Zhong Yue Zhang
Chinatown Interview: Interviewee
Chinatown Interview: Interviewer
Chinatown Interview: Date
Chinatown Interview: Language
Chinatown Interview: Occupation
Chinatown Interview: Interview (en)
Q: This is one of the Museum of Chinese in the Americas’ oral history interviews regarding the 9/11 experience in New York’s Chinatown. Today we have invited Zhong Yue Zhang, Esq. for an interview. The interviewer is I-Ching Ng. Mr. Zhang, could you tell us a bit about when you came from mainland China to the United States?
ZHANG: I came to the United States on March 19th, 1989. I came to America because an academic committee let me attend an international conference. The international conference mainly focused on the management of transnational corporations throughout the world. And I had focused on writing about the direct investments of American transnational corporations in China, their behavior patterns, and also researching the investments of Japanese transnational corporations in China and the investments of European transnational corporations in China. That was my own field of research. I had been at Fudan University in China for fourteen years, including both undergraduate studies and teaching there, and finally earning a Masters degree as a graduate student in the field of international economics. During that time, I came in contact with a great amount of Western economic thought. Later, I also went to Beijing University as a visiting scholar for one year. That was from 1980 to 1981. During that time, I attended the Western Economics Research Meeting of China, and I was the youngest committee member there. So, because of my background at Fudan University and Beijing University, I had the opportunity to make contact with the best circles of learning in China at that time. In particular, I was able to be in the forefront of research in studying Western economies and the field of foreign direct investment. As an undergraduate, I had studied British and American Languages and Literatures. In early 1977, when I graduated, there were very few students who had finished four years of college study, and I was in the British and American Languages and Literatures department of Fudan University. Initially, the intention was to train us to work as diplomats, to send us to every foreign embassy and consulate. We’d start as a secretary, since we should have the linguistic basics, and go from level three secretary to level two secretary, and continue developing along that path. But because they made changes to the foreign service in 1977, after graduation, we still remained at our schools. Since I was left in school, I started studying economics. On one hand, I acted as a teacher, on the other hand, I took classes in economics, so I had a chance to interact with the best economics departments in China at that time, and the focus of the economics curriculum.
Q: Then would you say that studying literature was your own interest?
ZHANG: Studying literature wasn’t a matter of following my interests. When I was studying at school it was in the midst of the Cultural Revolution, that was towards the end of 1972. At that time, the universities in China had all closed and were only recently reopened. We were pretty much the only bunch of junior high school students to go straight into college, and in all of China, we only numbered about 600.
Q: At that time, you were in Shanghai?
ZHANG: At Shanghai’s Fudan University, yes.
Q: So you would be a member of the ‘fifth generation’?
ZHANG: ‘Fifth generation’ or whatever generation development – people have different ways of counting that, but I think I was a little earlier than fifth generation.
Q: Then, do you feel that the study of literature and the study of economics were two very different fields?
ZHANG: Literature and economics are two completely different fields. As far as literature goes, you have a robust creativity, a strong literary background, and you need to think comparatively deeply, so that gives you a sort of creativity that is distinct from reality. But in the case of economics, a lot of aspects of it are connected to science, so you need very good logical thinking skills. Besides needing to have a great understanding of the current state of society, you also need to do a lot of theoretical research, and you need a lot of interaction with the fields of math and science. So, basically, these two are entirely different fields.
Q: Which one do you think you like more, or do you feel that they are mutually beneficial?
ZHANG: When I first started to study British and American Languages and Literature, I didn’t enter that field because I liked it, it was because they selected me, and so I went. Every junior high school in Shanghai had a quota of a single person [to go to college], and some of them didn’t even have that. My junior high school was a very good one, Ge-zhi Junior High School. Up to the present day, Ge-zhi Junior High School has had 150 years of history, and had already been established back in the Qing Dynasty. At that time, I remember that I had more than 1,000 classmates, and I was the only one selected for college. So I didn’t study according to my interest, it was a matter of them choosing me to go. After I began studying there, very gradually, I began to feel that I had interest in literature. So why could I just switch to studying economics after graduation? Because at that time, I felt that as a male student, becoming a teacher upon graduation and always teaching would be equivalent to making myself into a tool. And what I wanted was to make English into a tool to serve me. I didn’t want it to be my main specialization. This way, I could have a great advantage in other specialties, because I could use English to read lots of books. And as it happens, when I did practical work in economics, I found I had a lot of interest in economics. Anyway, I was fascinated by economics, and I was much more interested in it than in literature.
Q: Did you feel very fortunate in that you were able to study after the Cultural Revolution ended?
ZHANG: Being able to study in the midst of the Cultural Revolution was a very lucky thing. Because out of all the junior high students in China – and there were maybe several million - each year only six hundred could go study. That was an outcome unique to that period of history. My family was also very happy then, because neither my father nor my mother had gone to college. My mother had been sent out from the age of eight to work as a child laborer, and my father had gone out to work as a child laborer from the age of fourteen. They met because they were both inside the same theater selling candy at the same time. Actually, my parents’ family had been very large, before the Republic of China, they had been a very big family, but because of the changes in Chinese society, the family had declined, so of course they were very happy that I could go to college.
Q: Do you have any brothers and sisters?
ZHANG: I have a younger brother.
Q: What is he doing?
ZHANG: He is at the Huangpu district of Shanghai working in the government.
Q: So, Mr. Zhang, after you came to America, what was your first impression of the United States? Why did you later decide to stay here?
ZHANG: When I first came over, I hadn’t intended to stay, because in my career, in my work, in my opportunities, everything was already excellent. But because of—The reason I came was, at that time, my report, I had just casually sent it out here. I had said that I wanted to attend this conference, because there were so many outstanding professors in this specialty within the country. One of them was the president of Zhong-shan University School of Economics, and he had graduated from Harvard. That was back in the 40s. Three or four times at international conferences I had bumped into him. Now, at that time, I was comparatively young, and my English was relatively good, so I could directly read lots of authors writing on economics. And because I was at Fudan University and Beijing University, at that time I interacted with the most advanced materials. He said to me, you should get out, you should discuss your point of view with other scholars, because by luck, you’re arriving on the scene just as China is starting to open up in a major way, and China is starting to attract foreign investment; and your data and your knowledge might be quite different from that of foreign scholars, so if you went abroad at this time, it would be good for both you and our country. And so for that reason, he gave me some information, saying, that year, in March of 1988, there was an international conference on transnational corporations in New York, and it was reported in an American magazine. So in October of 1987, I sent a letter to them, saying that I was interested in attending their conference. They said, send us a topic, so I sent a topic, I said I was discussing the direct investment of American transnational corporations in China, their behavior and patterns, and comparing them to those of Japanese and European companies. Because my research into this topic was, at that time, in the forefront within China, especially in regard to the direct investment of Japanese transnational companies in China. At that time within China, very few people said that there was a logic behind the direct investments of Japanese transnational companies; I said that there was, but that it was different from that of European and American companies. Because of this paper of mine, lots of people were aware of me. I wrote a letter to that organization’s council and they immediately sent a letter back, saying that this topic would be a great contribution to our conference, we haven’t had anything on this topic come in, and we hope that you quickly write up this report and send it over. So in October, after using English to write out this report, I sent it to the council, and they invited me to attend. But when they invited me, I said that at that time I couldn’t get any financial assistance to attend, because at that time I was already filling a role above lecturer, they were already planning to make me an Assistant Professor. Back then, it was very difficult to create young Assistant Professors, and I had already signed up for it, and I just needed to come back from this trip and they’d give me the post. I had already published many famous works, on the subject of Western economics, so I didn’t prepare much before coming over. If they invited me to go, I would just talk based on the knowledge that I had gained over in China.
Q: So why did you stay here?
ZHANG: The reason I stayed was because after arriving, I felt like I had come into contact with many scholars, and I felt that if I was only here for a few days, perhaps I wouldn’t gain a great understanding of America. Even though I had spent over a dozen years of effort studying huge amounts of information related to Eastern and Western economics, and I had taught for many years, I felt that I should stay for a while and look around, see what differences might exist between this society and what we studied in books, that great mass of information that I’d dealt with. If I only spent a few days here, then the task would be pretty difficult. The second reason was that I had spent all my own money to come, I had paid for the plane tickets and everything else. The conference gave me a little bit of financial assistance, a stipend to cover the hotel costs, because although they didn’t normally give any financial assistance, they gave me enough to pay for a few days at a hotel. So I got a visa, and soon I had come here, and I thought, at least for now, I want to live here a while longer. After living here a while, there were some other reasons, perhaps I hadn’t been too happy with my original university. So in that way, I ended up living here much longer, and finally ended up living here all the way to today.
Q: Which was the organization that set up this conference?
ZHANG: The organization setting up the conference was the American Business Administration Association, and the State Department entrusted it to Hofstra University at Long Island. They organized a very high-level conference.
Q: After you came, where in New York did you live?
ZHANG: After the conference opened, when I arrived, I didn’t understand anything, I had only thought of coming out to see what the world was like. At that time, I didn’t have much money on me, and some overseas students at Hofstra University, one of them was a law—I didn’t actually know them. One was a law student, one was an economics student, one was a math student. They said that Long Island was actually very close to New York, and that New York is a very different place. They said, you just have to take the long distance train, then take the subway, and you can get to New York. Over there are newspapers, you can glance them over, and there’s a huge Chinese community. So in that way, I stored a couple suitcases at the school, and then I took a bus and then the subway to New York.
Q: Upon arriving at New York, what was your first impression?
ZHANG: When I came to New York, I had many different feelings. First, I didn’t have much financial resources. At that time, I only had 29 dollars on my person. That was because when I came over, I paid for everything myself, and the salary you could make within China was limited. We also couldn’t announce having lots of foreign money, we couldn’t have any foreign money. So when I came over, I borrowed some money from fellow students. They had come to America, and saved up some money there, and they loaned me American money. I bought a plane ticket, and covered my basic living expenses, and then when I reached New York, I only had 29 dollars left. The second reason was, outside of Chinatown, they said that it’d be really difficult to go anywhere else. Even though I had studied literature for a long time, and had taught English, I still didn’t know if I could communicate with Americans using the language I spoke, or if I could get by at all. Therefore, there was a huge gap separating us.
After a little bit, I had walked down to Chinatown. The first day there, I didn’t know where to stay, they said, go buy a newspaper, there’s a World Journal (Shi-jie Ri-bao). At that time there were Chinese newspapers and other newspapers. You can go ---, and above that, you can get a job, or rent a room. So I had no friends, no relatives, but still came over. I remember that after arriving, as soon as I came out from the subway, I sat at the intersection of Mott Street and Canal Street. My first thought was, ah, there’s so much Chinese stuff here, the signs, the people walking, they’re all Chinese, and I felt very comfortable. Immediately, I also felt like foreigner, because at that time I could see a lot of Chinese people, but very few spoke my local language, the Shanghai dialect, and very few spoke Mandarin. If they spoke Chinese, it was Cantonese. I didn’t understand a word of Cantonese. So, sitting there, my third reaction was to be a little flustered. I had no money, I had no idea where I would live my first day, and didn’t know where to find work. So, I sat at that intersection for about thirty minutes, and ate a couple eggs. These eggs were ones that a private group of overseas students at Hofstra University gave me, saying, why don’t you go out and see what it’s like? So, my first day, that’s the way I went to New York.
