Robert Daly: Many of his paths lead to China BIO

China Daily (Canada) - - ACROSSAMERICA - By CHEN WEIHUA in Wash­ing­ton chen­wei­hua@chi­nadai­lyusa.com

When Robert Daly grad­u­ated from Syra­cuse Univer­sity in 1984, he was look­ing for a job that he hoped could let him travel the world.

Clearly that of diplo­mat fit the pro­file. So he took the For­eign Ser­vice exam in 1984, passed it, and be­came a diplo­mat in 1986.

The young Daly was sent to China in the sum­mer of 1987, de­spite hav­ing never taken any classes re­lated to China or in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions. Nei­ther had he stud­ied the Chi­nese lan­guage in school. His ma­jor at Syra­cuse was draw­ing car­toon il­lus­tra­tions and Amer­i­can lit­er­a­ture.

“I don’t know how I got it,” Daly re­called, say­ing it was luck all the way. No prior knowl­edge

Grow­ing up in Syra­cuse in the 1960s and 1970s, Daly said the first thing he heard about China was chil­dren’s racist songs de­mean­ing the Chi­nese for be­ing mean.

But the TV show — The Amaz­ing Chan and the Chan Clan — that he watched in the 1970s had por­trayed the Chi­nese in a more pos­i­tive light.

The first novel Daly read as a 10-year-old also hap­pened to be a chil­dren’s book about World War II- era China, called House of Sixty Fa­thers.

That was all the ex­po­sure to China that Daly got in Syra­cuse.

When he em­barked on his first diplo­matic mis­sion to China in 1987, it also was his first trip out­side the United States.

“It was a great time to be in US-China re­la­tions,” Daly said of the time he first got to Beijing, work­ing as a cul­ture and ed­u­ca­tion of­fi­cer at the US em­bassy. “There was so much op­ti­mism. It was so pos­i­tive.”

He got to know a lot of young artists, peo­ple like Jiang Wen, who later be­came a big shot film ac­tor and di­rec­tor, and Cui Jian, later known as the fa­ther of Chi­nese rock ‘n’ roll.

Daly de­scribed the young Chi­nese artists as very in­ter­ested in Amer­ica and Amer­i­can cul­ture.

Those were the days be­fore DVDs. The weekly film show­ings at the US em­bassy in Beijing that Daly con­ducted at­tracted a lot of young peo­ple.

In a cul­tural ex­change pro­gram, Daly pro­posed that in­stead of bring­ing clas­si­cal vi­o­lin­ists and clas­si­cal pi­anists as the US usu­ally did, it should bring dif­fer­ent mu­sic. Vic Trig­ger, an Amer­i­can gui­tarist and rock ‘n’ roll star, came to China in 1990 to teach and hold con­certs with his Chi­nese coun­ter­parts.

Daly said that peo­ple in both China and the US were much in­ter­ested in ideas then.

“If Mi­lan Kun­dera’s book was pub­lished, it was big news, and ev­ery­one wanted to read it,” Daly said. “When Sartre’s books were pub­lished, peo­ple wanted to read th­ese books. So there was a lot of in­tel­lec­tual ex­cite­ment.

“I go to China now,” he said. “The con­ver­sa­tion is not nearly as in­ter­est­ing as the con­ver­sa­tion we used to have. It was con­ver­sa­tion about books and ideas; now it’s all con­sumerism.

“How much is it per square me­ter?” Daly said in flu­ent Chi­nese. He said that ma­te­ri­al­ism is one of the frus­tra­tions for him go­ing to China now. Fo­cus on China

While en­joy­ing his work in China in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Daly quit the For­eign Ser­vice in 1991. The 29-year-old felt that he was much in­ter­ested in China, but wasn’t as in­ter­ested in a ca­reer in for­eign ser­vice.

“If you are in the For­eign Ser­vice, you have to be avail­able for world­wide work, and you go from coun­try to coun­try,” Daly said. “I re­ally wanted to fo­cus on US-China more ex­clu­sively.”

