What worked for him, he figured, should work for others, so he started tutorials in "Crazy English." He moved to booming southern Guangdong province, toning down the bass and treble to work as a radio announcer, and then set up the Stone-Cliz International English Promotion Workshop. Classes evolved into "Crazy English" events: language workshops that Li conducts as part inspirational rally, part rock concert. The audience is warmed up with loud, Western rock 'n' roll. Li, 30, takes the stage dressed like a pop star and starts exhorting the crowd via a thundering sound system: "You need passion!" Such events have been held in 60 counties across China, with enthusiastic crowds numbering from 1,000 to 30,000. Like Muzak-meister Yanni, Li has even performed within the hallowed walls of Beijing's Forbidden City. During a recent workshop at Beijing's Qinghua University, the crowd was loud in its approval. "English is quite important for most of us," gushed Duan Xin, an 18-year-old biology student who goes by the English moniker Duncan. "When I got the ticket I was so excited. He's so famous." Li claims 12 million people are studying his method; the Chinese government estimates that 100 million Chinese are currently studying English at various decibel levels.
To most Chinese, English can be a passport to an education abroad or a high-salaried job with a foreign firm in China. The notions that Li proselytizes--shout that word from a rooftop three times fast--are far grander. "Chinese have 5,000 years of history to be proud of, but the fact is they feel very bad about themselves," he explains. "Americans say you should speak our language, we don't have to bother with yours. But in China, the first sentence people say to a foreigner is, 'I'm sorry my English is poor.'" Conquering the foreign tongue, he insists, will allow China to face the world proudly and will bring untold riches. As he exhorts the students in Beijing: "Make international money! Make money from foreigners! This is the American dream--from rags to millions--and I want to make it a Chinese dream!"
Some people think Li's "Crazy English" is less method than madness. "Studying language is a gradual thing," advises Chen Shu, a professor of English at the Beijing Foreign Studies University. "You can't expect to do it in a short time"--like a two-hour shouting lesson. In 1996, English teachers in Guangdong complained that Li's methods were encouraging students to ignore their regular English studies. The local government prohibited Li from teaching for six months; a similar ban on "Crazy English" is in effect in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province.
Li couldn't care less. He eschews vacations and family visits for work, and is planning to expand his empire into bodybuilding centers and psychiatric counseling. "A tough mind needs a tough body," he points out. "Crazy Therapy" anyone?
--Reported by Mia Turner/Beijing
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