In a year of increased political and trade tensions between the U.S. and China, we are now more convinced than ever that our nations need increased efforts to bridge cultural understanding between our people. ‘Soft power’ becomes increasingly important during a time of ‘hard power’ conflicts. We set up the Centre for this purpose in 2008 and did not realize how important our work would be only a decade later.
Despite these tensions, during this past year, the Chinese media, government, and academic community have warmly embraced us. (Please see the links to our numerous appearances in China’s national media throughout 2018.) Our actions continue to influence our village neighbors, guests, and peers in the travel industry. We are not apologists for anyone; instead we move ahead with our mission, while clearly understanding the parameters in which we can operate. We need action now more than analysis, and especially more than criticism. We are proudly willing to serve in that role.
Increased tension means increased estrangement. Many foreign scholars of China have become so disenchanted with recent changes that they forget all the positives that this country has achieved over the past forty years. In their own neighborhoods, these scholars walk past homeless people on their way to chic restaurants indifferent to the obvious failures of our own society. Like many in his field, economist Friedrich Hayek’s devotion to the principles of capitalism allowed him to turn a blind eye to the disparities inherent to the system. The collateral damage of capitalism remind us that only those who conform to what the market wants should and will succeed. Even our political system hinges on our willingness to shape our lives around the needs of a capricious market.
We still are believers in China and wish only for peace between our countries. America is filled with so many competing voices, many of which arise solely from seeds of criticism. We are trying to make changes via our actions. China and America need more people promoting cultural understanding, getting out of the expat bubbles in the major coastal cities, and immersing themselves in the realities of rural China. We must evaluate China by understanding its historical roots, and not from a messianic political soapbox. Those who criticize often fail to critically look at their own surroundings. We are clearly aware of the positives and negatives in China; the Chinese people themselves are also aware of them. We are willing to work with the people to affect positive changes via our efforts and not solely from armchairs on the other side of the Pacific.
Some people may say that I “drank the Kool-aid,” or that I am far too naive about the realities of China. On the contrary, I immerse myself daily in the academic and social discussions going on about China and the States. I have been a Chinese resident off and on for 35 years. This is my home now, and I believe that I can be much more effective by persevering within the system rather than by preaching to the choir back home.
Last night I was highlighted on Yunnan Provincial TV as one of the 40 most influential figures in the province in the last 40 years of economic openness. China effusively praises my wife and me as examples of how our countries can remain friends. Our selection clearly is good for America’s soft power. It demonstrates initiative, passion and social responsibility. We believe that China wants to embrace these similar values. Why else would they highlight them so consistently via our media appearances? I am proud to be American but equally proud to be a part of China. I take the good and bad in both countries. Perhaps we should all be a bit more discerning in our views of each other. We can achieve much more as friends than as adversaries. Please come visit us and see why remain so positive about our adopted home.
Brian & Jeanee