Also, the US In­for­ma­tion Agency (USIA) that Daly be­longed to had been weak­ened at the time due to bud­get cuts. Daly felt the For­eign Ser­vice wasn’t a great place to be.

He also de­scribed be­ing home­sick. “I was still sin­gle, so it was just sort of time to go home,” he said.

Daly re­turned to Syra­cuse to join his par­ents. In the sum­mer of 1991, he started to teach Chi­nese at Cor­nell Univer­sity in Ithaca, New York. Screen star

On Thanks­giv­ing night in 1992, when he went back to his own apart­ment after spend­ing the evening at his par­ents’ house, Daly re­ceived a call from Jiang Wen, telling him that they were all in New York City and wanted him to come meet them.

So Daly went to New York to meet his old friends, mostly film ac­tors and direc­tors such as Jiang Wen, Feng Xiao­gang and Zheng Xi­ao­long, who were shoot­ing a TV se­ries called Bei­jingers in New York.

Daly was given the role of David McCarthy, the owner of a cloth­ing fac­tory.

It was his first ex­pe­ri­ence in a TV se­ries. Daly said that as a sin­gle young man, he could make the decision to quit his job at Cor­nell and join the TV pro­duc­tion.

“How many times do you get a phone call at mid­night, say­ing, ‘Do you want to be in a TV show?’ You should say yes to op­por­tu­ni­ties,” he said.

The TV se­ries be­came an im­me­di­ate suc­cess when it was broad­cast on Oct 1, 1994. Many peo­ple in China still rec­og­nize Daly for his role in the drama, rather than his cur­rent po­si­tion as di­rec­tor of the Kissinger In­sti­tute on China and the United States.

Daly re­mem­bered that Jiang Wen had en­cour­aged him to pur­sue act­ing, but he did not want to, a decision he said was cor­rect in ret­ro­spect.

The pri­mary rea­son Daly cited was the fact that he didn’t think him­self a good ac­tor, and there had not been many good roles for for­eign­ers to play, ex­cept the Bei­jingers.

“So even if I wanted to pur­sue the path, that path didn’t re­ally ex­ist,” he said. Pleas­ant free time

In the sub­se­quent years, Daly trav­eled be­tween China and the US, do­ing con­sult­ing, pub­lic lec­tures, me­dia and TV pro­duc­tions, such as help­ing pro­duce the Chi­nese ver­sion of Sesame Street.

Un­der the ar­range­ment of the Na­tional Com­mit­tee on US-China Re­la­tions, he even served as in­ter­preter for for­mer Sec­re­tary of State Henry Kissinger at a re­cep­tion in Wash­ing­ton in 1997 for vis­it­ing Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Jiang Zemin.

He also worked as the Amer­i­can di­rec­tor for the US-China Hous­ing Ini­tia­tive when New York Gov­er­nor An­drew Cuomo was the sec­re­tary of Hous­ing and Ur­ban De­vel­op­ment, and Yu Zhen­sheng, now a mem­ber of the stand­ing com­mit­tee of the Polit­buro, was China’s con­struc­tion min­is­ter.

Daly said he en­joyed the feel­ing of be­ing free in those years.

In 2001, when the op­por­tu­nity came for Daly to be­come the Amer­i­can di­rec­tor of the Hop­kins Nan­jing Cen­ter, a joint ven­ture be­tween Johns Hop­kins Univer­sity in Bal­ti­more, Maryland, and Nan­jing Univer­sity, he im­me­di­ately took it. He ended up spend­ing six years in Nan­jing with his wife and two sons.

“It was a mar­velous ex­pe­ri­ence for me both per­son­ally and pro­fes­sion­ally,” Daly said, de­scrib­ing the Chi­nese and Amer­i­can stu­dents in the pro­gram as a “won­der­ful, ded­i­cated group”.