After arriving, I started searching for work starting in Chinatown, asking at every restaurant if they had work for me. If I could find work, then I could rely on my own abilities, or I could study at school or settle down. So I started searching all the restaurants in Chinatown, and they asked: Can you speak Cantonese? I said, No, I can’t. And then they said, then you can’t work here, because if you can’t speak Cantonese, you can’t communicate, so there was no chance to work. I just followed the road from Chinatown all the way to the Upper West Side, heading west, and when I reached about the eighth big street, 57th Street, I went into a Chinese restaurant. Every time I had seen a Chinese restaurant, I went inside and asked them for work, and this time, I saw a man, a pretty good man, he was from Shandong in China. He was in that restaurant, I remember it was called “Hunan Garden” and he did a delivery business. He said, you look like you’ve just arrived in this place, where are you from? And I said, “I’m from Shanghai.” He said, “Inside, we have a guy who does delivery, he’s from Shanghai, I’ll help introduce you to him, and since it looks like you don’t have any place to put your feet, come inside and have some food!”
I ate at their restaurant, and I remember that at that time, he gave me Jielan Beef and soup to eat, and then he gave me five dollars in quarters. He said, go use this money to call people, you can call all your friends. I said, I don’t have any friends here, and I don’t have any relatives here. He said, all you need to do is find work and then you can do anything. I said, how do I thank you, I don’t even know you, and you’ve been so good to me, especially on my first day when I still don’t know where I’m going to live. He said, no need to get excited, if you are able to succeed later on, just invite me to eat a meal with you and that’s enough. But up to this day, I still don’t know where that man is. From inside that store, a man from Shanghai came out, and he was younger than me. After looking at me for a moment, he said, “Well, it’s like this, I see that you’re a pretty good guy, and I live in Queens, and in a place called Rego Park.” He lived in a tiny basement, and his rent was very cheap. He said, “I can guess that you don’t have any money, so just live with me for a while, and later on when you find your own place, you can move out.” So that day I went with him back to Rego Park in Queens. The place we lived was very small. That room had little besides a bed, and the space next to the bed was just slightly bigger than the bed itself. He said, we’ll do it like this, and he took off the mattress and slept on that, and I slept on top of the spring box. I slept on top of it for three months, and at that time, I didn’t know, since I was very poor, and I was very nervous, because even going out to buy a bed was very expensive. At first when I went out I was very nervous, so I slept on top of there for three full months. Later I started looking for work, and I found work due to that man from Shanghai, he was called Chen Jian-xin, Jason, a really great young man. He said, “It’s like this, I’ll help introduce you.” And so, very slowly, I began delivering take-out from that restaurant. At the same time, there was one thing I hadn’t thought about, and he said, “You’ll have no trouble at all – because you came in on a B-1 Visa, so you can apply to have it changed to student status.” I said, “I can do that, but I don’t have anyone to act as my sponsor.” He said, “I’ll go and be your sponsor.” He had lots of family members immigrate to the U.S. or Canada, and so he transferred a bunch of money in my bank account. I had only known him for about one or two weeks, and he transferred about eight thousand dollars into my bank account, and then I began studying language there. It was because of these things that I could succeed, so I want to thank those two men, especially the second one who was truly exceptional.
Q: So, Mr. Zhang, it sounds like you used to teach in mainland China. Considering that you were doing a higher level of work over there, wasn’t this whole process extremely frustrating? After you came here, you had to work your way up from the very bottom, and you had to work in restaurants. This must have been a huge fall in status. How did you adjust to it?
ZHANG: This was a huge fall in status, so much so that even if you took all the words available to write it out, no matter how you tried to describe it, you still couldn’t accurately describe the degree to which I had fallen in the world. My circumstances in China were extremely good, my opportunities were great, and the work I was doing had already reached a high level. I had come to America not because my circumstances were bad, rather I had come over to change my surroundings, and the main reasons were the two that I just mentioned. One thing, from my childhood until adulthood, I had been living through a period of rapid change within China, going from a very closed society, from a society in which the Communist Party controlled everything very closely, all the way to a time when very, very slowly the government had started loosening the economy, and had started opening up to the outside. It was a time of huge changes, so I had a kind of urge, especially because I had studied British and American Languages and Literatures and also Western Economics. I had this urge, I always had wanted to come out and see the stuff I had studied and the stuff I had taught, and see what it was like. This was a really powerful desire. Actually, in the ten years previous to 1988, there were opportunities every year for me to come over, to go to America or to Europe. When I had graduated, I was a student not quite 21 years of age, and my English was such that, compared to others in China, I could be considered a specialist, and also I was from Fudan University, and there were only 600 in the entire nation. So, if I applied to study abroad, I could have gone at any time. The reason I hadn’t applied to study abroad then was because I had felt that China was changing. Supposing that I had gone abroad to study British and American Languages and Literature, then I wouldn’t have understood anything other than those languages, because I would have missed out on that entire period of change within my country. Later, when I returned to China to work, I wouldn’t understand Chinese people at all. So I switched to studying economics, and understood the society, and greatly delved into my studies. During those ten years, I didn’t come. So, when I came, it wasn’t because my circumstances had been bad, but maybe my urge meant more to me than those good circumstances, the desire to go change my environment meant more, and the reason for that was because I had already been an intellectual. Maybe intellectuals have a sort of imagination and passion that is more naïve than people of other social classes, so this naïve imagination acted as a powerful impetus for me. Of course, there were some other reasons, but none of them were very important.
Q: So after you came to America, what differences did you feel existed between the America that you saw and the America that you studied in a textbook or that you had imagined?
ZHANG: The America that I saw, let’s put it this way, I saw New York, and I think that it is different from other places in America. Because the first place I had stopped at was—when I came into America, the first place I stopped at was San Francisco. I waited in the airport for four hours, then changed planes and went to Washington DC. When I was in San Francisco, the customs officers and the immigration officers were all very polite, all very friendly. And I saw Asian faces, and maybe that made me feel a kind of closeness, and didn’t feel like such a stranger. When I reached Washington DC, I thought that the American Management Council’s committee head would send someone to meet me, because I had brought with me a letter for Shanghai’s Wang Dao-han, to discuss holding an international conference in China. I brought his letter with me, and I hadn’t expected that he had gone away to Italy on official business, and that he didn’t receive my fax. So I was very nervous on the plane, because nobody was coming to meet me, and I didn’t know where to go after I left, so I just slept in the airport for a night. At that time, how terrified was I? Because this was a completely new country, and there weren’t Asian faces, there were a few different races, there were a few minorities, such as Blacks and Hispanics, there were about four or five of them waiting in the rear room of the airport. I was the only Asian person, and I was a little scared then, a bit scared. So I spent a night sleeping there, and for one night I didn’t go out, and anyway it was a matter of waking up after twenty minutes, or after fifteen minutes, not wanting to let anyone take my luggage, and not sure what might happen. Early the second day, I came across a cleaning person, an airport cleaning person, and he looked like he was a mixed-race person, part White and part Black. He said, considering the situation you’re in, I’ll give you a couple quarters, and you call your friend. At that time, I had the phone number of a Chinese professor at George Washington University, and so I just called him. He said, Oh, you’re already here! And then he came to meet me. So I also want to thank that person, because even though he just gave me a couple quarters, he allowed me to contact my friends outside, so I soon had someone coming to meet me.
Q: Mr. Zhang, could you tell us, since you started as a worker in a restaurant, how did you end up becoming a lawyer? Can you tell us what kind of story occurred in the middle?
ZHANG: Working at a restaurant in New York, it was like this, in the beginning, I studied language – I studied language at Kaplan. I wanted to raise my English level. Even though we studied a lot of English, it had been somewhat different from the English that Americans spoke. I could communicate with people, that wasn’t a problem, and I could make a speech. But when I look back at it now, my English then had been based on Chinese school lessons, and it must have been quite different than English I spoke after living here for a while. And even though I feel that my English is quite different than it used to be, even now I feel that there’s a difference between me and Americans who were born and raised here. At that time, after studying it, I came here and had a look at this society, and I felt that Chinatown didn’t necessarily fit me. The reason it didn’t fit me was because I couldn’t speak Cantonese, and I didn’t know how to take part. So I studied language at 57th Street on the West Side, and worked a little as a deliveryman, and after studying a while, I felt that if I only studied the language, it wasn’t quite equal to the kinds of books I had been studying before, and I ought to return to my specialization. So I applied to enter the City University of New York, Graduate Center, and applied to join their PhD program in economics. The director was a really good guy. He said, you graduated from Fudan University, and you have a Masters degree, so I will completely accept your academic background. He recognized all 36 credits, and enrolled me. After being enrolled, I studied one semester towards a PhD in economics. But suddenly I had used up all my money, and I had to spend all the money I had made from working on my tuition, and I couldn’t work while I was studying, so soon I had no money for tuition. I was really nervous, so once again I came out to work.
At Second Avenue and 82nd Street, I was a manager for a delivery service. After doing that, there was a time when I was with several professors from China, all of them very young, and I heard them saying, about five blocks away, there was a restaurant that was going to be sold, and they said to go take a look at it. Just like that, I went and had a look and a week later I had partnered with others and bought the restaurant, at 85th Street and Third Avenue, just like that, in a moment I was involved in that restaurant. Working at the restaurant was really exhausting, because it was a huge responsibility. One important consideration was that in China, we didn’t have this kind of entrepreneurial environment, so if I could be clever enough to handle a bit of American business, then I would become accustomed to American society. When I bought the restaurant, other than getting a lawyer, I handled everything myself. I did everything, including applying for a health code sign, and for every kind of license. So at the time, when I did it, I said, regardless of whether I do this for ten years or five years, I definitely have to go back to school again. I kept that in mind while I was running it. I worked very hard, and during the first year I worked seven days without rest. At the time, my body was strong, because I had just entered my thirties, and I had exercised a lot during the time of my studies, so my body was in good shape, and I had no lack of energy, and it didn’t matter if I didn’t get a lot of sleep. But during that time I had one urge, that was to do some sort of business to understand this society, and so in this way I got involved. If you asked me now to go through it all again, and work the same way as I did then, there’s a good chance I couldn’t pull it off.
Q: So how long were you working at that restaurant?
ZHANG: I started at the restaurant near the end of 1989 and continued until 1993 or 1994, when I sold it. At that time, I decided I would study at a law school, and the restaurant was still there, so after studying for a semester I came back, sold the restaurant, and returned to study at the law school. So I did it for about four years or so.
Q: So how did you become interested in becoming a lawyer here?
