From ‘Bull Man’ to ‘Sea Turtle’: A Life-Changing Experience in America

By Pamela Tsai
Pamela Tsai
Pamela Tsai
August 5, 2010 Updated: July 30, 2015
Dr. Meng Hong in undated photo. (Epoch Times)
Dr. Meng Hong in undated photo. (Epoch Times)

“It was a horrible day in my life. I was fired by the DuPont Company. My heart was broken. … I didn’t know what to do to prove my honor and my conscience,” said Meng Hong, 43, in an interview with The Epoch Times.

On June 8, Meng pleaded guilty to theft of trade secrets in September 2009. The offense could bring a ten-year prison term.

Aug. 21, 2009, is the day that changed his life. On that day, his life path took an unexpected turn—from a distinguished scientist to a criminal.

A role model to millions of Chinese intellectuals, Meng has a Ph.D. from UCLA. His classmates nicknamed him “Niu Ren,” meaning “Bull Man” or superman.

“My English is not good,” he said, despite 11 years here. He came to the United States in 1999 to study.

“I spent most of my time in the lab, at work, and on the research,” said Meng. “Besides academic meetings, I almost didn’t have any chance to talk to Americans [Westerners]. My friends are almost all Chinese.”

Guilty Plea

Meng pleaded guilty to theft of trade secrets. In 2009, Meng ac- cepted a job with Peking Univer- sity (PKU), without telling DuPont. Meng sent an e-mail from DuPont to PKU. The e-mail contained a chemical process that DuPont con- sidered a trade secret.

He gave a presentation to Chinese officials to raise money to commercialize organic light emitting diodes (OLED) research he did at DuPont. He said PKU officials did not give all the funding promised for his job and asked him to raise the rest.

On that day, his life path took an unexpected turn—from a distinguished scientist to a criminal.

He felt “deeply depressed” about his actions. “I wanted to take my own life,” Meng said.

“My wife asked me not to. She asked me to think about the two young children,” he said. Meng has two daughters, 7 and 10 years old. They live in China.

Meng said he speaks with his wife about three times a week. “She still holds on to me when I am guilty and am even forsaken by myself. More than ever, I love her and cherish her.”

A Lifestyle Without a Life

“I was a workaholic and rarely spent time with my wife and two children. I worked for more than 14 hours a day, every day, including weekends.”

“My wife couldn’t stand it. She had to do everything on her own cooking, cleaning, caring for the children. I didn’t give her the support and care she needed. She was heartbroken.

“In July 2004, she took our two children and went back to China where she could get some family support and care from her parents.”

He wanted to mend the relationship: “After five years of separation, I wanted to join them and decided to look for a job in China.”

Meng tried to connect with his daughters. “I wanted to talk to them, but they often don’t respond to my call, and when they do, they were being very short with me,” he said with tears in his eyes.

Meng said he grew up in an environment where academic achievement and career success were everything. He didn’t respect “rules and security measures.” He felt they were impediments. “I thought they prevented productivity, slowed things down. I wanted to do things faster and achieve better results,” he said.

Sea Turtle

He said he didn’t plan on reporting to work until PKU kept its promises. He feared betrayal.

Wanting to go back to China but feeling uncertain affects many “hai gui,” or “overseas returnees.” The phrase is a pun on “sea turtle,” evoking swimming in unpredictable currents, seeking haven.

Meng didn’t find a haven but rather house arrest and new ideas.

“I learned many things that are totally new to me. God wants people to lead a balanced life. Besides work, one needs leisure and the time to cultivate his spirit, be with the family, take part in the society. This was new to me.”

I learned many things that are totally new to me. God wants people to lead a balanced life.

Putting work first was all Meng knew. “When I was working in Singapore, my father passed away. My family kept the news from me for 10 months. They didn’t want to distract me from my work,” he said.

“I picked up the Chinese classics to read,” he said, referring to when he was under house arrest. He had had no interest before. Now they start making so much sense to me after I’ve gone through this. Each character, each story has a moral in it—faithfulness, honesty, integrity, compassion, courage, conscience, altruism. I learned a lot from it—not attached to material gain, putting principles first.”

“Had I read the Chinese classics and learned so many moral values from [them], I would have avoided making many mistakes in my life.”

Meng awaits his sentencing hearing on Sept. 14. Of the sentence, he said, “I take it as a punishment from heaven—paying the dues for all of the wrongdoings in my past life.”

“I want to start a new life,” he said.

Pamela Tsai