Foreign Friends Telling China’s Story
China Scholars Abroad ( Fifth Issue of 2016 )

Nowadays, more and more foreigners come to China. They look at this red country with blue eyes. This is something we can’t shy away from.

Eighty years ago, American reporter Edgar Snow overcame cultural and ideological differences to describe the reality of what was happening in China to the rest of the world, particularly in his book Red Star Over China, Which provided a true account of life in the CPC-led revolutionary base area. In 1938, in an interview with a German reporter, Mao Zedong expressed his admiration and gratitude toward Snow: “At a time when the whole world had forgotten us, only Edgar Snow got to know us and told the outside world what was going on here. We will always remember the great help Snow gave to China.” In his book The Long March: The Untold Story, Harrison Salisbury stated that tens of thousands of Americans, including himself, read Snow’s book, which provided an initial impression of the CPC leadership, including Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai and Zhu De, and explained their goals and aspiration of national salvation, as well as the hardships they faced and their spirit of sacrifice. In China, Snow was seen as a facilitator of communication between China and the US. In the US, his book became an important source of information for the US government to understand what was happening in China. Snow was aware of the differences that existed between the US and China, and he attempted to narrow the gap between the ideas and opinions of the two sides based on the reality of the situation. His understanding of news events was in political situation in China, Snow was able to describe the way forward for Chinese society with a more accurate and inclusive attitude, and it meat he was able to accurately predict a number of major events in Chinese history. Snow’s experiences still serve as an interesting reference point for people-to-people exchanges between today’s peacefully developing China and the international community.

Of the 100 major projects China plans to implement in the 13th Five-Year Plan period (2016-2020), the final one is to “put together a team adept at telling China’s story.” This team should include international friends with a sound understanding of China, as they are an extremely important group for people-to-people exchanges.

Foreign Friends Telling China’s Story

Achieving mutual understanding and friendship in international people-to-people exchanges is not determined just by how China sees and treats the rest of the world, but also how the rest of the world sees and treats China. Different countries and different people have held different views of China at different times. But both sides should adopt a spirit of equality and tolerance to seek harmonious co-existence and common development. China Center for Edgar Snow Studies was established at Peking University in 1993, and it holds regular commemorative events to make connections and enable people abroad to better understand and share China’s story. The biennial Edgar Snow International Seminar is held alternately in the United States and China. The stories of both Snow and China attract the participation of increasing numbers of Americans, and the event has expanded from being a commemoration of Snow to encouraging cooperation in the areas of education, health and business. For example, the 15th Edgar Snow International Seminar, on the theme of “People-to-People Exchanges: Innovation, Friendship and Harmony”, featured four sub-forums on Sino-US cooperation in higher education, SME innovation and international cooperation, the control of water pollution and the green economy, and the value of Chinese medicine and results-oriented research. The city of Yan’an in China’s Shaanxi province and the Snow’s hometown of Kansas City, Missouri have announced that they are to become sister cities, while the Edgar Snow Memorial Foundation has launched the Edgar Snow Residency Internship Program in china and a music exchange program between the US and China.

To let foreign friends tell China’s story we also need to invite people to China and sent our own citizen overseas. To help university students better understand the contributions made by foreign friends to the Chinese revolution and China’s development, China Center for Edgar Snow Studies invited the relatives of a dozen or so of them, including David and Isabel Crook, George Hatem, Erwin Engst and Joan Hinton, to give lectures to the School of Journalism and Communication of PKU class for an elective called “Famous Correspondents (Who helped build new China)”. In the popular lectures, they described to students the contributions made by these famous international friends of China to establishing and developing the People’s Republic of China. In 2009, Helen Snow’s hometown, Cedar City, Utah held an event to mark its 158th anniversary, during which Mayor Gerald Sherratt presided over the unveiling of a statue of Helen Snow, whom he referred to as the “pride of the city”. Around that time, I asked a number of students from Southern Utah University in Cedar City who Helen Snow was. They did not know. I visited the city again in 2013, however, and while standing in the square where the Statue is located. I was approached by a young American who proceeded to tell me the story of Helen Snow’s work in China during World War Ⅱ..