ZHANG: Becoming a lawyer, the story of how I came to study at law school is really interesting. How is it interesting? At that time, I was talking with my wife, saying, if I went back to study, what should I study? Because even though I was very lucky in that I had been able to go to college in the midst of the Cultural Revolution, at the same time, I suffered a sort of side effect of the Cultural Revolution’s attitude towards learning. Maybe it was a kind of influence. What kind of influence? At that time, a lot of junior high schools didn’t have any rules, and the school curriculums were a mess, the rules that had been in place before the Cultural Revolution were all gone. So our math and science education was extremely limited, so even though when I went back to school and studied economics, when I thought about studying economics again, a lot of American schools had tons of math and science in their economics programs, especially mathematical patterns. In this way, I said, this isn’t my strong suit, and whatever I go back and study, I wanted to avoid mathematics, because I had never formally studied math. In that way, I didn’t have many choices. Besides studying economics, I could study history, administration, or I could choose to study politics, or I could study law. That night, I remember very clearly, I asked, what would be best for me to study? And we just flipped a coin. Just flipped a quarter, heads or tails. If it was heads, then I would go study law. In the end, it was heads, and I decided to study law, and that’s how I went there.
Q: Did you study there with your wife?
ZHANG: I studied there by myself.
Q: Did you wife come here later from mainland China? Or was she here---
ZHANG: She came here before me, and was working in a different field.
Q: How did you two meet?
ZHANG: We met in New York.
Q: After studying at law school, when did you open your own practice?
ZHANG: Before graduating from the law school in 1996, I studied for three years – I studied law at the University of Maine, School of Law. My final year I studied as a visiting student at Brooklyn Law School, because my home was in New York, and I wanted to return to New York, and my wife was also in New York. So at that time I applied to be a visiting student at Brooklyn Law School. It’s a private law school. So after graduating in 1996, I stayed in New York. When I was in New York, I didn’t think about coming and starting my own firm, because all my experience was with big companies, big universities, and big organizations. Especially when I was studying in the law school, every year, I went to Hong Kong, either for training or as an intern, and I helped a couple excellent law firms with some legal work. The reason they had invited me was because I was very familiar with the Chinese system and Chinese law, and I had also studied at an American law school, and also I was comparatively familiar with Hong Kong’s situation, because I had written a few essays on it before coming to the U.S. At that time, I discussed what changes would take place immediately and in the future in Hong Kong and China, and I deeply researched the issue of whether China would have a greater influence on Hong Kong or whether Hong Kong would have a greater influence on China. So they invited me to do work related to stock market IPOs. They were doing work helping Chinese companies put H-shares upon the Hong Kong stock market, and they did appraisals and lots of underwriting. So I helped them with this within reorganizations, and they wanted to use my expertise in this area to see if certain deals could go through, and if there was a reorganization, how it would be done. So I helped them—I was directly responsible to their management, even though at that time I still hadn’t graduated. So each summer, starting in 1994, I went there, in ’94, ’95, and ’96, and even went during one winter. One of the two law firms was Deacons Graham and James. It’s the biggest in Hong Kong, the number one firm. The other one was a Top 5 City of London firm, called Simmons & Simons. During that time I began to be very familiar with a lot of Hong Kong’s special circumstances.
Q: So did you do immigration cases at that time? Or did you do something different?
ZHANG: At that time, I did nothing but corporate law, I hadn’t thought about doing immigration law or anything else. But in 1997, this situation changed, because after I had graduated for a little while, my daughter immigrated from Shanghai, in China. I had applied in ’95 to become an American citizen, and so I also applied for her to come to America. I thought that if I worked in a major law firm, I would have to spend lots of time there, and I wouldn’t have time to take care of her. When she came, she was 13 years old, and that’s a very important age. So I wanted to spend a lot more time with her. That was the first time that I thought, well, then I will just come out and do it myself. Before I had never wanted to come out and do things myself, and if I came out and worked on my own, I’d be doing something completely different from the law I had been doing. So at that time, I gave up my opportunity to work in a major American law firm, and instead went to work for a firm focusing on accidental injury. It’s a very good New York City firm, located on Vesey Street, and it’s very famous within the Chinese community. I acted as their Chinese lawyer, focusing on accidental injury cases. My income went down very, very much, but I thought I could gain a lot of experience, lots of experience in court. So I worked there for ten months, going to court every day, met lots of Chinese clients, represented the firm in accidental injury and workplace injury cases. After ten months, I – in October of 1998, I started my own law practice, in the beginning of 1999, I officially opened it. I started by running my firm as a general practice, because when you come out to work by yourself in a law firm, you are a solo practitioner. When I began, it was just me, I did immigration work, I did corporate law, I did divorce, I did criminal disputes, anyway, you can say it was a general practice. In the Chinese community, immigration was the biggest issue, it represented over 50% of cases.
Q: What challenges do you have doing immigration applications? And I think that America’s immigration laws are constantly changing, so what sort of impact does that have upon your business?
ZHANG: At the time when I first came out, the few friends I had who were already working as lawyers outside said it was more difficult, the market is very unstable. And that was because I started up in ’99, and before ’99, at the end of ’98, I left my employer, and as it happened, there were several new immigration laws which had started being revised in ’96. Before 1996, it was very easy to do, and there weren’t many lawyers, the immigration law being very easy. After 1996, there was a huge change – in 1997 and 1998. The changes made in 1997 caused the lawyers at that time to have a lot of opportunities. At the time that I came out, there weren’t any new immigration laws and there were a lot of lawyers, so it was a great challenge. To give one example, in 1996 and 1997, after the new immigration reforms, there was a new immigration rule saying that if you wished to apply for political asylum, you had to do it within a year of entering America, and if you didn’t do that, then you lost your chance, unless you had some powerful reason why the one year limit should not be applied to your case. This one-year limit was very strict. If your country changed greatly, or American law changed greatly, and there’s lots of other examples of situations which could occur, but only in these situations could you apply for political asylum after the limit. Before ’96 and ’97, you could apply at any time, you could be in the country for five or ten years and still do it. Anyway, the immigration law was becoming more and more strict. When I appeared, it was during the time that the immigration laws were becoming ever more strict. At that time, many Chinese clients, especially from Fujian, had lots of immigration questions to ask; but, at the time circumstances were not good, and the competition was fierce.
Q: Can you talk to us a little about this profession? Being a Chinese lawyer in New York? What changes have there been during all these years?
ZHANG: The changes in the profession of law have been huge. From the time I opened my business, after 1998 ended, one of the biggest changes occurred between the end of the year 2000 and the end of April 2001. The president at that time, President Clinton, signed an executive order which caused a lot of people who had originally been illegal immigrants to have a chance to gain the benefits of immigration. We normally refer to this as 245(i). 245(i) is a kind of special amnesty, not a complete amnesty. It gave people who had come to America prior to December of 2000, and who hadn’t been deported or processed in court a chance to apply for immigration; but you need to prove that you were already in America by December of 2000. And this application needed to be delivered before April 30th of 2001. You could apply as a worker, or family immigration, any kind of immigration, as long as it was legal, you could apply based on anything. And after you applied, so long as it was by April 30, 2001, as long as you applied before then, you could get the benefits. The benefits were that if you were rejected for immigration prior to April 30, 2001, and supposing that later on your application was ratified, then at that future time you wouldn’t need to go abroad to adjust your status. That was a time when the profession was extremely busy, and besides this, all the immigration adjustments were expanded. After the enactment of 245(i) on April 30, 2001, all of the immigration lawyers were very happy. That was because they thought that America’s regulations had been loosened, and had given a lot of people who had entered the country illegally a chance to adjust their status in this country. Perhaps several million people benefited, and we understood the new immigration laws quicker. A lot of law firms lost out on this opportunity; they decided they didn’t want to mess with this thing, and they didn’t do it, and so they lost their chance. So there were a bunch of law firms that expanded quickly, and we were one of those. In a flash, our law firm expanded, and our clients grew in number.
Of course, I learned a lot of new things in the midst of this, and there were a lot of new challenges, because previous to 1998, my law firm hadn’t existed. After that immigration law, we kept thinking that another bunch of 245(i) laws would come out, and President Clinton would sign them, extending this kind of law. This would be a great thing to new immigrants, especially us Chinese immigrants, new immigrants without status, we could gain a lot of benefits. But he didn’t sign the new executive order prior to the election. He had already sent the bill to Congress, and the Senate and the House had already discussed it, there were no problems, he could sign it, and he could extend the time period and allow people who arrived later or who didn’t have a chance to apply originally to apply now. But after the explosive events of 9/11, immigration law completely changed. And they changed in an extremely conservative direction. So after those events, all the immigration laws created new obstacles for immigrants, especially illegal immigrants, ones who snuck over. Because of the changes due to 9/11, immigration law became stricter, and every sort of background was checked, and they issued all kinds of new immigration laws, and it created lots of difficulties, particularly for those that illegally snuck into the country. I believe that from the standpoint of my profession, the number of illegal immigrants decreased. In the past, a great number of people had been illegal immigrants, because after American immigration law was revised, it didn’t let you apply so easily for political asylum, and it didn’t let you get through extremely complicated court procedures very easily, so there were a lot fewer clients coming. To give an example, it used to be that an appeal would not get a result until many years later. All appeals required three immigration judges to make a decision, two could be in favor and one opposed, with the opinion of the two being sufficient. Things would take five or six years, or four or five years, and that was quite typical. But one advantage was that until the appeal was decided, during those years, you could remain in the country. You could work, and nobody would catch you and do anything. Now, in the time around 9/11, even before 9/11, they were thinking about changing this, and after 9/11 they did change it. A lot of the judges in the immigration courts were relieved of their roles, and were sent to different places. Now, there is just one judge who can decide if you win or lose. They have speeded up this kind of process, and they don’t discuss matters so carefully. So, when it comes to rejecting immigration cases, first of all, that happens a lot now, a lot more than in the past. Secondly, it happens really quickly. So everything about the new immigration procedures is very difficult.
Q: Can you speak a little of your peak period, that would be during the Clinton years, how many clients did you have? Comparing now and then, how much has your business decreased?
ZHANG: I’ll put it like this, I don’t have a total number so that I can say there were this many clients during my peak times. During the peak time period, I had to go to court every day. I went to court for political asylum applications at least once every day. The most I can recall is going to court seven times in one day, with four different judges. I ran all around, going here and there. If there was a day that I didn’t go to immigration court, then I would feel that the day was empty. Nowadays, if I go to court two or three times in a week, I think it’s very busy. During a week, I might go to court once, twice, or three times, and even if two of them were on the same day, and I went to the two cases in a row, that week would feel very busy. It’s a very clear-cut change, I can tell you that for sure, the change is very obvious. The applications for political asylum have decreased dramatically. The decrease within our profession has been about 95%. What sort of reason caused the political asylum applications to decrease? Because the number of cases of people sneaking into the country has decreased. Usually when we have a political asylum case, if someone comes in and asks us for help with a sponsor, their relatives will be here, and if they can be a sponsor, then they won’t be locked up, and after the person comes out they can apply for political asylum. Now, let’s say that you snuck into the country, and you’re incarcerated by the government, there’s a lot fewer people locked up, so naturally there’s a lot less people doing political asylum cases. So about fifty percent of our work had been helping people legally get their relatives released from prison, and that fifty percent is gone. Compared to the time before 9/11, this is a huge change.
Q: So how did you adjust your profession?
