(Just) An Idea …


Women of China (English) - - COLUMNS 专栏| -

Many years ago I was discussing Sino-us relations with an old friend of mine, a successful Midwestern businessman. He said the root problem was a lack of trust between our two countries. While this is undoubtedly true on some level, especially between governments and businesses, I don't think it is necessarily the case between the people of our two nations.

My feeling is that the primary, ongoing, not yet resolved issue between the citizens of our two countries is a lack of familiarity with each other's culture, history and ways. Not knowing one another leads to not understanding one another. This must change and is, as more tourists from China visit the United States and vice versa. Also, many students study at universities in each other's country and, to a greater extent in the case of China, some parents are sending their middle school and high school offspring to learn in America.

Although the numbers are disproportionate (many more Chinese students study in America than their American counterparts do in China), it is hugely important for our citizens to get a better understanding of each other as early as possible. Habits and knowledge picked up in our younger years, whether it's learning a new language, playing a musical instrument or riding a bicycle, are more naturally and permanently embedded in our consciousness. Certainly we continue to learn as we age but lessons from childhood and young adulthood are often the basis for our grown up perspectives.

When I was teaching at a university in Beijing, my daughter was in college back in the US. Seeing the parallels, but also the contrasts, in teaching and learning styles between our countries was eye opening. Some of my students in China, fresh off the rigorous demands of the gao kao, seemed to relax in their first years away from home, then pick up steam in their final years as college — childhood — was coming to a close and jobs — adulthood — loomed in the immediate future. For my daughter, college was more a stopping point on the road to complete independence and self-sufficiency.

She and her friends were looking for an interest, a passion that would thrust them more quickly and satisfyingly into the next phase of life. Some of my Beijing students seemed less certain as to the paths they wanted to follow after college and perhaps in less of a hurry to face the great unknown. For them, scoring well on the national standardized test that would determine where they matriculated had been the real pressure. Post graduation seemed to be a less stressful, although important, concern. 罗秉瑞(美国)

Brooks Robertson is Cofounder of The Grace Children's Foundation and Professor emeritus at China Women's University. He lives both in New York City and Beijing.

Pondering the issue of education in general and with an eye toward innovation (that always talked about but rarely implemented word), I wonder if professors from both China and America might teach a prescribed course — Chinese history or American culture, for example — one semester in their universities, then switch countries for the second semester. Stay with me if this sounds outlandish. A course might be given at Tsinghua University and China Women's University while the same subject matter was simultaneously being taught at Wellesley University and Brown University in the United States. Then, for the second semester, the instructors would switch countries and universities and finish the same course material with their new classes. American students would get the benefit of a Sino educator while Chinese students would get an American perspective of the subject matter.

Even more ideal (and more costly) would be for the actual classes to switch after the semester, thus the students would not only be learning the subject matter from their new teachers but also experiencing the cultures of their new university in the foreign country. How valuable that would be! Organic soft power made tangible. Such learning diversity and expanded exposure to the other country would be invaluable and accelerate the much needed furthering of understanding between our peoples and nations.

This is a rough outline of one small possibility for enhanced appreciation of each other's country's history, culture and outlook. We are two nations inextricably bound together. Increased exposure to each other, not the official but sometimes perfunctory interactions of government officials and business people but more of adventurers, students, tourists, lao bai xing … is most important.

Exposure leads to familiarity which slowly but inevitably leads to understanding and thus the possibility that one day it will lead to … trust, the most necessary component for the future of the United States and China and thus, the entire world.

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