Much like Mikhail Gorbachev’s “glasnost,” a new door has opened between China and the United States, at least on a small scale.
During the last two decades, I have had the honor of working with students from more than 50 countries, about one-third of the nations on this small green and blue planet. My favorite memory is of a gentleman from Vietnam who, in 1968, taught English and French in Saigon, now Ho Chi Minh City. After the war, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam assigned him to a “re-education camp.”
His two attempts to escape the torture and harsh conditions led to having his jaw broken twice and never set. His third attempt, along with 30 others, resulted in being picked up by a Canadian cutter while adrift in the South China Sea. If it were not for my class, American students would have never heard the story.
I enjoy taking classes with day students. This term, I am old enough to be the students’ or even the instructor’s father or uncle. Students are frequently asked to work in pairs. I am amazed how few of the kids will approach me as a partner.
A few weeks back, I noticed another “older” student sitting alone during the exercise of the day. When I asked if she would join me, her response was a bit shy: “My English is not so good.”
Yu Ying is a Chinese national taking classes to further her already strong skills as a journalist for one of China’s largest newspapers, the Yangcheng Evening Newspaper, with a circulation of about 1.2 million. However, since coming to Columbia, she has made few friends, except for other foreign students living on campus. With more than eight years of reporting, she has a lot to give to students of journalism, political science and business. Few have asked her to share.
Kathy and I invited Ying and her 5-year-old daughter Claire (her American name) to dinner at our home. Kathy’s two granddaughters – Ariel, 10 and Aaliyah, 7 – joined us. Claire is shy, full of energy, curious and of course, cute as a button. However, her English is limited and I worried about the language gap. How foolish of me.
While Ying, Kathy and I enjoyed our “adult” conversation, the girls spent the entire evening simply being kids. The adult conversation centered on differences between our two nations. The children found all those things they have in common.
As the kids were playing, I could not help but to notice a level of curiosity underlying the games. Throwing a golf ball into a net, coloring and drawing, making something, anything with Play-doh and playing school were all a result of sharing. There was no hint of animosity, no “she doesn’t speak like me” attitude, no “she is one of them, not one of us.” Just a new friendship.
The social and economic changes in the People’s Republic of China over the last 20 years simply amaze me. While Ying’s parents were strident followers of Mao, Ying's upbringing has been in relative economic freedom. The Business Insider headline on March 9 read “Chinese Tycoons Chasing Top Spot In Solar And Electric Car Markets.” In London’s The Sunday Times, a survey of the 100 greenest tycoons in the world showed that 35 are American and 17 are Chinese, and they are the new face of private enterprise in China.
The children taught us a lesson that I believe is well worth its weight in gold. The Chinese culture, as many cultures, is much different from ours. The attitude of her people is laced with cooperation where we praise independence. When my students do not know an answer, I often tell them to ask a 5-year-old. They have no barriers to their thoughts or friendships.
I have a suggestion to promote world harmony and peace. World powers should act more like 5-year-olds and see that there is really no difference among us — we are all human first.
David Rosman is a business and political communications consultant, professional speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics. Besides the Missourian, David is also a featured columnist for MissouriTribune.com and TRCB.com. He welcomes your comments at ProfDave1011@netscape.net.