ZHANG: First of all, even though my work decreased, we haven’t been impacted so much yet. That’s because the court procedures for those who illegally entered the country take at least one or two years to resolve, and at most they take three or four years. The whole procedure, going from the Immigration Bureau to the courts, from one court to another, appealing the results, it’s always like that. So the impact of the changes in policy will only start to become obvious in the coming days. That is to say, we still have some former cases that haven’t been resolved yet. But if we don’t get new cases now, I can predict that within two years, these cases will become extremely rare. The adjustments are like that, and even though we have helped—Even though the law has become stricter, there are still a lot of other immigration cases, and we still do those. For example, if there is a legal sponsor, we will do that. If there is a case of political asylum that follows the law, we will do that. A lot of the cases we had done before, a lot of the political asylum cases succeeded, and we won a lot of green card cases, and so a lot of new cases came forward. The relatives and friends of these people wanted to immigrate, their parents and sisters wanted to immigrate; and then after their lives become stable, they wanted to buy a house, or they wanted to run a business, and these people will always come back and look for us. The sort of filings we did prior to 9/11 weren’t that many, they were just family immigration or spousal immigration. Starting in 2003, we paid a lot of attention to these cases, because we were already extremely successful in this area. We helped a lot of relatives immigrate, and our casework unrelated to political asylum developed very rapidly. I’ll put it like this, this kind of work used to be, before 9/11 that is, or back when we first started, they used to be only 10% or 15% of cases. On the other hand, this kind of immigration filing work has become 80% of cases now. In this way, to a great extent, these can make up for the political asylum cases that have disappeared. The second reason is that, we think a new immigration law will come out, and maybe the standards will be different or its range will be different. For example, President Bush has said that they are currently making some plans, and the two houses of Congress will put forth all sorts of bills, both the Democrats and Republicans. It’s all due to current politics that there’s nothing right now -- Last year they started discussing it, because of the election, maybe around the time of the election, we’ll see what time they put it forward, and that [new immigration] plan is one of them. Another one is the Dream Act, and that one says, if your child goes to high school and studies for five years, and always studies at school; if you can prove that, then they will give you a green card, these ones still haven’t passed. But, I guess that either this year or next year, they will come out. As soon as these laws come out, our law firm will be in the forefront, because we had thrown ourselves into the 245(i), and later we resolved things very well. We especially did well with the immigration filing later on. In this way, we took two areas of immigration service and we entered right into those two areas.
If a new law comes out, we’ll be in a better position to expand than before, because we’re already prepared. Our law firm is… Well, since I have a scholar’s background, I don’t know how other law firms do it, but we have an internal training structure. On a weekly basis, we have a meeting to discuss new cases, the more difficult cases that we’ve come across, or new immigration laws. Last year in June, we opened our second law office, in Flushing, and besides this one, in Flushing we’ve created an entirely new internal system and gotten unique results. So, we have provided services with these two offices in the largest two Chinese communities. Over there, we’ve developed very well according to our accumulated experience. So we have an internal structure, and we’re always discussing things, always learning, and we’ve frequently published essays in the newspaper. So we’ve got a strong foundation regarding understanding new immigration law and preparing for our clients.
Q: Can you talk about after 9/11, that is, the stricter immigration laws, about how much longer does it take now when you apply for a green card or to immigrate?
ZHANG: There’s all kinds of reasons why somebody might apply for a green card. If you applied for a green card based on political asylum, it would be a different set of laws. To make an example, if you suffered from the one-child policy in China and wanted to get a green card based on that, this would take a long time. Every year they can handle one thousand cases, every year they take one thousand, because that’s the allotment for political asylum based on the one-child policy. So already there are ten or twenty thousand people in line, and it will be many years before you can reach the front. Even after it reaches your turn, and you apply for a green card, there is another waiting period, and there is once again a limit on the number of applicants. In this way, applicants for green card based on political asylum, before – in the beginning, five, six, seven eight years ago, perhaps you could get one in three or four years, while now it might be nine or ten years. Just a typical green card application also takes longer. Why does it take longer? Because now there’s the additional background investigation instituted after 9/11. To give an example of the difference between how it was originally and now, consider the case of spouses, if the wife or husband is an American citizen and applies for the spouse. Previously in New York, it would take about one year to finish the process, but now there is the additional background check, so it will take at least two years or more, and sometimes it will take as long as three, four years because there is no fixed time limit for doing the background investigation. All of the other green card immigration procedures have lengthened by at least one or two years.
Q: Then does this influence your work or your business?
ZHANG: This has both good and bad influences on our cases. The positive influence is that you can help clients with a lot more issues. One service is going to the Immigration Bureau to hasten things. In the case of lots of applications, there’s no particular reason why they’re being delayed. So one of the reasons why we often have successes is because we’re always pressuring them to hasten matters, always reminding the Immigration Bureau, asking them how the case is coming along. They won’t respond immediately, but after you push them a few times, they’ll give an answer. The bad aspect is that it’s bad for the clients, because the clients applying are usually in a great hurry, because getting an immigration green card is an overwhelming issue. The acceptance or rejection of the green card application greatly impacts the applicant’s life. It’s like the acceptance or rejection is a weight on their shoulders, and it brings lots of difficulties. I know, because I am somebody who immigrated too, and the acceptance or rejection of your application creates a lot of pressure, and it mixes up your future plans. Long-term planning is impossible, so this is really bad for them. The government today is constantly saying that they will increase the funding to the Immigration Bureau, and allow them to speed up the process. I’ve heard that current applications are actually faster than one or two years ago. The reason is because a greater budget was given to the Immigration Bureau, allowing them to move swifter. I don’t have any confirmation of that, though. However, I’ve heard that new applications today are handled faster than the old ones.
Q: Can you tell us, since you’ve dealt with so many cases, have there been any especially unforgettable experiences?
ZHANG: Because of my personality, I have had lots of unforgettable experiences. One thing you provide in political asylum is the specialized legal services. But the lawyer is also the only person, outside of the judge, the investigator, the translator and the family members to see this person’s inner feelings and every reaction throughout the entire process. You can see the changes in the person’s emotions, you can see what annoys the person, you can see what makes the person get nervous, you can see the points at which all the emotions come out. So there have been some political asylum cases – every case has had a big impact on me. Usually the clients hope to go through the political asylum process and gain status here, and I feel the same way. Putting aside the fact that I’m their lawyer, my background as a Chinese person who immigrated from China, it makes me care about them and their status under American law from the bottom of my heart. The first thing is that you have to do everything according to American law. I am a lawyer, I have an ethical profession, there’s definitely no problem, that’s the first thing, the highest principle. The second thing is that my personality, added on to my background, makes me feel that I have a responsibility to help Chinese clients. That’s because I understand their culture, and because I am a part of that culture. The second thing is, I understand all the different ways that they feel confused, and their difficulties, their every emotion, I understand those. Their relatives can’t understand. Because when they go to court, I’m next to them, I’m with them helping them to prepare, and they’ll tell you everything. A lot of people don’t realize how powerful their emotions are, and I stay with them every step of the way. So every case that I handle, I feel truly happy from the bottom of my heart. Lawyers have to accept fees for their services, but the fees are not so important to me, and I’ll be with them every step of the way. For example, if we are defeated, I’ll be right there worrying with them, and the reason is that I know exactly how huge a win or a loss is towards the client, how big it is to the family. For example, there’s a case, I helped a Chinese woman from Shantou in Guangdong Province, at that time she was about 50 years old, and she had snuck into the United States. After she was caught at Newark Airport, she was locked up in the new Elizabeth Detention Center. First I acted as her sponsor, and usually the detention center doesn’t release people. This woman had experienced great suffering. She had suffered harassment due to the one-child policy, the reason being that she had a boyfriend whose wife was the Village Child Planning Commission’s Chairperson. The woman and this other woman’s husband had relations and then she became pregnant. So then she was put through lots of pressure to get an abortion, and that very serious things would happen to her if she didn’t get an abortion, because she was not married. Under these circumstances, she ran away. And once she started fled, she kept going for eight or nine years, until she reached a whole different location in Guangdong Province, and after she bore her child, she raised him alone, going through lots of painful experiences. But she didn’t have any documents to prove it. When you don’t have documents to prove things, then in theory, as long as everything you say in your testimony is consistent, then you can go ahead; the judge can accept you, and you can have a chance. But usually this is pretty difficult. That case took ten months of work before I succeeded. Afterwards, I was really touched, because initially the judge hadn’t really believed the case, and didn’t seem willing to accept her. In the end, he did and he said it was like this, if you appeal the decision to the Immigration Bureau, and I let you appeal to them, you won’t succeed, because this would end up becoming a new precedent. In the past, with this kind of case, where there are no documents, this situation of a girlfriend who became pregnant, there wasn’t any kind of legal precedent, and I wanted them to create a new precedent. Finally, he agreed, and I was very touched. I said to her, I never thought it would reach this point. Even if I worked really hard on the case, I wasn’t sure we would make it. The government finally appealed the case, and on appeal they still lost. So, this precedent was created right there, and that was a new precedent. The judge said it was a new precedent. So this woman is in America now. This kind of case required that I throw all my energy and all my emotions and everything I had into it. I was extremely anxious as well, and speaking from this point of view, I have seen the true feelings of a lot of legal and illegal immigrants, and have seen many things in this world. This is an extremely – speaking as a lawyer, doing this field of work has let me experience things that lawyers not in this field can never experience.
Q: What do you think of illegal immigrants? It seems that many Americans see this as a problem, a bad thing. Now, speaking as a Chinese person, and someone who has handled so many of these cases, what do you think of this issue?
ZHANG: I think, speaking as a lawyer, and speaking as an American citizen, I am very respectful towards American law, I want to respect it and the people who come here should respect it, they shouldn’t sneak into the country, and they should use legal paths to enter the country. But on the other hand, because I am a lawyer, I also must focus particularly on helping my clients fight for their rights and benefits. Even though you might have come here illegally, and you might have broken laws to come here, you still have lots of rights and benefits, and that’s the great thing about America. So, I just go along with this, and I try to give the most help that I can. Now, speaking from this position, speaking from those two basic points, I don’t really understand the people who immigrate here from other countries [besides China], because my clients are generally Chinese. I think, first of all, America is a nation of immigrants. I think that new immigrants have been good for America, I think they have advanced the nation. If there hadn’t been immigrants, America, this nation, wouldn’t have the history it does. The reason that America has been able to develop to this point is because there have been immigrants from every kind of country. Regardless of whether you illegally immigrated or snuck into the country, having arrived, these people have a great risk [of being arrested and deported].
