When Ma Boyong first stepped foot on New Zealand soil in back in 2001, he was a young international student, knew no one, and spoke very little English.
Almost 20 years on, Boyong is now a literary superstar in China with more than 6,683,611 followers on Weibo, and is the writer of Chinese TV show The Longest Day in Chang’An (长安十二时辰) – one of the most popular shows in China that has a viewer rating of 9.4 out of 10 on Viki.
But Boyong’s journey to entertainment stardom was an unexpected one, and began when he was a student at the University of Waikato.
“I studied marketing and communications, but the first time I arrived at the university I felt a little fear,” he said. “I felt fear because I didn’t know anyone, I didn’t know much English, and I tried to understand what the lecturers were saying. It was a challenge.”
As a student, Boyong found solitude in the university’s campus library. It was there that his passion for writing started.
“I was in the library trying to look for Chinese books, but noticed there weren’t many there,” he said.
“From that point I grew a passion for writing because I wanted to see more Chinese books in libraries, and I wanted to be the one to help make that happen.”
Since graduating from University in 2004, Boyong has had great success as a novelist, columnist and blogger.
One of his most successful pieces is ‘The City of Silence’ – a science fiction novel set in the year 2046, based on an authoritarian state.
In 2010, he won China’s most prestigious literary award, the People’s Literature Prize, and has most recently been writer for The Longest Day in Chang’An.
Though Boyong has built a successful career, he said he often reflected on his time as a student at the University of Waikato.
Recently, he returned to New Zealand and visited the university campus – something he had been dreaming of ever since he left the country in 2004.
“Almost every month I would dream about how to go back to New Zealand and come back to campus,” he said.
“Waikato University is a very important part of my life. The lecturers are passionate, welcoming and warm. And the education quality was important, even in my life of writing. I still use the knowledge I learned there.”
Although Waikato was the catalyst for what would be a successful writing career for Boyong, he says it wasn’t his most cherished memory.
“The best part about being at Waikato was meeting my wife,” he said. “We met each other at a café, and when I persuaded her to go to the Balloons over Waikato event with me, it all took off from there.”