I love my job. I am the senior cultural affairs officer at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, the person whose main job is to give strategic direction and vision to the exchange of people and ideas between the United States and China, especially in the areas of education and culture.
My staff and I have been at work with the Chinese Ministry of Education almost non-stop for two months preparing for a meeting that Secretary Clinton and PRC State Councilor Liu Yandong had agreed to hold while the Secretary was in Beijing for the May 24-25 Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED). The two leaders had agreed to begin a separate bilateral dialogue on people-to-people exchange in letters, and my office and the Ministry were charged with coming to agreement on all the details and getting them cleared with our respective governments. President Obama had announced in November plans for the “100,000 Strong” initiative to bring 100,000 American students to China over the next four years. The Secretary's Office asked my office to highlight this initiative along with all the other great ongoing engagement between Americans and Chinese people, especially among students.
So when the S&ED descended on Beijing last week, with its dozens of meetings and bilateral conclaves, and high-level government-to-government negotiations on technical, legal issues, one event stood out. Amid all the motorcades, security, and dozens of bustling staffers, our “People-to-People” event celebrated not government-to-government “talk-talk,” but people-to-people “walk-walk.”
Secretary Clinton and State Councilor Liu met the morning of May 25 at Beijing's new National Center for the Performing Arts, affectionately called “the Egg” by local people because of its low-lying ovoid arc mirrored in a large reflecting pool.
The Secretary and State Councilor launched a new annual discussion between the United States and China on the larger engagement happening between the peoples of the two nations, the “High Level Consultation on People-to-People Exchange” (CPE).
The two met with a small group of students, Americans studying in China and Chinese who have studied in America, and then sat down for a short meeting with their CPE delegations inaugurating the consultation. Then, they moved upstairs to a large sun-lit open space filled with 150 American and 150 Chinese students. The Secretary and the State Councilor signed a Memorandum of Understanding creating the CPE.
Then, China's Ministry of Education brought in young students from both countries to perform in the other country's language and culture. Six young American women students from Beijing's Number 55 High School came out in full regalia and sang a short piece from the Peking Opera “Mu Guiying Takes Command.” It is the story of a Song dynasty mother who follows the call of duty, takes command as a general, and saves her country, despite her personal desire to remain with her family -- an appropriate choice to perform for the two senior women leaders of the two countries. A combined chorus of Chinese and American students from three universities then in English and Chinese sang (in the best show chorus tradition of “Glee”) “Forever Friends,” a tune made popular here during the 2008 Beijing Olympics. A young Chinese university student then sang “Summertime,” from George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess. It was a fun, relaxed celebration of the two country's young people building understanding and strong personal connections with the other side.
After Secretary Clinton and State Councilor Liu left for other business, the CPE delegations from both sides got down to work identifying areas where the people-to-people engagement can improve. The American delegation, reflecting the important role of the non-federal and private sector on the American side, included representatives from the National Basketball League (China) and Sesame Workshop (which is busy co-producing Sesame Street programs for national TV distribution in China).
It was a lot of work, but worth it. A high point for me was talking to the four American students after the event. They were really excited about being able to meet Secretary Clinton.
Two weeks ago, my team at the embassy hosted Herbie Hancock and Deedee Bridgewater at the Forbidden City Concert Hall. Last week, we helped the Secretary advance people-to-people connections between the United States and China. Last weekend, we put on an outdoor concert for 4,000 for the award-winning, Los Angeles-based band, Ozomatli, for whom we set up a tour of six cities, including concerts for earthquake-stricken Qinghai province and Ulan Batar, Mongolia.
I love my job.