Chinese fortune

May 15, 2005

As a young man living in China, culinary arts meant more to Kang Zhang, MD, PhD, than a hobby. For young Zhang, cooking was a possible survival skill as he embarked on a new culture and adventure in the United States.

Dr. Zhang has fond memories of the meals his mother prepared for his family. He was always intrigued with the beautiful colors, aromas, and taste. As an adolescent, his mother began teaching him some basic cooking techniques.

Early childhood memoriesDr. Zhang remembers what it was like to live in China as a child.

The Cultural Revolution eliminated any opportunity for college education, he said. However, in 1977, the Chinese government began to restore undergraduate and graduate education. The new chairman of the Chinese Communist Party, Deng Xiaoping, was determined to modernize China.

"Deng had been to France in the 1920s and had seen the benefits of modern science and technology," Dr. Zhang said. "He wanted the same for China."

"I was honored and excited to embark on a new exciting adventure," Dr. Zhang said. "For many years, I believed my life would probably be spent working in the rice fields."

A gift of loveAlthough extremely proud of their son, Dr. Zhang's parents had some reservations. Several months before he was to embark on his new life, they sat down to address some concerns.

" 'We're really worried about you, Kang. You know little English. Harvard is a very challenging school and you don't have anything to fall back on,' " Dr. Zhang remembered them saying. "Instead of discouraging me, my parents offered me a remarkable opportunity. They provided a way for me to attend a culinary arts school in China so I had a skill to use in the United States, 'just in case.' "

A new landDr. Zhang's experience at Harvard University proved to be quite successful. Since the communist party took over China in 1949, Dr. Zhang became the first person from China to earn an MD (magna cum laude) and a PhD in genetics from the university.