Now, speaking of Chinese illegal immigrants, my opinion is that they have helped this country advance. I’m not supporting their illegal entry into this country, and I don’t like them sneaking into the country, avoiding a lot of—that is, disturbing America with their illegal actions. But I’m speaking of after they have come here. Before they come here, that isn’t an area on which we can comment. We should follow the letter of the law. But having come here, I think, after they have already come here, as Chinese people, whether they are from Taiwan, mainland China, Hong Kong, or even Chinese people from other locations, they are all hard-working. Secondly, they bring comparatively few problems to this country. Whether you look at it from the perspective of how they educate their children, or just look at how we all work, you can see that they place great value on their children’s education, and they work really hard. Of course, there are a lot of people who do more than a few bad things, but even so, it’s a comparatively small percentage. To give an example, Fuzhou people have more than a decade of history here, and you can see how many people from Fuzhou have started take-out restaurants and buffet restaurants, not just in New York, but all over America. It’s hard to find a place without a Chinese take-out restaurant or a buffet restaurant. It’s been a great benefit to the country. Not only have they brought their culture here, but they also bring a convenience, a service. That service isn’t something that everybody can do. And I’m just giving one example. They’ve brought a lot of economic benefit to the country, and they make their children study hard, and their people get good jobs. And the people working can help their own families, and then they can help the government generate tax revenue. This is a really great thing. So I think illegal immigration, especially illegal immigration from China, has caused this country, America, to advance greatly, and that it hasn’t had any bad influence whatsoever.
Q: Can you recall what you were doing when 9/11 occurred?
ZHANG: 9/11 was a special moment to every single person. At that time, I wasn’t in America, I was in China, I was in Shanghai, in my mother’s home. I had booked an airplane ticket to return to America on September 12th. At that time, I was at my mother’s home, eating with my former classmates, and watching television as we ate. Suddenly on the television – my brother and others said, how could two airplanes seem to be hitting the World Trade Center towers, the twin towers? We weren’t paying attention, and neither was I, and so I thought that the television station must be playing some kind of movie. Suddenly I looked over, and realized -- what a second, how could [we be watching a movie on] Phoenix [Feng-huang] Channel? Phoenix Channel came from Hong Kong, and it was distinct from mainland China’s Zhong-yang Channel and Shanghai Channel. I thought, the news station on Phoenix Channel wouldn’t play a movie. So I looked over there, and as soon as I did, I got nervous. I saw a second plane hitting the tower. The first thing I did then was snatch up the phone, and make a phone call to my wife. Because the place she worked was at Broadway and Vesey Street, a block from the twin towers. Because the twin towers were on Church Street, and right beyond that was Broadway. Vesey is the place where the twin towers start. My wife was in that skyscraper, at the time she was doing some work at a bank. I called, trying to reach her, I said, what has happened? She said, it’s a mess. I could hear shouting in the background behind her. I said I would call my office, but I couldn’t reach them, and I left a message for them to call back, to call me in a hurry. If there was anybody in the office, they should call me immediately. First of all, get out of there. Secondly, I called again to make sure. I asked her, have you reached them? She said, I did, they’re already hurrying back. After people had left, I felt better, because I didn’t want anybody in that place, because it was very close to the site [of the twin towers]. Secondly, I said, hurry up and go. She said, I can’t go right now, it’s chaos. I waited on hold on the phone for forty minutes. My feelings at that time, maybe I told them after they came back, I was even more nervous than if I had been at my New York office, or had been at that place, because the people who weren’t in America at that moment were very panicked. The feeling was one of overwhelming panic. And I called again for my daughter, but I couldn’t reach her, because she was studying at the Bronx Science High School. Then, later, I couldn’t find her for a full day. My wife finally told me that she had found her, and that my daughter had gone to her classmate’s home to stay. All the people in the office had left, so I finally relaxed. And then my wife was inside, and she shouted one thing to me, she said, “Oh my God! It’s gone. It’s gone.” I said, what is gone? She said, the two towers are gone. I said, I can see them on the TV, they’re smoking. She said, it’s gone. It’s collapsed. So, I was extremely worried then. From that point on, I was constantly making phone calls. I think that my feelings at that time -- because I had personally spent lots of time in the area around the 9/11 towers, and my office was also in that area. But I was also extremely worried, because I was in Shanghai, and yet my heart was completely, more than 100% in this place, I was worried about the safety of the employees at my office, worried about my wife, worried about the condition of my daughter. So I was always trying to reach them, and I was speaking to the airline asking when I could go back. And I was constantly unable to go back, all the way until the 17th. That was the first airplane allowed to fly in from China, and it flew into San Francisco.
When I came out of San Francisco, I saw the National Guard in full military dress, and there were more of them than passengers. And in a flash, I was back at my office, but when I returned to my office, the whole neighborhood had changed. Starting from Broadway and Canal Street, it was all National Guard. Everything was closed off, you couldn’t get in. Other than workers, nobody could get in. It was like a militarized zone. It was like watching a movie. The whole environment had changed, a complete – it was like the kind of scene you saw in movies about the Second World War. If I went back to the office, it was filled with a weird smell, like smoke from a gun. There was nobody on the streets, in all of Broadway, I’d never seen anything like this, what seemed like an empty lot, no cars could come in, all of it was National Guard stationed there. If you went in, they wanted to see your ID. Otherwise, I couldn’t go back to my office. So after I returned, there was about one or two weeks during which I couldn’t work. The doors weren’t open, all the information and cases were broken off. For half a year after I came back, I was constantly experiencing great turmoil. All of Chinatown was completely different, and all of New York City was completely different.
Q: Mr. Zhang, please continue speaking about the incident of 9/11.
ZHANG: After 9/11 occurred, after I returned from Shanghai, the first thing I did was go back to my office. But they couldn’t let me in, because the entire National Guard had closed off everything starting with Canal Street. As soon as it was closed off, if you wanted to get in, they had to check your identification. For the first one or two weeks, they couldn’t let you in. After they loosened up, I went in, and upon going in, I discovered that the whole structure of the place had changed. At the time, I didn’t know how to describe it, and I didn’t know what the future would be like. You could walk all over Chinatown very comfortably, because, wherever you walked, there was no traffic. Lots of restaurants had closed their doors, lots of businesses were closed. I thought, none of our clients will come. We don’t have any more business. It wasn’t just us without business, all of Chinatown was like a ghost town, and lots of restaurants had closed up. If you went to eat lunch, lots of restaurants had just one table or two tables. For a long time, the whole business environment had changed. Our law firm’s environment had changed too. From that point on, the immigration business dropped off dramatically, and there was a huge change everywhere. We thought that it would be a very, very gradual process before it took off again, so we went through a very difficult period of adjustment. That’s why we paid extra close attention to giving law services to our clients. We could do some filing, do immigration according to the situation in society. At least we could provide every kind of – everything they were unclear about, we helped them with. So the moment of 9/11, that moment is something I probably will not forget my whole life. Even though I wasn’t in the US at that time, my family and my office were very close to the 9/11 twin towers, and I believe that experience was unique, something that you can not forget in a lifetime. The shock I felt, and the sense of powerlessness, I believe it wasn’t any less powerful than the people who personally saw the skyscrapers fall. The difference was only that the sensation came from a different perspective.
Q: You came here during the time of the Cultural Revolution. Did you suffer any harassment during the Cultural Revolution? Comparing the troubles of the Cultural Revolution with the events of 9/11, how did they impact you differently?
ZHANG: I was very small during the time of the Cultural Revolution, so there’s not that much that I can say. But my family had suffered some great blows then. My father had been dragged off many times, and because of the Cultural Revolution, his body became messed up, because at that time he was a tax official. About ten months before the outbreak of the Cultural Revolution, he had been sent to some new place to straighten out their tax situation, and then that’s when the Cultural Revolution started. He had been sent by the mayor of Shanghai, so he ended up beaten nearly lifeless, and was nearly dumped in Heilong River. At that time, during those experiences, I was very small. I was only 12 or 13 years old. But I think that experience caused me to grow up and become an adult. It was due to the shock to my family, because just think, you never knew when it might happen, sometime in the middle of the night, strangers might knock on the door, that sound of knocking. In a moment, a life that had been extremely tranquil became completely different. When there was a knock on the door, you didn’t know if they had come to snatch your father, or if they came to seize your home, or what. That fear, that sense of being terrorized, to speak of it from a different perspective, in my entire life, it has definitely been an unforgettable experience. I was also able to mature because of that. But the Cultural Revolution did not hurt me individually or anything. To have experienced it, I think, to have experienced the Cultural Revolution was an extremely different experience. That experience gave me lots of internal things for my future growth. It gave me a different way of considering certain problems. You could say I became comparatively sophisticated, or relatively complicated, or more mature than others.
Q: After 9/11 occurred, after this terrorist strike, has that incident caused your attitude towards America to change?
ZHANG: My attitude towards America changed, and that change came from two things. First, after 9/11, I suddenly realized that Americans love their country to a much deeper level than I had previously noticed. Their love is much broader and more common than I had realized. Americans’ love of country, to speak from a certain perspective, I think that compared to what I saw before in China, it goes beyond the love Chinese have for their country, and it is a broad-based feeling. They really love their country and they are really united. This country’s feeling of identity also suddenly increased dramatically. If 9/11 had never occurred, perhaps during my entire lifetime, Americans would never gain the sense of identity that they have now. The second change, I think the political atmosphere has trended conservative. As far as the shift towards conservatism goes, on the positive side is the devotion and love for their country. Everyone’s feeling of loving their country has become more conservative, or what has trended conservative is people’s love of country. But I think that from a certain point of view you can say that the change in government, they’ve shut themselves off a little too much. It’s started to be a bit different from the sort of energy that existed at the founding of this country. To me, this change is another thing that has deeply impacted me. Because my understanding of America and my love for America had originally been based on my study of many things, and based on my personal experiences prior to 9/11, my accumulation of over ten years of experience in America. This still hasn’t changed. I think this is a good country, it’s a country of immigrants. The good thing about this country is that it is extremely democratic. The good thing about this country is that it has a complete system of law which can protect every kind of person, and you have freedom of speech, freedom to do whatever you want, just as long as you don’t break the law. This kind of a system, in other places in the world, at least the places I’ve been to, in China, the Chinese legal system isn’t as perfect as America’s, and its level of freedom isn’t as broad as America. I also spent time in Hong Kong, and at that time England hadn’t yet given it back to China, and it was a very different place. It was Chinese people managing Chinese people, a really great place. My feeling was that, Singapore and Hong Kong are two places that have been managed extremely well, but their levels of freedom can obviously not compare to America. So, that’s something I really like about America. But due to the changes after 9/11, besides identifying myself even more with this country, I also felt a little worried. A part of what I’d come to value about this country had been taken away. I think part of the changes within the American government made me feel that I had returned to China, returned to the Cultural Revolution. Even though it wasn’t that broad, and wasn’t that deep, still, a lot of times I’m reminded of the experiences of my youth in China, of government meddling in every sort of thing. Actually, speaking generally, [America’s government] has become more encompassing, more powerful in its meddling in the lives of common people than the Chinese government. This is the thing that I fear most.
Q: You’ve lived in different places, in mainland China, in Hong Kong, in America. Which place do you think of as your home, and which country do you feel that you are a member of?
