Seattle University and more than 100 venues across the U.S. and China participated in an interactive webcast with former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on the current state of our two countries’ relationship as part of the annual CHINA Town Hall hosted by the National Committee on U.S. China Relations (NCUSCR).This event came on the heels of an escalating trade war between the U.S. and China and a scathing speech given by Vice President Pence that seemed to hail a fundamental shift in U.S. foreign policy towards China.
NCUSCR President Stephen Orlins spoke to Condoleezza Rice in a live webcast to discuss, among other things, the importance of cross-cultural exchange between China and the U.S., emphasizing the need to expose more U.S. students to Chinese culture.
“I think we have to have more opportunities for our people to see each other,” Rice said. “It’s one thing to read about a country in a book, it’s quite another to study there or visit there. Chinese students come here, and we need American students to go there.”
Secretary Rice then went on to talk about the importance of high school and youth exchanges between the US and China, saying that interactions between governments can only do so much in reducing animosity. To her, the real solution to Sino-US tensions lies in cultural exchange between the two countries’ people.
“Any way that we can find to get away from governments trying to get to know each other and getting our people to get to know each other is going to benefit us in the long run,” she said.
Rice knows firsthand the effect of cross-cultural exchange on a person’s development, having taken her first journey to China in 1988 as part of a broader Sino-Soviet-American study group organized by the NCUSCR.
During her time in China with the study group, she saw how the country was beginning to move away from the rigid Maoist country she studied in college to one with more open markets and social freedoms.
“This trip was life changing for me. I had been a Soviet specialist that had spent time in the Soviet Union. I’d never been to China. I don’t know what I expected, but I saw a China that was already emerging as an entrepreneurial China,” Rice said. “I remember the little stands and the people selling things and thinking, this place is changieng.”
Following the conclusion of the 45-minute webcast, a live panel was held at Pigott Auditorium with three China experts: Y.P. Chan of Chanden Inc. and two Seattle U professors: Yitan Li, associate professor of political science and David McHardy Reid, professor of management.
The panel discussed many topics covered in the webcast by Secretary Rice, including the lack of college students from the U.S. studying at Chinese universities—especially compared to the large amount of international Chinese students at American universities.
“There are approximately 350,000 Chinese students studying in the U.S,” Chan said. “There are probably less than five to ten thousand American students studying in China.”
To Chan, this paltry number of American students studying in Chinese universities is just a symptom of a broader indifference the US has towards learning about other cultures.
It’s not just in students, he says. Businesses who have had success in the West, such as Google, go into completely different markets thinking that they can succeed by applying what they’ve done in the past, and oftentimes, they fail.
Some members of the audience in interviews argued that this lack of interest could be seen by doing a cursory scan through the crowd attending the town hall: a half-filled auditorium devoid of American students.
“This event was preaching to the choir. People who already understand this topic are coming to listen to more about the topic,” an audience member who chose to go by J.R. said. “What this event needs to reach are people who don’t know anything about the topic and want to come listen to the topic.”
Members of the audience disagreed on the best way to accomplish this task, with some saying that professors should require their classes to attend this town hall and similar events. Others such as panel moderator, Aaron Rose, believed that by incorporating more China-related material into coursework, people will come naturally through their own interest.
Regardless of how this lack of engagement is addressed, Secretary Rice stressed the importance of first taking a step towards understanding one another.
“It’s a hard time. We have a lot of differences, but I think we can work through them. But, not if we don’t know each other.”
The editor may be reached at