As a child acrobat growing up in an obscure village in Jiangsu province in the 1950s, Lu Yi did not have it easy. Getting beaten up by his teachers for every little lapse was routine.
"Now the circus schools in China are so much better. The Chinese government's push to develop and showcase Chinese acrobatic skills has made a huge difference," Lu says.
How the boy from Jiangsu ended up as a master trainer at the San Francisco Circus Center, one of the most highly-respected circus schools in the United States, is a story that will sustain many retellings.
But Lu, though aware of his role as a pioneer in introducing Chinese acrobatic techniques to American circus, is matter-of-fact, speaking about his achievement.
"I took Chinese acrobatics to the US," he says. "Before that they would work only with animals and clowns."
By the time he joined the San Francisco Circus Center in 1990, Lu was already a star and well-traveled performer.
As the director of Nanjing Acrobatic Troupe, the first Chinese circus to have traveled abroad, Lu led his team to Switzerland and the US, taught at Circus Oz in Australia and judged international competitions in Monte Carlo and Paris.
"As artistic director my job is to attempt a fine blending of Chinese and Western elements. For example, the idea of changing from man to beast, or a cross between the two is a very Western concept. To this I added the element of doing the act on stilts," he says, referring to the number performed by Christopher Keller (see main story).
Away from his homeland for nearly 20 years now, Lu's heart seems to beat in sync with the rhythms of a new China, reforming on the fast track.
He is effusive about the government initiative to promote performance arts but keen to ensure that it nurtures real talent.
"It does not matter how big the China Wuqiao International Circus Festival becomes and how many more troupes participate. The competition should be able to locate quality acts from different corners of China, show the world that this is where the future of circus lies," he says.