Photo: Jake Kivanc

People of Ryerson: Yunxiang Gao

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By Jake Kivanc

Yunxiang Gao tells a story of how the supposedly-ancient Chinese bell that rests on the table beside her is a carefully-crafted fake. She doesn’t mind though, she just likes the history.

Gao, 42, is faculty of the history department who has been teaching the early interactions between eastern and western societies for 10 years, come this August.

Growing up in Inner Mongolia, China, Gao was raised by a father who was a teacher and a mother who worked as a farmer in what she described as a “remote area”.

Speaking about her interests as a child, Gao said that her father’s history books always captivated her, with a majority of her readings being the biographies of important world figures.

At the age of 11, Gao began attending a boarding school that was a considerable distance from her home, a place she was not allowed to return to often due to the strict learning environment. “It was a very strict place, military-style” she said. “They wouldn’t let us go home more than once or twice a year.”

After leaving boarding school, Gao would go onto to pursue her BA of history at Inner Mongolia University and obtain her MA and PhD from Beijing and University of Iowa respectively.

Looking back, Gao said that her father’s background as a teacher and her experience in educational environments had a large influence on her career.

“I always thought teaching was a great job,” she said. “Communicating and exchanging ideas is something I liked from the beginning.” Much of Gao’s most pivotal moments happened at home in China, with her father’s death in 2011 being what she said was “the most difficult time” in her life.

“It took a lot for me to overcome that,” she said.

Alternately, just 10 years earlier, she met her husband at a university library in Shanghai where they were both doing historical research. They now have two 6-year-old sons, twins to boot.

When asked what she plans to do in the future, Gao laughed and said her only wish is to “keep teaching at Ryerson”.

“I will retire eventually, but that’s far down the road. Until then, kids at home, youth here [at Ryerson] and just to keep learning more.”

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