Connecting the East and the West

By Lucas Peng Lu  ’16

Peng Liyuan, the wife of Chinese President Xi Jinping, and Michelle Obama interacting during a visit to the Beijing Normal School.

Peng Liyuan, the wife of Chinese President Xi Jinping and Michelle Obama interacting during a visit to the Beijing Normal School.

On March 21, 2014, Michelle Obama and her two daughters, Malia and Sasha, landed in Beijing. Instead of visiting the capital’s government office, they decided to visit the Beijing Normal School, where China’s first lady, Peng Liyuan, greeted them. As a group, they conversed with the students and witnessed some amazing student projects that included a remote-controlled robot. To many people, Obama’s visit reminds them of the famous 1971 Ping-Pong match that brought together America and China for the first time in an exhibition match. The symbolic match eventually led to President Richard Nixon’s trip to China in 1972, which opened China to the world through the establishment of economic and diplomatic ties. 42 years later, with China rising to contest United States’ place as dominant power, many say that the relationship between US and China is deteriorating. Although politics play a major part in Sino-American relations, cultural exchange between United States and China shows that the two nations are actually slowly embracing each other to become a global family.

Michelle Obama’s trip to Beijing Normal School is not simply a public show, but rather a genuine attempt to personally get to know the people. A good diplomatic relationship between two nations is no longer on the leader-to-leader level. It is also about the trust and understanding between the two nations that are currently building bottom up from young people. To paint a picture of just how interconnected United States is with China, here are some key statistics. According to Washington Times, there are currently 235,000 Chinese students enrolled in US universities, contributing $5 billion to the US economy. Furthermore, there are 3.8 million Americans of Chinese origin, 1.2% of the US population, living in the country.  In contrast, there are 633,000 American citizens with green cards living in China, a 21% increase from 2010. Just as more and more Chinese students are studying in the United States, there are 60,000 K-12 American students learning mandarin. Given the cross-representation of Americans and Chinese in both countries, it is highly likely that the next generation of leaders and thinkers from both nations would be friends with each other. Such prospect raises the question of how the current Sino-American relations would be different if Barack Obama and Xi Jinping were long time college buddies who understood each other’s cultural backgrounds. If the above assumptions were true, the two leaders may approach sensitive issues, such as human rights, freedom of speech, and government policies, from a more holistic perspective that takes into account of cultural factors.

Politics between United States and China may be at odds, but the cultural and language exchange between the two nations continues to increase at a rapid rate. Because of this exchange, Sino-American relation in 20, 30, 40, or 50 years will be completely different from what it is today. Given today’s dialogue among young people from both countries, the friendship between United States and China in the future is very promising.

Sources:

http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2013/nov/11/most-foreign-exchange-students-in-us-come-from-chi/?page=all

http://www.forbes.com/sites/kenrapoza/2013/09/15/slowly-americans-moving-to-china/

http://factfinder2.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?pid=DEC_10_SF1_QTP8&prodType=table

http://news.yahoo.com/michelle-obama-pushes-soft-diplomacy-visit-china-100752896–sector.html

 

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