Liz Steffey, assistant for China projects, was concerned when she looked at my Chinese business card, produced before a trip to China in 2002 by a company that does such things. In those days, I didn’t have Liz’s expertise on hand, or designer Joe DiStefano who tackles Chinese characters and transliterations without batting an eye (when he swears he now says he is speaking Chinese). Liz emailed that the first few characters on my card meant “uncle, overcome, snow,” Bo Ke Xue. Pronounced, they are a kind of transliteration of Berkshire, but not really filled with the kind of meaning one hopes for in Chinese.
On the other hand, the transliteration for my personal name, Karen, was Kai Lun, which means “triumphant human relationship.” As Liz said, “It couldnâ€™t be more perfect for Guanxi!”
I am about to embark on a more serious effort to learn Chinese, and Liz said the first step was to decide on my Chinese name. She thought I should check about whether Kai Lun was really okay as a name and that I should have something short for my family name. Liz suggested ‘Shen,’ to echo the last syllable of Christensen. We decided I should write to Ellen Wong, an editor from Guangzhou I met at the Frankfurt Book Fair and have been corresponding with, for advice. Ellen has kindly approved my new Chinese name: Shen Kai Lu. (Family name first, of course.) Now I have to learn to say it with the correct tones. But as we are encouraging readers of Guanxi: The China Letter to learn the language, I can see that I have to take the lead.