ZHANG: New York. That’s definite. Seven or eight years ago, the feeling wasn’t this passionate. In the past seven or eight years, very gradually, the feeling has become very strong. Why is that? Because each time I returned to my home, I felt like I was a visitor, because my community is already gone. Because China has developed very quickly, and Shanghai, where I grew up, where my parents had moved, they’ve torn up our home and moved around, and now the place they live has an excellent environment. But that environment is completely foreign to me. My classmates are gone, my friends are gone, my community is gone. I hadn’t been there, experiencing that whole period of development. So when I go back, I feel like a visitor, nothing else, just completely like a visitor. Each time I go, I’m really excited about going, but once I’m there, I want to come back even quicker. When I return to New York, I feel like it’s my home. New York is my home, not any other place in America. I really like Hong Kong, I really like Beijing, these are two other cities where I’ve spent a lot of time, and also Maine, Portland, Maine. But none of these places give me a feeling of home. My home is first of all New York, then Shanghai, and Shanghai is already a place where I feel like I am a visitor. That’s the complete and utter feeling I get.
Q: Can you speak about your family? How many children do you have? What hope do you have for your future?
ZHANG: I have one child. She came to America in 1997, and she’s developed here very well. This is another part of the American system that I really like. When she came, she couldn’t speak English, and we gave her lots of time. This was another reason why I wanted to start my own law firm, so that I could spend time at her side. I feel that no aspect of work is as important as raising a child. Let’s say I was extremely successful in my business, and yet raised my child very badly, or she had some kind of problem, I would think that I had failed. So, she’s been very successful up to now. When she came in April of 1997, she couldn’t speak even a little English, and yet she directly entered an American neighborhood. Half a year later, she took place in a test and tested into Bronx Science High School. Then after another half year, she graduated and went on to study. After she studied there, her grades were extremely good. We encouraged her to join her school’s debate team, and she was on the debate team’s A Squad. When she applied to colleges, there were about six that accepted her, University of Chicago, the Department of Economics, and then there was Brown University, Columbia University, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, and then MIT. Finally, she chose MIT. Right now, over there, she’s already a sophomore. Over there she chose to be an exchange student, so this year in October, she’s going to Cambridge, and will spend a year as an exchange student there. In two years, she’ll graduate.
She too, she also really likes America. Over time, she has also begun to feel like a visitor in Shanghai. A few days ago, I discussed it with her, this year, during the summer, you can go to Taiwan and Hong Kong, because she’s really interested in Taiwan society, so she planned to go for three months, and to stop a little in Hong Kong. I asked her, “Do you want to go to Shanghai and see your grandparents a little?” They’ve become pretty old. She said she didn’t want to. I said, “Why don’t you want to go there?” She said, “I have no freedom there. They like to treat me as a child, and I have to be with them.” The way she feels when she goes back is the way I used to feel. Gradually, New York has become her home. After she studied in college, and also when she was studying in high school, I wanted to move to Queens, move to a different place. She didn’t want to. She said, “When I came to America, I lived at 78th Street and York Avenue, right here. This is my community. If you move, I won’t live with you.” So, that’s the reason I haven’t moved up to now. You can see that I feel that America is a great country for new immigrants. I’ve always said to her, you have to be thankful to this country. You can’t just take from it, you have to be like me, you have to think about what you can do for this community, and then go do it. That includes my professional work. I’ve done a lot of pro bono cases. With my clients, I don’t just think of money only. I help them. I told her, you have to be the same way. As an embryo, because you were born in under a one-child system, you were the only one, and could be more self-centered than a child emperor. When you came to America, you can’t just take everything from here, without giving anything back. This would be a life of failure. So, at the beginning of junior high, she began to work for a not-for-profit. One summer, she went to Hong Kong to do human rights, it was a worldwide human rights society, she helped them with the practical aspects of the group, and then she went to work in a hospital. I encouraged her to do it, if she didn’t go, I pushed her to go. So, you definitely have to pay back society. It’s not a matter of saying, I’m so smart and I can do anything, because this society has given you a lot. You have to see its good sides, you can’t absorb its bad qualities, and …. So, so far, we feel that our home is here, but we can’t completely chop off our natural connection to China, that’s something we can’t chop off.
Q: What do you hope she does later in life?
ZHANG: I hope that she does whatever she wants to do, and not follow some bad path. The good thing about America is that no matter what you might imagine, you can make your dream a reality. I think even when she was very little, she had a dream. We in our generation are definitely different from her. No matter how we think, we can’t think the same way as her, because of our age. We’re from a different generation. So I hope I don’t disturb her too much, but I also want to give her appropriate guidance. Whatever path she follows, if she enjoys it, I’ve got no problem, I will support her.
Q: How old are you now?
ZHANG: I was born in 1955, on June 26th, 1955, and I am 49 years old.
Q: You’re very young.
ZHANG: I think of it like this, this is a very exciting age. I can work hard and do a little more before I retire, on behalf of the community, on behalf of others, I can do anything.
Q: You’ve come to America for such a long time, do you have any feelings about the Chinese community in New York? Is there any place that needs to be improved?
ZHANG: The Chinese community has developed very quickly since I’ve come to America. I’m very happy to see that the Chinese community of today is different from the one that existed when I came to America. At that time, I felt that Cantonese was very powerful as a unifying force. But now you can see very easily, besides Cantonese, Mandarin Chinese is an even larger group. Besides people of Fujian descent, those that immigrated from Fuzhou, there are lots of immigrants from every place in China, from Shanghai, from Beijing. Our Flushing office has dealt with especially many clients who speak Mandarin, and even besides those from Taiwan who speak Mandarin, people from all over China all speak Mandarin. Now, the power of Chinese people is much greater. Our population numbers have certainly increased very much. But there’s still one problem, and that’s that we’re still not very unified in our approach to politics. If all the Chinese people could be a little more unified, regardless of whether you’re from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Canton [Guangdong], Fujian, Shanghai, Wenzhou, if everyone could unify, then we could send someone from our community to City Council, or send the person to run for the New York State Senate or House, or send them to run for the school board, and send them everywhere, and make our voice heard. For one thing, that would be great for the development of the Chinese community.
Chinatown is a pretty unique organization. I think that Chinatown, this organization, it ought to unite Chinese organizations with different backgrounds, because a lot of the people who came from Taiwan, mainland China, Hong Kong, just like our backgrounds, they had really good backgrounds even before they came over here. We should completely incorporate this group of people into Chinatown, and completely break through the traditions of Chinatown, the reliance on traditional immigrants, and that would be a really great development. Even now, I have seen the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association, the United Chinese Organization, all kinds have already started forming, it’s already developing in an excellent direction, but it’s not fast enough. I think that we should push this organization forward even faster, because Chinatown, New York is already part of American culture. It’s not a part of China’s culture. New York’s Chinatown is an extremely important part of New York. If there wasn’t any Chinatown in New York, the change to all of New York might be even greater than what occurred from the loss of the twin towers, all of New York would be different. So, this is something we Chinese residents of New York can be very proud of, but the development has not gone far enough. It should be more united, it should bring together people of every background, put them together in the same organization, not fight with each other, and everyone do as much as they can do. That way, our strength would be really great. In a country like America, if you have something good, they will notice you. All you need to do is lift up your voice, and you’ll be noticed, but right now our voices are too scattered, although the progress has been great.
Q: What kind of plan do you have for the rest of your life?
ZHANG: My plan for the rest of my life is like this, when I first came to America, my principle was, I want to do my best to separate myself from Chinatown. So I lived on 77th Street, and I didn’t live in a Chinese community. As far as what changes will take place during the rest of my life, two things are increasingly clear. First, to the limit of my abilities, I will develop my law firm to better serve the community. Whatever I can do, I will do. Secondly, to the limit of my abilities, I will use the background and knowledge that I gained previously in China together with the background and knowledge that I gained in America to help increase relations between China and America. In this area, I can do much more. These two areas, I can do a lot more. I have already started working in these areas. I think that before I retire, in these two areas, I can do a lot. I can do things for the community, for the relationship between China and America, using the knowledge I have towards both sides. This is what I want to do.
Q: What future do you see for China? And it’s interaction with America?
ZHANG: As far as China’s future, or its relationship, interacting with America, I think it will always be good. Along the way, there will be a lot of endless problems, and that’s because of the Taiwan issue. But that isn’t something for us to be concerned about. Speaking as Chinese people, regardless of whether you come from Taiwan or come from somewhere in China, we don’t think in that way. My daughter wants to go to Taiwan, and I completely encourage her to go. I also think about going to Taiwan, but I don’t have the time. I think the reason that the relationship between China and America will be good is that, outside of the Taiwan issue, there really isn’t any major problems. China and America have no quarrels. Besides one Chinese person at the time that I came to the US, all around me, in my circle, my friends, there’s nobody who dislikes America. We were all academics. Even if we didn’t like the US, we would then dislike Japan and the Soviet Union even more, or the Russia of today. We don’t have any problem with America. So I think the two sides will have more and more interaction, and it will be better all the time. Problems will always be there, but in regard to the economic relationship and such, America and China will become the world’s best partners, and will even replace the close relationship between America and Japan. I think after the Taiwan issue is solved, then everything must trend in that direction.
Q: What advice do you have for current government officials, or for the Chinese community, what do you think could be done to better solve some of the problems since 9/11?
ZHANG: Speaking of the community, the problems after 9/11 could be handled better. Regardless of the organization, they need to get rid of their biases, and everyone needs to communicate better. Right now, it doesn’t matter what group you belong to, what your past history was. Chinese organizations have a habit of thinking that a bunch of small cliques are better. I think that these cliques, regardless of whether they are Cantonese people, mainland Chinese, people from Taiwan, regardless of where they’re from, we should break through these cliques, and lift up our voices. We don’t want to have one group saying one thing and another group saying something entirely different. When two groups have different opinions, we need them to communicate, and after communication, both sides should yield. It would be best for us to raise up one voice together. In the time before and after I retire, I will work towards this goal. I’ve written many articles for Xing-Dao Daily News, and yet I don’t have a Cantonese background. I’ve only spent a few years working in Hong Kong, and that’s not because I’m some Chinese-American who’s been here a long time. I’m from Taishan, and yet I’m leaving that completely aside to speak up. I hope that everyone follows this same path, tries to serve the community, do more to serve the community. Leave lots of bias to the side. I still have lots of hope. If people with our kind of background can encourage others, and encourage ourselves too, and if we take part in society, I feel certain that a much more powerful voice will come forth from our community. The important thing is, we have to do something concrete. The relationship between China and America is the same way, I will use all my knowledge to serve the communities, on both sides.
Q: Thank you for your time.
ZHANG: You’re welcome.