Un­like some other US univer­si­ties that went to China in re­cent years for ex­ec­u­tive ed­u­ca­tion, the Hop­kins Nan­jing Cen­ter is more about bring­ing peo­ple to­gether, hav­ing them live to­gether for a year, and study each other’s lan­guage, Daly said.

He called the Hop­kins Nan­jing Cen­ter a true co­op­er­a­tive part­ner­ship, even when the Chi­nese side and the US side some­times strongly dis­agreed.

It was also an in­ter­est­ing time for Daly to live in China to wit­ness the great tran­si­tion.

He en­joyed work­ing in China, par­tic­u­larly as a for­eigner.

To Daly, the Chi­nese way of work­ing has too much pres­sure and is de­press­ing. Many of his Chi­nese friends worked so hard that they never took a va­ca­tion and never had their own time.

“You need your boss to leave you the hell alone after 5 o’clock, so you can go home to have your own life,” Daly said. “That’s what peo­ple need.”

In 2007, Daly left Nan­jing and re­turned to the US, a decision he said was made mostly for his chil­dren and par­ents. He wanted them to know each other. He also felt that China may not be a great place for chil­dren when they grow up be­cause Chi­nese chil­dren don’t re­ally go out and play much.

In Daly’s views, Chi­nese par­ents have de­fined suc­cess of­ten in a nar­row way. But he said that he and his wife, from China, ac­tu­ally com­ple­ment each other in ed­u­cat­ing their three chil­dren, sons Isaac and Ma­teo, and daugh­ter Claire.

Upon re­turn­ing to the US, Daly spent another six years at the Maryland China Ini­tia­tive at the Univer­sity of Maryland. He praised the univer­sity for its ca­pac­ity in bring­ing Chi­nese to Maryland for train­ing. But he sighed that univer­si­ties th­ese days no longer pro­vide China stud­ies as a ma­jor.

In Au­gust 2013, Daly be­came di­rec­tor of the Kissinger In­sti­tute on China and the United States after its founder, Sta­ple­ton Roy, re­tired. Roy, born in China to mis­sion­ary par­ents, was the for­mer US am­bas­sador to China whose bril­liant thoughts on China and US-China re­la­tions are highly re­spected.

Daly again said he was quite for­tu­nate and priv­i­leged to have this job. His un­der­stand­ing of Kissinger’s vi­sion is to have frank, in­formed and re­spect­ful di­a­logue aimed at keep­ing the re­la­tion­ship more co­op­er­a­tive than com­pet­i­tive, if pos­si­ble.

“But you don’t deny dif­fi­cult is­sues,” Daly said. Gen­uine re­cep­tiv­ity

“I be­lieve strongly that we do have the abil­ity on both sides and the ex­per­tise with peo­ple to man­age this com­pli­cated, mu­tu­ally ben­e­fi­cial and dan­ger­ous re­la­tion­ship suc­cess­fully,” he said. “That can be done.”

He be­lieves the US side needs to show gen­uine re­cep­tiv­ity to China as a maker of norms and the builder of in­sti­tu­tions.

“We saw a bad ex­am­ple of this in Amer­i­can op­po­si­tion to the Asia In­fra­struc­ture In­vest­ment Bank,” Daly said. “I saw this as a very good op­por­tu­nity for Amer­ica to demon­strate the re­cep­tiv­ity, to par­tic­i­pate en­thu­si­as­ti­cally and to en­cour­age oth­ers to par­tic­i­pate, while say­ing, yes, we in­sist on trans­parency, re­spect en­vi­ron­men­tal rules, la­bor pro­tec­tion.”

On the other hand, Daly be­lieves China is not good at propos­ing rules and pro­poses spe­cific rules.

CHEN WEIHUA / CHINA DAILY

Robert Daly, di­rec­tor of the Kissinger Cen­ter on China and the United States at the Wilson Cen­ter, talks to China Daily in his of­fice.

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