Family

When Your Mom Is the Longtime Manager of Wu-Tang Members and Your Dad Is a Shaolin Monk

Featuring Jian Hong Shi, age 15, grade 10.

Jian Hong Shi and her mom, Sophia.
Jian Hong Shi and her mom, Sophia.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo courtesy of Sophia Chang.

In this series, kids (and not-exactly-kids-anymore) review how well their parents balance life and work. To nominate a potential subject ideally between the ages of 5 and 17, email humaninterest@slate.com.

Jian Hong Shi is 15 years old and lives in Brooklyn. Her parents are Sophia Chang and Sifu Shi Yan Ming.

Laura Bennett: Can you tell me a little bit about your relationship with your parents?

Jian Hong Shi: Well, my mom and I are very close. I feel super comfortable telling her if anything happens with my friends. She gives me very good advice.

What kind of advice?

She always gives me the grown-up answer, like, when I am having a problem at school: You should pull them aside and talk to them. I tell her, Mom, we’re not as mature as you think we are. They are gonna think that is weird.

My parents haven’t been together since I was around 5 or something like that, so they don’t live in the same house. My dad and I are not as close because he’s not at home as much as my mom is. But when I do see him, he is super goofy and silly. So I’m always laughing when I’m around him.

What does your mom do for work?

Well right now, she’s writing a book and doing public speaking. She also briefly worked at a cannabis company. That was kind of a wild thing because she’s never smoked a day in her life. But while I was growing up, she managed hip-hop artists.

Do you remember how she became a manager of hip-hop artists?

She had been close with the Wu-Tang Clan for a long time. So I think it happened organically. She worked with a lot of different artists in Wu-Tang, like RZA, GZA, ODB while he was alive, but that was before I was alive. [She also managed D’Angelo and A Tribe Called Quest.]

Does she manage anyone now?

Nope, she’s completely out of that now. She says that she doesn’t want to manage other people now. She wants to focus on herself. I think she’s come to a place in her life where—she told me, for example, that her friend said, “Sophia, I want to stop seeing you work with egotistical men.”

Your mom mentioned to me that she was very aware of raising a daughter who was a hip-hop fan, because hip-hop is not always kind to women. Was that something she talked about with you?

She always made it very clear to me when certain lyrics were misogynistic. She would ask me if that was how I thought I should be treated. And I was like, “No mom. I just enjoy the music.” If we are in the car and the radio is on, and we hear some really misogynistic lyrics, she always goes: “Oh that’s nice.” “Oh, haven’t heard that one before.”

She always wanted me to know my worth. Through her job, I always saw her as a powerful female figure, not someone who was easily swayed by male opinion. Also, the artists she worked with, she knew them on a deep personal level—she knew their heart and their intent.

Do you like Wu-Tang’s music?

I do. I went through a phase when I listened to just Wu-Tang, when I was like 12. It was super eye-opening for me. I loved how all the different Clan members had their different flows and styles and voices, even though they were one Clan.

What do you think your mom loves about Wu-Tang’s music?

I think the production and sampling as well. But also the wordplay and the metaphors and how they all blended together as one but people who were fans really felt like they knew each of them, their strengths and their weaknesses. I think she really respected that whatever deal they had, the RZA made sure it was inclusive. No one was ever left behind.

What was it like to know these guys personally and also be such a big fan?

I felt super grateful. The RZA is actually my godfather. I’ve known him and his kids since I was really young. So when I listened to his music, it was learning about the RZA instead of him as a father and a friend. So that was really cool.

It is pretty wild to have a mom whose job means you get to have the RZA as your godfather.

Yeah. It’s crazy. I don’t think I realized how influential and huge these artists were until later. At the time I just thought, this is just mom doing her job.

What does your dad do?

He’s a 34th-generation Shaolin monk from the original Shaolin temple in China.

Whoa.

Yeah. I used to be kind of embarrassed about telling my friends because they’d be like, “Oh yeah, my dad is an accountant” or something. But now I’m super proud of it. Anyway, he’s a monk. And he created his own temple, the USA Shaolin Temple. His English wasn’t that great and he didn’t really know about America, so my mom really helped him with the business side. Now it has branches in Austria and South Africa and Mexico. It makes me really proud of him. He helps a lot of people both physically and mentally.

Here’s a ridiculous question: Do you think your parents have interesting jobs?

Yes. Over time I became kinda used to it. But I had this moment last year where I was super tired and I started thinking about a bunch of stuff and I sat back and realized what my parents did and got super happy. Then I fell asleep.

But it was a fascinating moment where I was like, “Wow, I should really talk to my dad more about his experience coming from China to here and creating his own business. I should talk to my mom more about how she built herself and became successful on her own.”

Who generally works crazier hours, your mom or your dad?

My mom would get calls during dinner and would never pick up. She would call them back afterwards and that could go pretty late. Or she’d only pick up calls that came directly from the artist or from her mentor, Michael Ostin. With my dad, once he was home, he was home.

What stresses your parents out the most about their jobs?

For my mom, it’s working with people who aren’t as dedicated to their job as she is. People who aren’t passionate and are just doing it for the money. For my dad, I don’t really see him stressed.

Well, he is a monk.

Yeah, you’re right, he’s very calm. He never really loses his temper. He’s super in touch with the monk he was in China, when he was under all of those rules. He didn’t have enough food to eat. He had no heat. Having that all inside him helps keep him grounded.

When you were growing up, did your parents have rules for you around screen time?

My dad really hates it when my brother and I are on our phone. Because he’s like, “It will ruin your eyes.” Not because he is worried about what we’ll see. I don’t think he’s too aware of exactly how much is out there on the internet. With my mom, it’s more that she doesn’t like the idea that strangers can talk to me.

How did your mom inform your music taste when you were growing up?

She was obviously very deeply involved in hip-hop. But also on Sundays, when we would clean the house, she would always have old-school R&B on. Like Maxwell, Tony! Toni! Toné! Uh, I guess Robin Thicke doesn’t count as old-school R&B.

Do you have a sense of what you want to do for work one day?

I’m super interested in architecture. My school offers classes on it. I’m going to take them and if I do end up enjoying them, great.

Would you ever want to manage hip-hop artists?

Probably not. Just because that doesn’t really interest me, not because I’ve seen a negative impact on my mom. She used to always tell me, you’d be so good at this. But it’s not really my interest, so I’d feel like I wasn’t really doing what I wanted to do.

Would you ever want to be a monk?

No. No no no no no. Yeah, no. There are way too many rules.

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Laura Bennett

Laura Bennett is Slate’s features director.