Our Beijing trip experience had been a complete success; we were the only company that left China with a partnership and commitments from Chinese investors to put forth seed money toward the joint venture we would be forming with associates from Communications University.

We returned to Toronto to assimilate all we had learned and to create a business model to actualize when we returned to China in March. That left us only three months to reflect on where we had been, where we were going and to recover from the smog-induced bronchitis we had acquired during our two-week stay in Beijing. 

Smoggy view of Forbidden City from Beihai Park, Beijing

It was now abundantly clear that Jet’s instincts were correct; business leaders and investors in China saw the same potential for our work for China that he did, just a few short months ago. But what exactly was it about us and our work that elicited such interest? Little did I know at the time that finding out would entail such a monumental, multi-layered process of discovery.

I already knew the short answer: much of China’s educational system is based on  memorization, learning by rote and an all-consuming focus on preparing children for the high school and Gaokao college entrance exams. The singular emphasis on academic success has left parents with a concern that their kids will not acquire the creative and social-emotional skills they need to live a balanced life. 

Hands neatly folded. A Grade 1 classroom in Xi’an.

By contrast, for ten years we had had great success in developing storytelling-based programs that emphasized positive character values, personal creativity, appreciation for cultural diversity and mastery of communication skills. What we were offering seemed to be a precise fit for what was lacking in the Chinese educational system, answering a deep need for parents to equip their children with content that fed their spirit as well as their intellect.

As creators of original content, Cheryl and I would be reliant on Jet and our team at CU for guidance and insight. We were thrilled at the prospect of creating programs for the massive Chinese market but were also cognizant of the cultural, language and communication differences that existed within the matrix of our team. In March we left for China to start an intense phase of research and development that would eventually result in the creation of our storytelling-based English program, ‘The Storyteller’s Journey’.

And what a journey it would prove to be.