Stand up for what you believe in, don’t let the government scare you into not speaking your mind.
As a part of our series about immigrant success stories, I had the pleasure of interviewing Vinness Ollervides who moved to the United States from China, a Stanford dropout, writer, entrepreneur, and polyglot with knowledge of 6 languages.
His grandfather was a minority high-level CCP official, bestowed with the title ‘’the Founder of Republic’’. His father died in jail for his role in Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign.
Ollervides is now a political activist. He is banned from China for his outspoken pro-democracy speech.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
My family has been prominent in Chinese politics for generations. My grandfather is actually known as ‘’the Founder of the Republic,’’ and he is an aristocrat. We don’t see that word too often in the west, but in China, it means something to have the aristocratic bloodline of Mahe nchu Royals (the former rulers of the Qing dynasty). I grew up under the moniker of “Child Prodigy” with a lot of privilege in Chinese society. My life felt like it was a mirage, like I was on my own version of The Truman Show. The so-called ‘’Third generation of Communist political family’’, refers to grandchildren of the first generation — those who made important contributions to the People’s Republic of China. Under China’s one party political system, the cultivation of these people is aimed at producing “future leaders for the party and the country”.
Was there a particular trigger point that made you emigrate to the US? Can you tell a story?
I got into Stanford. While I am good at what I do, I’m neither a prodigy nor a big figure that Chinese media tried to make me out to be. Everything you find on the websites, including the news, Baidu Baike, and my background, was more or less arranged by the [Chinese Communist] Party (CCP). When I was a kid, my whole personality and my pace of life was designed by the CCP. Even though I am a third generation of the CCP, I wasn’t the highest level kind of the member of the party, Even by the time when I was in the States, there were Chinese agents looking after me. I was influenced by the western values, however. Such concepst as Freedom of speech and Freedom of political participation don’t exist in China. My father had died, and I was speaking out for freedom of speech — which made me a mark for the CCP. It turns out that communist political families are indisputably rich. However, compared to ‘’Fuerdais’’ who are typically the generation born to wealthy Chinese business people, and are known for showing off their wealth instead of creating more, the ‘’aristocrats of the third generation’’ keep a relatively low profile. They are well educated and are primarily interested in utilizing their family connections to build foundations for their own future enterprises. I needed to break free from the clutches of the CCP, because I was speaking out in favor of free speech, which is something the CCP is not in favor of. My beliefs put me at risk.
Can you tell us the story of how you came to the USA? What was that experience like?
I learned things, news, and stories that weren’t told in China. I had published my own comic series, published a book, and met Bill Clinton. However, I relied on my family to disperse my novel on Chinese newspapers, and got a dignitary from the State Council to write a foreword for my novel. Also, the fact that I could meet Clinton during my days at Stanford was also bought with money, and my admission to Stanford was backed by connections. I initially attended major events in which I was usually accompanied by undercover officials arranged by the CCP. I, and others like me, were instructed by these officials and were reminded frequently that “After your studies, you must return and dedicate yourself to our homeland.” Everything given by the Party could also be taken away by the Party — overnight. I learned this the hard way when my father passed away, after falling from grace. His patriotism instantly revealed itself to be hollow, as if based on illusion.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped make the move more manageable? Can you share a story?
I am grateful for meeting Bill Clinton. Although our politics differ, it made me feel like I had a future here in the United States, that I could finally break free from Communist China.
So how are things going today?
I am afraid for the well being of American freedoms. I see a dangerous correlation between how Communist China handled things and how modern America handles the media, censorship, and the quashin of free speech and expression.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I try every day. I am dedicating my life to share my story in the hopes that countries like the United States and Taiwan will not make the mistakes of overregulating the freedom of their people. Freedom is sacred, and nobody should take it for granted nor be afraid of allowing it.
You have first hand experience with the US immigration system. If you had the power, which three things would you change to improve the system?
This depends a lot on who you are and where you are coming from. For example if you are trying to move here from Vietnam, the Vietnamese government will want an exit interview and may be more of a hurdle than the American government is. The United States in the 1960s did a good job with immigration by allowing students on scholarships in and letting educated asians interested in engineering and science come here to not only better their lives but the country and the system as a whole. However, I would not want to have it as open as the commonwealth countries have with each other either — there is always a middle ground and a middle way we should look into improving 3 factors: 1) do more research into what we need from our immigration system and immigrants, 2) consider scalability and how it will affect the robustness of our current system, and 3) consider the rate and ease of flexibility for when we may need to make temporary changes to the system under particular circumstances.
Can you share “5 keys to achieving the American dream” that others can learn from you? Please share a story or example for each.
1. Stand up for what you believe in, don’t let the government scare you into not speaking your mind. 2. Work hard And Smart. 3. Be grateful 4. Look out for others 5. Don’t take anything for granted.
We know that the US needs improvement. But are there 3 things that make you optimistic about the US’s future?
1. I see more and more people being able to discern what is real vs what is fake information. 2. Freedom of speech is already written into the constitution, it is easier to protect it than it is to create it from scratch. 3. A Can Do attitude is ingrained in American culture.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
Does he have to be alive? Because I choose Abraham Lincoln, he lived through stressfully political times and I would love to know how he handled his day to day.
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This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!