A Journey to Motherhood


By Roberta Binder


Chan-1Gloria Chan’s parents met while attending medical school in Guangdong, South China. Her father was born and raised in Hong Kong which was under British rule, but he and a group of his friends wanted to return to the mainland to support the Mother Country. It was there he pursued his college education and became a medical doctor. As his family were influential land owners in China before the Communists took over, her mother was warned by the commune leader, “Do not marry this man, his family are enemies of the people, you don’t want to be associated with such black element.” But they married anyway.


Gloria Wan-Hang Chan and her older brother Bok-Man were born in China before the Cultural Revolution. Even though both her parents were medical doctors, they were sent to work on a commune that produced steel and did farming. All were forced to walk barefoot to gain humility, through the examples set by the peasants. This was a time of great change in China, also great poverty and famine. Hunger was a daily gnawing.


When Gloria was born, her mother was so undernourished she could not produce milk to feed her newborn child. It was only when family in Hong Kong managed to smuggle powdered milk to them that the babe was fed. This was only one of the many health issues that challenged the entire family. Gloria tells of an often repeated tale in her family lore, “I was so hungry I ate grasshoppers. I was so young; I don’t remember any of this.” And she laughs.


Her father wanted to return to Hong Kong to create a more healthful and positive life for his growing family. Through family connections—a good friend from medical school whose family had the ear of Zhou Enlai—and after many refused applications, permission was finally granted for father and son to return. Even with these connections, Gloria and her mother continued to be refused, most likely because her mother had beenborn on the mainland. Finally, when Gloria was nine months old, she and her mother were allowed to go to Hong Kong. And so life in Hong Kong is her memory of growing up.


Hong Kong had been won by the British after the opium war in the mid 19th century. Thus British customs and language were the major influences; it was much more progressive than China. Opportunities were far more available and life was consistent with living in a metropolitan area bustling with culture and educational opportunities. Many friends were smuggled into Hong Kong during the Cultural Revolution. Many seeking asylum didn’t get out, especially the black elements. This had been the story in China for centuries, as one warlord took over, another was put out and the people’s lives changed.


Left to Right: Gloria, Sylvia, Mom, Daniel, Dad, Bok-Man.

Left to Right: Gloria, Sylvia, Mom, Daniel, Dad, Bok-Man.

Once in Hong Kong, both parents resumed their medical practices in 1963-64. Her father, who was brought up in Hong Kong, had no problem with the English language. He went to work for the government. Her mother established a clinic as a solo practitioner.


Once in Hong Kong, both parents resumed their medical practices in 1963-64. Her father, who was brought up in Hong Kong, had no problem with the English language. He went to work for the government. Her mother established a clinic as a solo practitioner.


In the mid 1980s all Mainland Chinese-trained medical practitioners had to sit for licensing exams in Hong Kong. Since her mother had not been raised with English and never mastered the language she decided that the thought of exams was more than she wanted to handle. While she could continue to practice, she was not considered an M.D. and was often called a nurse even by her patients. This upset her enormously.


After moving to Hong Kong, Gloria’s mother smuggled food to her grandmother who remained in China. People who left for Taiwan suffered a worse fate in being completely cut off from their Mainland family with no letters or travel for nearly 40 years. At 15, Gloria and her mother returned for her first visit to meet her maternal relatives. They had to bring all their own food, which they packed in their bags. She remembers, “Our bags were packed with butter, bread, all our food. We also brought as many clothes as possible, [but] since the bags were full, we wore all the clothes and looked HUGE—we could hardly walk. Once in China, we took a bus, the road was so dusty and dirty; we had to be wrapped in a scarf to be able to even breathe.”


She continues, “My mother’s family spoke a different dialect from the one I speak, so I could not easily communicate with anyone while I was there. So all I could do was smile a lot. China was still very backwards – although it had changed dramatically. The hotels had no air conditioning, only a fan and it was very hot. We were given mosquito netting, but it was full of holes — we had to wrap our heads in our scarves to sleep.” It was a trip filled with lessons for an impressionable teen.


Gloria married in Hong Kong, which is where her son Ian was born. Hong Kong was approaching the changeover in 1997 when it was returned to the Chinese Mainland, with the caveat that it was to be self-administered for 50 years. They continue to have their own currency and governing body. Residents of Hong Kong still have to get a permit to visit Mainland China and vice versa.


