Asian languages and cultures student Christine Welch embraces life’s possibilities

Christine Welch lives in a world of possibilities. Whether it is learning a fifth language, working toward a PhD in Asian languages and cultures, or opening a popular State Street eatery, nothing seems too far out of reach. Perhaps that’s why it should come as no surprise that she has also found success as a songwriter…in China.

The songs capturing the ears and hearts of Chinese fans aren’t simple translations of songs written in Welch’s native English. Rather she imagined and wrote them in Chinese so she could better incorporate ideas and images from Chinese poetry and philosophy.

Christine Welch
Christine Welch

“Chinese is a very poetic language,” Welch said. “It was very inspirational reading nature poetry, which is at the same time very deep. I wanted to get closer to that.”

Welch’s unintentional journey to fame in China began after receiving her bachelor’s in Chinese and Chinese literature in 2010 from Northwestern University. Following graduation, Welch taught in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, as part of the Fulbright English Teaching Assistant Program for one year. It was during this time that she first released some of her music to the public.

“My first popular video was one I entered into a singing contest,” Welch said. “I kept writing and sharing songs because people liked them. At the beginning it was a tool for language learning.”

Over the next few years, amidst teaching and working on a master’s at National Taiwan Normal University, Welch continued to sing and write, and even penned lyrics for Taiwanese artists. After covering a song written by Taipei producer Skot Suyama, who saw Welch’s video, she was invited to collaborate with him on an album.

Welch released eight-song album in 2013, and while her music generated interest at the time, it wasn’t until five years later that one of the album’s songs, “A Million Possibilities,” went viral thanks to a Russian music video that used her song. The video spread like wildfire through a growing crop of new media and social apps in China. While Welch’s original video took an artistic approach, the new mashup has an epic feel and features ample use of slow motion and running.

“The song’s message is that in every moment there are a million possibilities and you can choose to do any one of them,” Welch said. “The song incorporates a lot of nature imagery, like looking out at snowy field and feeling how eternity exists in one moment.”

Surprisingly, though Welch has been singing all of life, she has only written songs in Chinese, having used music, in part, to learn the language.

“A lot of my formative years were spent reading Chinese literature,” Welch said. “I was really inspired by Chinese poetry, spirit journeys, and the philosophy I was reading about. It was very inspirational reading nature poetry, which is at the same time very deep. I wanted to get closer to that.”

While Welch has enjoyed seeing her music take on new life in China, she doesn’t have plans to pursue singing and songwriting full time, instead focusing on her PhD in Asian languages and cultures, which she began at UW in 2016. The program will allow her to focus on travel stories and strange literature in Asian culture, as well as gender studies and Daoist literature.

“I am definitely a scholar at heart,” Welch said. “Being in academia is something you can do your whole life. The pace of media is so fast, so fleeting.”

Even with a rigorous PhD program underway, Welch continues to make other possibilities a reality by learning Japanese, raising a family, and opening a restaurant on State Street with her husband, Taiwan Little Eats.
Welch, her husband, and a friend opened the restaurant in October 2017. The restaurant features delicious entrees such as braised pork over rice, pineapple shrimp balls, and coffin toast, among other favorites. They also offer an assortment of Taiwanese teas.

“We realized that a lot of the Chinese cuisine in the Madison area is pretty similar, so we wanted to do something a little different,” Welch said. “Opening a restaurant is something that a lot of people don’t think is possible. But it is, and we have been enjoying learning along the way.”

If there is one thing UW–Madison students should learn from Welch, it is that anything is possible. You only need to step forward and reach for it. That’s an idea that she hopes others will take to heart.

“You have all of these possibilities from one moment to the next,” Welch said. “And if you don’t get to them you will miss them. I feel like there are so many things going on in the world and you should be a part of them.”