Chinatown Interview: Interview (zh)
<p>張：來紐約的時候，當時我有很多不同的感想。第一，我經濟上沒有多少的費用，我當時身邊只有29塊美金。原因是我出來的時候是自費，當時國內的收入是比較有限。我們也沒有可能說自己有很多的外幣，不可以有外幣的。所以出來的時候我借了一部份同學的錢，因爲他們到美國來過，他們有積蓄在那邊，他們借了美金給我。我買了飛機票，把主要的生活費用基本cover一下，然後到紐約只有29塊錢了。那麽第二的話呢，假如不到唐人街來的話，其他地方他們都說會很困難。因爲儘管當時語言文學學了很久，也教過英語，但是不知道我講的語言跟美國本地講的語言能不能溝通，能不能很方便。所以都是很大的距離在那邊，所以一下就走到了唐人街。來的第一天，我不知道住在哪里，他們說，你買一份報紙，有世界日報，當時還有中報和其他的報紙。你可以去---，上面有找工作﹑租房子的。我就這樣沒有朋友，沒有親戚，就過來。我記得來了以後，一下從地鐵出來以後，我坐在Mott Street和Canal Street的交口這個地方。第一個感覺是，啊，這麽多中國人的東西、招牌，走的人全部是中國人，覺得很親切。馬上又感到很陌生，因爲當時看到的中國人很多，很少人講我本地的語言，上海話，很少人講普通話，或者是說國語，都是講廣東話。廣東話我一個字都聽不懂。所以坐在那兒的話，第三個，有點彷徨。<br>
身上沒有錢，不知道第一天住在哪里，然後工作在什麽地方找。所以，那個街頭我坐了大概是半個小時，我吃了兩個雞蛋。這個雞蛋是在Hofstra University他們幾個私派的留學生出來之後給我帶出來的，說，你去看怎麽樣？所以，第一天就是這樣到紐約來的。來了以後，我就從唐人街一直在找工作，每個餐館去問有沒有工作可以做。找到工作的話，我可以靠自己的能力，或者是到學校裏讀書或者先安定下來。所以一直從中國街每個餐館找，他們說，你會不會講廣東話？我說，不會。那麽他們說，就不可以了，你不講廣東話，不能溝通，就沒有工作機會。我一路從唐人街走到Upper Westside，往西邊走，走到了第八大道左右的57街，走進了一家中國餐館。我一路看到中國餐館我就進去問他們，那麽這時候見到了一位先生，挺不錯的一位先生，他是從中國山東來的。他在那個飯店裏面，我記得那個飯店叫“湖南園”吧，做外賣經理。他說，你這個人看起來是新到這個地方，什麽地方來的？我說，我是從上海來的。他說，我們裏面有一位送外賣的先生，是上海人，我幫你跟他介紹一下，看你是好像沒有個地方落腳，先進來給你吃一頓飯吧！</p>
他看了我一眼之後，他說，這樣吧，我看你這個人挺好的，我住在皇后區，這個地方叫Rego Park。他住在很小的一個地下室，basement，房租也是很便宜。我估計你也不會有錢，你就跟我一起住吧，然後你找到地方，你就搬出去。所以，那天我就跟他回到了Rego Park皇后區那個地方。住的地方是很小，這個房間除了放一張床，旁邊比床大一點的位置就沒有了。他說，這樣吧，他把床的床墊拉下來，他睡在床墊上，我就睡在spring box上面。在那個上面睡了三個月，當時也不知道，因爲沒有錢，很緊張，說要去買個床的話又會很貴。初出來的話，都很緊張，所以在那個上面整整睡了三個月。以後就開始找工作，找工作就是因爲那位上海的先生，他叫陳建新，Jason，非常好的一個年輕人，他說，這樣，我幫你介紹。我就開始慢慢慢慢在餐館裏面開始送外賣。同時，我唯一沒想到的是，他說，你完全可以---，因爲你是B-1 Visa進來的，你可以申請轉成學生身份。我說，我可以，但是我沒有人幫我做擔保。他說，我來幫你做擔保。他因爲家庭有很多人移民在美國和加拿大，他就轉了一大筆錢到我的銀行裏面。我跟他認識都差不多只有一兩個星期，轉到我銀行裏面八千多塊錢。這樣的話我就自己找了一個Kaplan，那個英語學校，就去轉學生身份，然後在那裏學語言。就這樣轉成功了，所以那兩位，特別是後面那一位是非常不容易的，我非常感謝他。</p>
<p>張：我看到的美國，這樣說吧，我看到的紐約，我覺得跟美國其他地方不一樣。因爲我第一站是停在---，我進美國的第一站是在San Francisco，舊金山。機場裏面待了四個小時，轉飛機就到了Washington DC。在舊金山的時候，海關的官員和移民局的官員都很客氣，都很友好。我也有看到亞洲人的面孔，我覺得可能是有一種比較親近感，沒有那麽的陌生。到了Washington DC，我以爲是美國管理學會的會長會派人來接我，因爲我帶了上海市汪道涵的一封信，跟他們來討論在中國舉行一個國際會議的事情。我帶了他的信來的，沒想到他到義大利出差去了，沒有收到我這個傳真。所以我在飛機場裏面就很緊張，沒人來接我，我也不知道出去怎麽走，那麽就在機場裏面睡了一個晚上。當時緊張到什麽地步呢？因爲完全是一個全新的國家，沒有亞洲人的面孔，有兩三個不同族裔的，有黑人的少數民族，有西班牙語系的少數民族，大概四﹑五個人在機場候機室裏面等著。我是唯一的一個亞洲人，我當時有一點怕，心情有一點怕。所以一晚上睡在那裏面，一晚上沒出去，反正二十分鐘醒一下，十五分鐘醒一下，擔心行李不要給人家拿掉，不知道會發生什麽情況。第二天一早碰到一個清潔工，機場的清潔工，他看起也來是一個黑人和白人結合的一個民族。他說，你這樣的情況下，我給你兩個quarter，你打電話找你的朋友。那時候，我有一個George Washington University，一個中國教授的電話，我就打給他。他說，<br>
<p>張：紐約做餐館是這樣，我初出時讀書讀語言文學---，在Kaplan讀語言，我想把英語提高一下。儘管我們學了很多的英語，跟這兒美國人講的英語還是有一點區別。我可以跟人家溝通，沒什麽問題，我可以發表演講。但我現在回過頭去想，那個時候的英文是以中國學校裏面學出來的爲主，和在這兒生活一段以後的英文應該是不一樣的。儘管現在的英文和以前非常之不一樣，但是我還是感覺到和美國土生土長的美國人相比的話還是有區別。當時學了以後，就過來看了一下這個社會，就覺得在紐約的Chinatown這個地方可能不一定適合我。不適合我的原因是我不會講廣東話，不知道怎麽融合進去。所以讀語言是在57街Westside，然後做一點送外賣的工，讀了一陣以後就覺得好像是光讀語言的話跟我以前讀的書不太符合，我應該是走回我的專業。所以我就申請到City University of New York, Graduate Center，申請它的經濟學博士，PhD program in Economics。那個主任非常好。他說，你是復旦大學畢業，而且有碩士學位，我就完全承認你的學分。36個學分都承認，就錄取我了。錄取我以後，我就讀了一個學期的PhD in Economics。但是突然一下錢就用光了，打工打來的錢，學費要自己交，讀書的時候又不能做工，學費一下沒有了。就很緊張，所以又出來做工，<br>
<p> 張：當律師的事情是這樣，因爲讀法學院的故事很有趣，怎麽有趣呢？當時我跟我太太在商量，回去讀書的話要讀什麽好？因爲我儘管是很幸運，我在文化大革命當中有機會上大學，但同時也受到了文化革命對教育衝擊的一種副作用，或者一種影響。什麽影響呢？因爲中學的時候很多學校都沒有規則了，上學的課程都打亂了，文革之前的正規的基礎教育都沒有了。所以我們的數理化學得非常之少，所以我回去讀書的話我是讀經濟學，當時考慮到讀經濟學，美國很多學校都有數理化的東西在裏面，特別是數學的模式。這樣的話，我說這不是我的特長，我任何專業要去讀的話我希望避開數學，數學沒有正式地訓練過。所以這樣的話選擇就不是很多，除了經濟學以外，你可以選歷史History，你可以選Administration行政的，你可以選政治學Politics，你可以學法學。那天晚上我記得很清楚，我說讀什麽比較好呢？我們就flip the coin。一個quarter flip上去，head or tail。假如是head，我們就去讀法學院。最後是head，就決定讀法學院，就這樣去了。</p>
<p>張：讀了法學院96年畢業之前，我花了3年---。我在University of Maine, School of Law讀法學的。我最後一年是作爲visiting student to Brooklyn Law School，因爲我的家在紐約，我希望回到紐約，我太太也在紐約。所以當時就申請Brooklyn Law School作爲visiting student，它是一個私立的法學院。所以96年畢業之後，就停在紐約了。在紐約的時候，當時並沒有覺得自己要出來開律師事務所,因爲我所有的背景都是跟大公司﹑大的學校﹑大的機構有關係的。特別是讀法學院當中，每一年我都要到香港去，作爲training或者是作爲intern，幫香港的兩家非常好的律師事務所做一些法律上面的工作。他們請我去的原因是因爲我對中國的制度，對中國的法律很熟，我又在美國讀法學，我對香港的情況也是比較熟，因爲我到美國來之前寫過幾篇文章。當時說香港今後和中國今後的變化會是怎麽樣，是中國大陸對香港的影響更大一點呢，還是香港的影響對中國大陸更大一點，我有很深入的研究。所以他們請我去是做IPO股票上市的一部份的工作，他們是幫中國的公司在香港股票交易事務所做H股的上市，做評估和做很多underwriting。那麽我是幫他們做reorganization(重組)裏面這部分，他們要用我的expertise(專才)在這個領域去看，這個deal可不可以通過，重組的話怎麽弄。所以幫他們---，直接我是對他們的management負責，儘管我當時還沒畢業。所以，我每年夏天的時候，從94年開始，94、95、96年都有去，有一年的冬天都去。兩個律師事務所一個是“Deacons Graham and James，”是香港最大的，第一個firm。另外一個是一個Top 5 London City firm, called “Simmons & Simmons。”那一段時間對香港的很多情況就開始熟悉起來。</p>
<p> 張：那個時候完全是做公司法的，corporate，我沒有想到要從事移民或其他什麽。但是在1997年有個情況變化，我畢業以後不久，我的女兒從中國上海移民過來。因爲我是在95年就申請成爲美國公民了，那麽我就把她申請到美國來。她來了以後我就覺得我在大的公司裏面做的話要花費大量的時間，我沒有時間take care她。她來的時候是13歲，這樣的時候是一個年齡很重要的時候，所以我就要花更多的時間和她在一起。那個時候我就第一次想，我出來自己做吧。以前都不喜歡自己出來做的，那麽自己出來做的話跟我以前做的法律就完全不同了。所以我就辭掉了我那時候在美國大的律師事務所工作的機會，到了一家專門做意外傷害的律師事務所。挺好的一個New York City firm，在Vesey Street，在中國人的社區裏面也是很出名的。作爲它的華裔律師，專門打意外傷害的官司。我的工資降低了非常非常地多，我就是想有很多的experience，上法庭的經驗。所以在那兒做了十個月，天天上法庭，大量地接觸了中國的客人，代表律師事務所，意外傷害和工傷的。十個月之後我就---，1998年十月份我就自己出來開律師事務所，99年初正式開始了。開始以後我做的業務是general practice，因爲你一個人出來的話是一個人的律師事務所，solo practitioner。開始就是我一個人，移民我也做，公司法也做，離婚也做，刑事糾紛的也做，總的來說是一個general practice。相對來講在中國人的社區移民的比較多，占到了50％以上。</p>
