Juanhua Zhao

Tai chi teacher at Coney Island's Seaside Innovative Senior Center shares her life story

This interview was conducted and recorded in Cantonese Chinese. Read Keenan Chen's transcript and translation below:

Juanhua Zhao, 82, teaches Tai Chi at the Coney Island Seaside Innovative Senior Center on 37th Street and Surf Avenue in Coney Island. Born in 1938 in Guangdong Province, China, she and her husband first came to the US in 1998. They settled in Coney Island to be near their son, who lives in Bensonhurst. Mrs. Zhao shares memories of her childhood in Jiangman and Hong Kong and of her parents and siblings. Her father worked in the US as a young man in the 1920s and later went back to China to marry her mother. Her mother was a nurse and among the first to become a licensed midwife. Both her parents worked at the Marion Barclay Hospital (now called the Jiangen Central Hospital) founded by the United Church of Canada and she attended Christian church as a child.

After studying physical education in college, Mrs. Zhao taught the subject at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou. Her husband, a history professor at the university, loved Tai Chi and she practiced alongside him. "I became obsessed with Tai Chi," she says and after having knee surgery in the US, she realized that Tai Chi was beneficial to recovering her stamina. When she teaches at the senior center, she encourages the elders to learn slowly to avoid injury. she says. "With my background in physical education, I emphasize gradual progress. It really takes a long time to master a move." This video on the Seaside Innovative Senior Center's Facebook page shows Juanhua Zhao and her students performing a Tai Chi fan dance for the 2017 Lunar New Year celebration at Coney Island's Liberation High School.