Just as Nickelodeon responded to the growing influence of Latino culture in American society with its now incredibly popular series Dora the Explorer, Nick Jr. has set its sights in a new direction: China. With its latest animated effort, Ni Hao, Kai-lan, the network hopes to introduce young children to Chinese culture. With a host of animated animal pals and her grandfather Yeye, 5-year-old Kai-lan takes viewers on adventures, teaching words and phrases in Mandarin, and introducing elements of Chinese life designed to stimulate the imagination.
Supplying the voice — and plenty of energy — for little Kai-lan is Greater Milwaukee’s Jade-Lianna Gao Jian Peters. Though adopted and brought to Wisconsin from China as an infant, Peters has always identified strongly with her Chinese roots. “My parents have always told us, since we were babies, that we were Chinese and adopted from China. We have always been taught to be proud of our nationality,” she explains, adding that she would like to go back to visit her homeland again. “When I was 4, my mommy and daddy took me with them to China, to adopt [my sister] Alexis-Mariah, who was 10 months old. I really do want to go back to China. I want to see where I came from, and see the orphanage I was in.”
Despite her Chinese heritage, Peters is just now learning Mandarin as she works on Ni Hao, Kai-lan. A former French immersion student, she’s embarking this year on a new adventure of her own. “I am going to Milwaukee School of Languages, and they offer [Mandarin] Chinese,” she says. “Chinese will be my main immersion program. I have also been taking beginning Chinese at the Milwaukee Modern Chinese School at Marquette University.”
When she’s not immersed in Mandarin study or her acting/voicing career, Peters says she makes time for her two dogs, Sunshine and … Kai-lan. “I got Kai-lan as a surprise for my 11th birthday. We called Karen Chau, the creator of the show, and asked if we could honor her by naming the dog Kai-lan,” she remembers. “She almost started to cry.” Ni Hao, Kai-lan premieres on Nickelodeon Feb. 7.