他們有很多新的案子會出來。他們的親戚朋友的移民，父母姐妹的移民；然後他們穩定了以後，他們要買房子，他們要做生意，他們都會回來找我們的。9/11以前我們做的filing做得不是很多，就是說親屬移民，結婚的移民。從2003年之前開始，我們就很注意這方面的情況，我們在這個領域已經是做得非常成功的。幫助大量的親屬移民，跟政治庇護沒有關係的這種移民，我們發展得非常快。這樣說吧，我們現在在這方面的業務以前只是我們，9/11之前，或者剛好我們開始的時候，只是10％、15%。那麽現在這方面移民filing的業務已經變成我們80％的業務了。這樣，它很大程度可以彌補掉政治庇護沒有成功的這方面的情況。第二方面的原因，我們覺得新的移民法可能還會出來，可能是程度不同，範圍不同。比如說，布希總統說的，臨時計劃，或者國會參衆兩議院提的各種各樣的方案，民主黨，共和黨的。完全是因爲現在政治的關係，最近還沒有---。去年就開始講了，因爲選舉的關係，可能他們在選時機，看哪一段時間會出來，這個計劃是其中之一。Dream Act是另外一個，就是說，你小孩子進來讀高中讀了五年，一直在學校裏讀書；你能證明，他們就會給你綠卡，這些最後都沒定。但是，我估計今年或明年差不多應該是時間要出來了。一旦這一類新的法律出來，我們的律師事務所一定會走在前面，因爲我們對前面一輪的245(i)一下全部投入進去，後面的消化做得很好。特別是我們後面做移民的filing做得非常好。這樣的話，把移民服務的範圍，兩個方面一下都加入進去了。假如新的法律出來，我們發展的餘地要比前一次更大，我們都已經準備好了。我們事務所是---，因爲我是學者的關係，我不知道其他律師事務所是怎麽做的，我們有一個內部的培訓的一個機制。我們是on the weekly basis，我們開會討論新的案例，我們碰到的比較難的案例，或者是新的移民法。我們在去年的六月份又新開設了第二家律師事務所，<br>
你會看到他的擔心在什麽地方，你會看到他的喜怒哀樂在什麽地方。所以，有幾個政治庇護的案子---，每一個案子對我的牽動都是很大。通常客人都是希望自己能通過政治庇護得到身份，我也一樣。除了因爲我是律師之外，作爲我從中國來的中國人的背景，從內心來講，在符合美國的法律情況下，我有一種情感是傾向他們的。第一是法律，就是你一定要遵照美國的法律做。我是個律師，我有職業道德，肯定沒有問題，這是第一、最高的原則。第二的話，我是一個性情中人，加上我的背景，我對中國來的客人，不管是中國來的，臺灣來的，香港來的，其他各個地方來的，我覺得我有一種義務，我有一種責任要幫到他們。原因是我懂他們的文化，因爲我是這個文化的一部分。第二的話，我知道他們的各種各樣的confusion，他們的困難，他們的喜怒哀樂，我是知道的，他們的親屬不會知道。因爲你上法庭的時候我在旁邊，我幫他一起在準備，他所有的東西都會跟你說。很多人自己不一定意識到他的感情有多麽的豐富，我是跟著一起走的。所以每個案子批的話我是從內心覺得非常開心的。律師提供服務要收費用，在那一點上費用對我來說不是很重要的，我會跟著走。假如案件輸掉的話，我也是爲他很擔心，原因是我知道贏和輸對客人的影響有多大，對他的家人影響多大。比如說，有一個案子，我幫一個中國廣東汕頭籍的一個女子，當時是五十來歲，她偷渡入美國，在Newark Airport抓住以後，關在新澤西的Elizabeth Detention Center。我初出去幫她做擔保，通常居留所是不放的。這個女士的經歷很悲慘。她受到一胎化的迫害，原因是她有個男朋友，男朋友的太太是村裏面計劃生育委員會的一個主任，她跟她的先生有感情了，懷孕了。那麽，他們就通過很多的壓力，說一定要她去流産，不流産的話對她會有很嚴重的事情發生，因爲她沒有結婚嘛。這樣的話，她就跑掉了。一跑跑了八、九年，到了中國廣東省另外一個地方，<br>
<p>張：9/11發生的時候對每個人來說都是一個很不同的一個時刻。那天我不在美國，我在中國，我在上海，我在我媽媽家裏面。我回程飛機票訂的是9月12日回美國。當時我在我媽媽家和我同學一起吃飯，吃飯的時候在看電視，電視裏面突然---，我弟弟他們說，怎麽有兩架飛機好像撞世界貿易大廈，兩個姐妹大廈。我們都沒注意，我也沒注意，覺得這可能在放電影。突然一看，不對，我說這個電影怎麽是鳳凰電視臺。鳳凰台是香港過去的，跟中國大陸的中央電視臺和上海電視臺不一樣。我覺得鳳凰電視臺的新聞台不會放電影吧。所以就過去看，一看的話一下就緊張起來了，又看到第二架飛機撞了。那個時候我第一件事情就是拿起電話，打電話找我太太。因爲她辦公的地方是在Broadway和Vesey Street，和姊妹大廈差一個block。因爲姊妹大廈在Church Street，過了就是Broadway。Vesey正好是姊妹大廈開始的地方。我太太在那個大樓裏面，她是當時在幫一家銀行做工作。我打電話找她，我說，怎麽回事？她說，很緊張。我聽到他們背景裏都在叫。我說我打電話到我的辦公室，我已經打不通，能不能你趕緊打個電話，叫他們趕快回去。辦公室裏有人的話叫他們趕緊走。第一，先回去。第二的話，我打電話就是make sure。我問她說，你打到沒有？她說，打到了，已經趕緊回去了。<br>
等人走了我就放心了，不要有人在這個地方，因爲離那個地方很近。第二我說，你趕緊走啊。她說，現在不能走，很亂。我在電話上hold了四十分鐘。那個時候的心情，可能我跟他們回來以後說，要比在紐約辦公室或者在這兒的人更緊張，因爲人不在美國又很著急，那樣的心情是非常非常之著急。然後我又打電話找我的女兒，找不到，因爲她在Bronx Science High School讀書。那麽後來一直一天找不到。我太太最後說找到她，到同學家裏去住了。因爲辦公室裏的人都走了。我就放心了。然後我太太在裏面跟我叫了一句，她說，Oh，My God！It’s gone. It’s gone. 我說，什麽is gone？她說，兩幢大樓沒有了。我說，我在電視裏面還看到啊，在冒煙。她說，It’s gone. It’s collapsed. 所以，那時候的心情是緊張得不得了。從那開始，我一直電話不斷地在追。我覺得當時那個心情，因爲跟親身在這個9/11姊妹大廈周圍，包括我這個辦公室附近的不一樣。但是也是另外一種非常焦急的心情，因爲我人在上海，我的心完全more than 100%在這個地方，在擔心我的辦公室的員工的安全，擔心我太太，擔心我女兒的情況。所以一直在聯繫，跟航空公司說什麽時候能回去。那麽一直不能回來，一直到了17號，第一班飛機可以從中國飛過來了，就飛到了舊金山。舊金山出來的時候，我看到national guard就是全副武裝的，要比我們乘客還要多。所以一下回到辦公室，回到辦公室整個社區都變了。從Broadway，Canal Street開始，都是有national guard。全部封起來了，不能進入。除了工作人員可以進來，其他人都不能進來。好像一個打仗的戰區一樣，好像是在看電影一樣。整個環境都變了，完全一個---，好像是第二次世界大戰電影裏看到的那種景象。回到辦公室的話，一股硝煙彌漫的怪味道。馬路上沒有人了，<br>
整個Broadway我從來沒有看到好像是一個空的廣場，沒有汽車能進來，全部是national guard國民兵在那兒駐防。你進來要看你的ID，不然的話不可以回到辦公室。所以回來以後開始大概是一個星期還是兩個星期不能上班。這個地方沒有開門，整個資料檔案全部斷掉了。回來之後的半年一直經歷了很大很大的變化。整個Chinatown不同了，整個Broadway不同了，整個New York City不同了。</p>
<p>張：我有一個小孩。她是1997年四月份到美國來的，她在這兒成長得非常不錯。這也是我對美國這個制度非常喜歡的一個部分。我覺得美國的制度好。她來的時候不講英文，我們給了她很多的時間。這也就是我爲什麽要開自己的律師事務所，我可以花時間在她身上。我覺得工作某種程度上不如教育小孩那麽重要。假如我是業務很成功了，小孩的教育很不好了，或者她出了什麽事情的話，我覺得我會很失敗的。所以，她非常成功，到目前爲止。97年四月份來的時候，英文一點也不講，直接進入美國的一個neighborhood初中。半年以後參加考試就考到Bronx Science High School。那麽再過半年畢業以後就去讀了。讀了以後她在那兒的成績非常好。我們鼓勵她參加她學校的辯論隊，她在辯論隊是A Team。大概她申請大學的時候有六個大學錄取她，Chicago University, Economics Department，然後有那個Brown University，Columbia University，Cornel University，Dartmouth College，然後MIT。最後她選擇了MIT。現在在那兒已經是兩年級的學生。她選擇了那兒的交換學生的計劃，所以今年十月份她要到Cambridge，去過一年交換學生的生活。過兩年她就要畢業了。她也是，她很喜歡美國。上海慢慢慢慢也變成她一個作客的地方了。前幾天我和她討論，我說，你今年夏天要到臺灣去，要到香港，因爲她想瞭解臺灣的社會，所以準備去三個月，在香港會停一下。我說，<br>
你要不要到上海去看一下爺爺奶奶？年齡比較大了。她說，不想去。我說，你爲什麽不想去呢？她說，I have no freedom. 我在那兒沒有自由。他們把我當小孩，完全要跟著他們，都喜歡我。她去的感覺就是跟我以前的感覺一樣。慢慢慢慢紐約就是她的家了。她讀大學以後，和讀高中的時候，我本來要搬家搬到Queens，搬到其他地方。她不同意。她說，我來美國的時候就住在78街York Avenue這裏。這是我的community。你搬的話，我不和你一起住。所以到現在爲止我還沒搬就是這個原因。你可以看出，我覺得美國這個國家對新來的人非常好。我一直跟她講，我說，你對這個社會要感謝。不能光是拿取，就和我一樣，我能對社區做多少，我現在都會做的。包括對我的業務當中，我做很多pro bono的，客人我不是完全看錢的，我幫他們的。我說，你也是。你是一胎化，計劃生育的産物，小皇帝，比較自私。到美國的話，你不能說光從美國這兒拿，你不付出。這個是你一輩子的失敗。所以，她初中的時候，她就出去做那種no-for-profit。有一年夏天她到香港做Human Rights，全世界Human Rights society，她是幫他們落實的團體，然後到醫院裏面去做。我都鼓勵她去，她不去我都逼著她去。所以，你一定要反饋給社會。不是說，因爲光是你聰明你就可以這樣，這個社會給了你很多。你要看到它好的地方，不要吸收不好的地方，而且把你很多東西反回去。所以，so far我們覺得我們的家在這邊，但是又不能全部把我們在中國的聯繫，自然的聯繫給卡斷，那也卡不斷。</p>
<p>張：我覺得是這樣，這個年齡是個very exciting age。我儘量在我退休之前能多做一點事情，爲社區，爲其他人，我都會做。</p>