Young People Telling China’s Story

Young people are the vanguard of ideological emancipation, and their values represent the future direction of social development. International changes depend on amity between peoples. To tell China’s story it is necessary to promote exchanges between peoples of different cultures, and especially to promote exchanges between young people. Over the years, China Center for Edgar Snow Studies of PKU has held commemorative and academic events for college and high school students in conjunction with foreign universities and institutions. The center has worked hard to encourage young people to get involved in non-governmental diplomacy and people-to-people exchanges, and to play an active role in deepening international relations by integrating with other cultures, understanding each other’s stories and overcoming barriers of prejudice and misunderstanding; to inject people-to-people exchanges between young people in China and abroad with new life by enhancing mutual understanding and promoting friendship through activities involving universities and colleges; to conduct free exchanges and dialogue and improve communication through interdisciplinary exchanges, youth forums and essay contests; and to increase the vitality of exchanges between China and other countries and deepen international relations by making young people a positive factor on the stage of such exchanges.

China Center for Edgar Snow Studies of PKU uses Snow’s influence to expand people-to-people exchanges between China and the US. The Helen Snow Translation Award, which involves translating extracts from Helen Snow’s works, is already in its sixth year and has attracted thousands of participants from higher learning institutions in China and the US. The winners from each country are invited to spend a semester studying abroad at a relevant institution in the other country. In 2014, the Southern Utah Symphony Orchestra and Yuanpei College of Peking University worked together to put on a Chinese and Western musical performance, which included a joint performance of Han Diao—Floating clouds and Flowing Water by the orchestra of the Peking University Chinese Music Institute and the Southern Utah University Percussion Ensemble. The two countries orchestras also jointly composed a large modern dance piece titled Helen’s Dream, which they performed on tours of the US and China.

In terms of people-to—people exchanges between China and the United Kingdom, China Center for Edgar Snow Studies mainly relies on the Society for Anglo-Chinese Understanding (SACU) established by Dr. Joseph Needham in 1965 to promote exchanges between young people from the UK and China. During the War of Resistance Against Japan, Dr. Joseph Needham was ordered to provide assistance to China, and he traveled 2,500 kilometers to give practical assistance to Chinese scientists who facing difficulties. He also provided over 7,000 science books to Chinese universities and libraries, funded 60 Chinese students to study in the UK, wrote his famous work Science and Civilization in China, which helped the world understand the wonders of Chinese civilization, and posed the “Needham Question”, concerning why modern science had not developed in Chinese civilization but only in Europe. The goal of setting up SACU was to help more British people understand China, with its different cultural background and political system. In 2015, China Center for Edgar Snow Studies and SACU sponsored the first Needham essay Prize at Needham’s alma mater, Oundle School. Annabelle Barker was the winner of the first essay prize (entrants were asked to respond to the title “Joseph Needham reminded us that we should understand the meaning of China both past and present. Discuss.”) and she was subsequently accepted to Oxford University to read Chinese history. George Hogg’s alma mater, St. George School, will also participate in the second year of the essay prize, meaning more young British students will tell China’s story through the competition.

In 2015, President Xi Jinping told Hogg’s Story at a state banquet at Buckingham Palace: As allies during World War Ⅱ, China and the UK mutually supported each other and shared in weal and woe, writing a wonderful chapter in Sino-British friendship. We will not forget the precious economic and moral support provide to China by the UK. A British reporter called George Hogg chose to cover the Chinese war of Resistance against Japan and not only exposed the atrocities committed by the Japanese but also served as headmaster of the Shuangshipu Bailie School and paid the ultimate sacrifice in his quest to lead a group of young students to safety.

