-Mao era. He was an adjunct professor at Peking University before the pandemic happened.  His book “the Class of 1977” aims to provide the reader more intimate details of his extraordinary personal and campus journey, particularly as he aptly described his book “How My Classmates Changed China”.

Ambassador Mario Lopez de Leon Jr. served as Consul General in New York from 2011 to 2016.  He finished college with a bachelor of arts degree in Social Psychology (honorable mention) from the Ateneo de Manila University, where he also graduated in high school. He also attended the Ateneo School of Business for his MBA.

© The FilAm 2022

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