Gloria and her husband were concerned about their son’s education although the boy was only five at this time; they had no idea what the educational system would be when he reached school age and felt it was better for him to begin in England, which was an available option as they were granted the Right of Abode in the U.K. under a special scheme. It was decided that one of them would have to go. Gloria, who remains a gypsy, decided it would be her. The couple also decided to divorce soon after that. And so as a single mother, she was off to establish a new life in a new country, experiencing the sacrifice of parents for a better future for their child as her parents had done so many years before.


She purchased a home and developed a large circle of friends. Her son began his schooling, providing her with more free time to pursue further studies herself.


“I came from a medical family but am the first and only one who practice[s] Chinese and complementary medicine.”


“In 2002, I completed my Degree course in Traditional Acupuncture at the Oxford Brookes University in England and five years later my postgraduate training in Chinese herbal patent remedies.” She opened a home clinic, and also practiced from a doctor’s surgery and a holistic therapy center. She returned to China in 2008 and understudied with many leading professors of the affiliated hospital of Guangdong University of Chinese Medicine.


And how did this baby born in China, child/woman who grew up and married in Hong Kong, single motherwith child living in England … end up in Western North Carolina? The easy answer would be the Internet! With her son grown and out on his own, Gloria was ready to explore new worlds. She met a man from Florida on the Internet and went to visit him in 2008. Sparks flew and confirmed this was a good match for both. He had been born and raised in the United States and owned a home in Florida. She visited again, and they married later in 2009. They decided that whichever house sold first would determine where they would live. By this time, Gloria knew that change did not come easily to new husband, Roland, so her wish was that her house would sell quickly … it did.


Once she was in this country, they built a new home on the large lot that Roland owned. Gloria had already verified that she could work in Florida and applied for licensing. She took the exam and waited, nothing, she waited some more while eight months passed. Her calls were met with no positive response. Finally Roland called the licensing board, “Oh, there is a slight problem,” was the response. They were requiring a degree from a Florida College for some three additional years of study in Chinese herbal medicine.


Reflecting on an earlier trip the two had taken to Asheville and deciding she was not going to waste time on another degree, the two decided that they would move. Asheville had not originally been welcomed as an option by Gloria because of its small size: she had spent her life in large metropolitan communities. Prior to the move, she looked into licensing in North Carolina and confirmed that it would be a far easier process. She applied and in two months she had the paperwork completed that she needed. The happy couple was off to Asheville, actually Hendersonville, and a new life adventure for both of them.


Today they are both happily settled in their new home and Gloria is more than happy to be here with two active acupuncture practices. She talks to her mother in Canada often and enjoys visiting with her family there. When thinking of the events surrounding her birth and the trauma it must have caused her mother, a medical doctor who could not nourish her own daughter, she concludes, “as painful as it is to realize that I was so close to being lost in the Cultural Revolution,” then turns with her big beautiful smile and continues, “it has truly made me stronger.”


Post Script


I have come to know Gloria over the last few years as a colleague. I was inspired to pursue this interview after a friend recommended a book to me: The Man on Mao’s Right: From Harvard Yard to Tiananmen Square, My Life Inside China’s Foreign Ministry, by Ji Chaozhu. It opened my eyes to the story of the Cultural Revolution. When a second friend recommended: Bend, Not Break, A Life in Two Worlds, by Ping Fu (who now lives in Chapel Hill, NC, and is founder and CEO of Geomagic, Inc.), I knew I wanted to bring this story to our readers through the eyes of someone who had lived it. I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments.


The Christian Science Monitor recently focused one of its weekly issues on China and I quote: “The Communist Party’s domination of the state is rooted in its control of the military. Power, Mao Zedong used to say, grows from the barrel of a gun, and the People’s Liberation Army is not the Chinese national army; it is the Communists Party’s private army. Since the party sees itself as the incarnation of the nation, though, officials see no contradiction.”


Gloria Chan can be found at www.timeless-healing.com, she has offices in Asheville and Hendersonville.



Roberta Binder, Facilitating Clarity through Mindful Editing Keeping the Author’s Voice, always at RobertaEdits.com. She is also a writer and photo-journalist who enjoys all of her writing adventures with WNC Woman – Women Nurturing Change.

Sandi Tomlin-Sutker
Written by Sandi Tomlin-Sutker