In order to further promote Sino-British people-to-people exchanges, in September 2016, China Center for Edgar Snow Studies and SACU are working with the Beijing Publishing Group to Hold a Book Exhibit at the Great Britain Library in London called “A Taste of Beijing”, and an event will be held to mark the publication of the first bilingual (Chinese and English) version of Hogg’s book, I See A New China. Events will be held at the same time for the launch of Aid China: A Memoir of a Forgotten Campaign a book by Arthur Clegg who served as the national organizer of the China Campaign committee during World War Ⅱ; the memoirs of the father of Zoe Reed, SACU’s chairwoman (her father was a pupil at the Shanshipu Bailie School and taken to study in the UK by Needham during the war); and the Chinese edition of Needham’s biography. All of this illustrates the mutual support, solidarity and friendship that have historically existed between China and the UK. The Beijing Publishing Group is also giving a new English-Mandarin bilingual school in London more that 500 Chinese classics so that more British children can read and learn more about China.

Telling China’s Story Must Include Common Development

People-to-People exchanges between China and other countries require mutual understanding, support and friendship between peoples. The themes of the present era are peace and development, and in this era we need to pull together in times of trouble and advance hand in hand. To tell China’s story it is necessary to include common development. This is the key to communication between China and the world. Humanity shares one global village, and it is increasingly becoming a community of common destiny. Peace, development, cooperation and mutual benefit are all trends of the times, and common development is the key to mutual benefit. In the course of achieving the ultimate task of common development, it is important to make plans for the benefit of all rather than oneself; shoulder the important responsibilities of world and regional peace, stability and prosperity; and for every country to actively promote the common development of all countries while pursing their own development. Common development reflects the equality and integration of cultures. When telling China’s story, it is necessary to identify with cultural diversity and advocate cultural equality as well as dialogue, exchanges and mutual learning between cultures. Cultures are enhanced through exchanges and enriched by mutual learning. People should appreciate both the beauty of their own culture and the beauty of other cultures so that different cultures can coexist in harmony.

We should let more foreign friends tell China’s story and tell people about China’s Current development on the international stage. This would undoubtedly improve the world’s impression of China and Help China gain more listeners and likeminded friends around the world, as well as enhance its soft power. Using the stories of 20 Americans, Fulfilling Dream in China: Interviews on China-US People-to-People Exchanges published by China Center for Edgar Snow Studies illustrates that people from other country can also have an achievable dream in China. The book is published in an English-Mandarin bilingual format. The first part of the book features in-depth interviews with the families of China’s famous international friends who still live in China about the important contributions made by them and their descendants to the Chinese revolutionary China’s development. In the second part, international friends of China currently involved in the education and technology sectors are interviewed, showing how then have achieved their dreams in China and their outstanding contributions to education and technological innovation in China. The third section of the book includes interviews with high-level talented personnel China has attracted in recent years. There are many moving accounts of international friends telling China’s story in the book. John Hinton said, “We spent our whole lives in China, not to tend cattle, but due to our beliefs.” William Brown commented, “I never thought that I would be able to live such a happy life in China.” Jeffrey Lehman said, “Working in China feels like working at home.” John Thornton said, “For the past 10 years, I’ve spent more and more time in China. If I can have an impact on both sides, then that would be ideal.” Mark Levine said, “One must not think that the Chinese dream is only for Chinese people. I have a Chinese heart and, of course, a Chinese dream.”

Eighty years ago Edgar Snow explained to the world what was really happening in China and focused the world’s attention on the country, and there is an event greater need to do this again now, in order to explain China’s goal of peaceful development to the world and turn even more friendly attention toward it. Different countries and different people have held different view of China at different times. Today’s China should be more open-minded and strive to create an objective and rational view of China’s development and its international role. More and more foreigners are arriving in China all the time, and they view socialist China from their own perspective, which is totally normal. As long as people-to-people exchanges are carried out in a spirit of inclusiveness, promote peaceful coexistence and mutual respect for different cultures, enhance friendships between the peoples of different countries via cultural exchanges to social progress, and safeguard world peace, then relations between cultures will be harmonious and mutually reinforcing.

( The author is the deputy director, secretary-general and a professor at the China Center for Edgar Snow Studies at Peking University )