China Advocates was envisaged on the campus of Peking University in 1986, where Beijing native and English Professor, Charlotte Xu Chun, met Howard Dewar, a Zen Buddhist Scholar from Chicago, who had come to Beijing to study Classical Chinese Language.
Howard’s path to China began in 1973, when he graduated from the University of Illinois and set out for the San Francisco Zen Center to study Buddhism. Howard’s first teacher, Suzuki Roshi, was a pioneer and Zen master from Japan who established Zen teaching in America. After six years of study and practice, Howard’s love for spiritual cultivation through Zen meditation led him to embark upon a grand journey to Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Beijing to pursue a deeper connection and further his studies.
When Howard first arrived in Beijing in the winter of 1981, he knew immediately he had found his spiritual home. He enrolled in the classical Chinese language studies at Peking University while pursuing taiji, qigong, Tibetan language, and Chinese Taoist meditation practice. In the 80’s, few Americans were fortunate enough to study with the traditional Chinese masters, who, despite years of destruction of ancient spirituality during the Cultural Revolution, carried on the teachings in the parks, at homes, and even underground. He spent 15 years studying “Tao Te Jing—The book of the Tao” with his master Li Xi-kun, a highly accomplished Qigong master and Taoist. Years of learning and meditation practice brought Howard close to the profound wisdom of the ancient Chinese sages.
Charlotte Xu Chun was born in Beijing at the end of Mao’s “Great Leap Forward” movement, at a time when millions Chinese died from starvation. Charlotte entered primary school when Mao’s Cultural Revolution began. This was the darkest age of Chinese Communist Regime when great destruction was brought upon the nation’s ancient heritage. Intellectuals were the targeting during revolution. The very foundation of the grand Chinese Civilization was shaken and rejected. Historic monuments were taken down and great human lives were lost. The only thing Charlotte was interested in learning in high school was English. She had one goal in her mind—to leave and never return to the land of horror and despair.
In 1979, she entered Peking University and studied English Language and American Culture for 4 years. Upon graduation, she became one of the youngest English instructors on campus, at age 22. She quickly earned the National Teachers Honor and was the most popular English instructor among her students. However, she never felt fit in the tight political structure as China that was still shadowed by the Cultural Revolution mentality. A young woman with so much passion for life was not tolerated by the revolutionary codes.
When Charlotte met Howard, she told him right away that she was going to go to America to study and pursue a new life. It took Howard three weeks to expose his original plan of staying in China and Tibet until he turned 60. His love for her changed his plan. His only wish now was to visit Tibet prior to returning to US with Charlotte as his bride. In October 1986, they took the train and the long bus ride through Tanggula Mountains, the highest pass buses could travel in the Himalayas. They finally arrived in the golden city of Lhasa. At over 14,000 feet high, they were so excited, out of breath, light-headed and completely fell in love with Lhasa.
A few months later, they arrived at the Golden Gate of San Francisco where Howard started his life of Asian studies. They established China Advocates by Golden Gate Park and maintained a residence and office in Beijing. For almost three decades, they lived and worked between US and China.
The mission of China Advocates was clear to Howard and Charlotte from the beginning—creating opportunities for Americans to learn the traditional Chinese and Tibetan culture. Starting in late 80’s, college campuses in Beijing saw American groups, young and old, sent by Howard and Charlotte to study Chinese medicine, Chinese painting and calligraphy, ancient archaeology, language and history, taiji and qigong, and Chinese cuisine. Great Chinese masters and scholars were invited to teach the eager Americans. Howard would see every group off at San Francisco International Airport, gathering folks at a quiet corner and giving them the first orientation on China. Charlotte would receive the groups at Beijing Airport. She was to give the first welcome presentation on the China she has experienced and learned. People were mesmerized and intrigued by their passion and knowledge of the country. Many Americans have had their lives changed from the experiences on the trips they took with China Advocates. Some returned to China to study, to work or to teach. Some met their sweethearts. Others sent their children and grandchildren to China to pursue their life dreams. The little seedlings Howard and Charlotte planted have blossomed in many hearts.
Howard and Charlotte dedicated the best parts of their lives to learning and growing through their daily practice of meditation, yoga, and taiji. Howard published Heaven Earth Journal in the early 90’s, focusing on interviews with Chinese masters and translations of the Chinese classics. Nine issues were published and four of them are linked on our website.
Howard passed away from cancer at age 62, in March, 2013. To honor her beloved partner and teacher, Charlotte continues to cultivate her life through yoga, taiji and mediation. China Advocates has been her means to access the ancient teachings so she can keep sharing her love with others.
Here is a sampling of Howard’s works: