Comparing Chinese and Americans

The report doesn’t specifically use the word “subnational.” But that doesn’t diminish the thrill I felt when reading it this morning.

Recently, the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California and the School of International Studies of Peking University jointly released their report  entitled “Building U.S.-China Trust: Through Next Generation People, Platforms & Programs”.  Their observations and recommendations affirm the observations and recommendations The Tai Initiative has been expressing these last several years.

U.S.-China relations are dynamic and changing

We could not be more excited to discover the University of Southern California and Peking University each report observations similar to our own.  Yet it really is not too much of a surprise when you take a moment to stop and learn about what has been happening in the past 20 years of changing U.S.-China relations.  These changes have more depth than the current media narrative cares to address.  They have been wrought through the passion and vision of those who saw “people-to-people” interaction as an avenue of strategic hope in an age of international military devastation.

Now, more than 50 years after Eisenhower’s first call for “people-to-people” exchanges, we see hundreds of non-profit groups and corporations embracing the concept.  But when you say there’s value in the individual “people-to-people” level — yet you’re really looking at reasonably powerful organizations — you have identified something operating at a higher level than “merely” people-to-people.  And when you identify value in a program with national breadth — yet you’re really talking about an organization that doesn’t live on federal funding — you have to be willing to admit that what you’re identifying operates at a lower level than the sovereign national/federal/central government(s).  What, in these cases, might we really be dealing with?  Subnational relations, that’s what.  Higher than the individual, but lower than the national.

The Annenberg/Peking report identifies a great number of inputs and influences on the U.S.-China relationship, starting right off with the very interesting (and key!) observation that despite the fact that Americans and Chinese are interacting with one another in record numbers, the public polling data shows that Americans and Chinese are increasingly distrustful of one another.

A terrible mistake to make (the report does not make this mistake, BTW) would be to conclude that these attitudes are held by individuals who represent the increasing frequency of interaction.  But that is not the case, because the percentage of citizens interacting with one another is still amazingly small compared to the percentage of citizens who are listening to some form of media teaching/passing them a message about “the other.”  It would be wrong to assume these groups are significantly overlapped.  If they were, it would mean that with increased contact, Americans and Chinese are learning to distrust one another even more!

At The Tai Initiative, we believe to make such a poor logical error could become a national miscalculation of the very worst kind.  We attempt to destroy the myths about “the other” and instead confirm the hopeful signs of health already being established between our societies.  Everyone should learn what is really happening: more and more Americans as well as more and more Chinese in their respectively broad populations are becoming aware of exactly how much they don’t know about the other.  [Americans and Chinese are] fed a routine and steady diet of negative perceptions about the other by elements of media and leadership at the national level.  Yet, they are still fed a routine and steady diet of negative perceptions about the other by elements of media and leadership at the national level.  Why is this?  History, habits, and a lack of clear alternative options in adult education all contribute a great deal to such passive ignorance.

However, when you dive beneath the surface of the national, and enter the realm of the subnational, you quickly discover abundant life in forms and in relationships you could not assume were present.  Standing on the level of the “national shore” and staring helplessly at the pounding waves of a relatively lifeless ocean surface does not teach you anything about the world that lies underneath. We have begun to study the subnational level in greater detail.  By doing so we will understand, appreciate, and manage it better.

Dive in!  Learn about the community around you and how the organizations within it – be they governmental, academic, commercial or cultural – interact with their Chinese counterparts.  Then join with us to teach others.  You’ll be surprised at what you learn!