One of the most troubling obstacles keeping interested citizens from getting involved in the China-America relationship is the great difficulty of connecting individual lives to such a huge and complex subject. Most of the time, citizens of both countries only see and hear the national level news defining the USA-PRC relationship. Only a tiny percentage of citizens can actually get involved at the national level. As a result, most citizens can’t make a personal connection because they don’t know how to make a difference.
We have a simple model to get you started! The diagram here is our guide to reminding all citizens of both countries they have opportunities to influence the China-America relationship…maybe even at the national level.
You can see there are four arrows in the design. These arrows represent individual relationship and influence with others: those with authority over us, those coming up behind us in life, and those we consider peers.
UP – “Voice”
The “up arrow” reminds us we all have authorities in our lives who should be well informed on the issues affecting the China-America relationship. We don’t want our authorities to be uninformed or, sometime worse, ill-informed. The arrow reminds us to encourage our leaders to become better informed on all levels of the relationship, not just the realities at the national level. The subnational level is a vital area for improvement in our education.
Everyone in China and America has the ability to communicate to their authorities. These abilities are not equal in potency and accessibility, but the principle is applicable to both. Here we will focus on the specific application of Americans communicating to their elected officials in Congress.
The U.S. Congress, despite being populated by some very intelligent and capable people, often appears to be one of the most ill-informed authorities in our country when it comes to China-America relations, despite the many sources of good information made available to them. But there is a group in Congress, the U.S. China Working Group, which functions to provide congressional leaders with good sources of information and debate about all sorts of issues affecting the USA-PRC relationship. Not surprisingly, the majority of congressional members do not participate regularly in this group’s activities.
If more Americans were to tell their elected congressional leaders “I expect you to attend U.S. China Working Group events,” then perhaps we would see more participation, and by consequence more learning.
DOWN – “Vision”
The “down arrow” reminds us of those in our lives who are younger and growing into new levels of responsibility and leadership in their lives. Most of us know several younger people who show promising leadership traits in character and skill.
Do you know people like that? If so, you should think about how their lives and careers are going to be greatly affected by the People’s Republic (or the United States, if they live in the PRC).
We should encourage more young people to understand and get involved somehow in the China-America relationship. This does not mean they have to study international relations, nor does it mean they should go on an exchange program. Maybe it just means they should take a Chinese language course. Maybe they should read a good book. Maybe they should choose a China topic for their next school research project. Maybe they should seek a new pen pal. Of course there are many options! It doesn’t matter what they do, but all our promising young leaders should do something to help them get interested in a productive China-America relationship!
They might be a butcher, a baker, or a candlestick maker. Whatever their profession, they should expect to have their life affected by the growing reality of China in their future. If more people mentored promising young people to spend at least a small portion of their lives learning something significant about how either China or America can play a positive role influencing their future, our hope for a stable and productive relationship would skyrocket.
RIGHT – “Value”
“Right” here in your own community! That is what The Tai Initiative wants to encourage everyone to think about when considering where and how to get physically and materially involved. Where the up and down arrows make us think about encouraging those above and below us, the right and left arrows will make us think about where we will take action ourselves. How can you get involved in your local community in terms of the China-America relationship? For Americans this question is much more easily answered than for Chinese, but even in China opportunities exist.
- Join your local sister city organization. Dozens of sister cities dot the maps of China and the United States. Check out Sister Cities International to find out what’s in your area.
- Seek out a relationship with your local school or university’s Chinese Student and Scholars Association. These are increasingly important groups due to the recent influx of Chinese students in American schools.
- Your nearby city most likely has a Chinese Chamber of Commerce in it somewhere. Find it, make friends there, and find out where your interests overlap, even if not in business.
- There are many other organizations you might find nearby which spend time, effort and resources making positive connections: Confucius Institutes, Asian art and history museums, Chinese gardens, etc.
- Maybe your community needs you to start a group! The Tai Initiative intends to help you do that by forming and joining “China Cabinets.” Our vision is to provide an effective means of education on China and America for citizens of all ages. Right now you can let us know of your interest in possibly building a China Cabinet in your own neighborhood.
LEFT – “Venture”
What’s “left” over? When you ask yourself this question, think about who might be your counterpart across the Pacific. If you are a high school mathematics teacher in a small town, wouldn’t it be fascinating to meet a high school mathematics teacher in a small town (maybe your sister city) in China? What a wonderful story that would be!
How can you find this person? Let us help you. If you are planning a trip to China and would like to attempt to reach out “to the left” in this model of making a difference, we would like to hear from you!
Language is a barrier, but not insurmountable. More and more people know both languages and can help you. Picture pages are even more fun to use when travelling. Think creatively, and go find your counterpart! You’ll end up taking a journey you’ll never forget, whether you’re successful at finding them, or not. How much more engaging than just seeing the typical tourist destinations! If you are successful in finding your counterpart, you’ll have a story worthy of telling your great-grandchildren, and just maybe you’ll even gain a new lifelong friend as well.
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Getting involved in anything is hard when you don’t know what do. We hope this model of participation will inspire you to action. Through collective action, we will see the growth of greater communication, understanding, and ultimately trust in the American/Chinese relationship.