A China per­ceived over 40 years

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - CULTURE -

CHICAGO — That is a trip he will never for­get. In Au­gust 1975, as a mem­ber of the US first Con­gres­sional del­e­ga­tion to China, Ad­lai Ew­ing Steven­son III vis­ited China for the first time.

Steven­son re­mem­bered the del­e­ga­tion ar­rived in Shang­hai be­fore tak­ing train to Bei­jing, where they met then Chi­nese Vice Premier Deng Xiaop­ing.

The US leg­is­la­tors vis­ited China’s ma­jor cities and ru­ral ar­eas dur­ing the 10-day trip. What he per­ceived then was poverty and the alien­ation of the peo­ple. “Peo­ple in the streets did not dare be seen talk­ing to for­eign­ers.”

“I re­mem­ber bi­cy­cles. I don’t re­mem­ber any au­to­mo­biles ex­cept our own au­to­mo­biles.” That was Steven­son’s first im­pres­sion of China.

Four years af­ter­ward in 1979, Deng vis­ited the United States, and Steven­son was in his com­pany. “I gave him a tour of Wash­ing­ton, took him to the Jef­fer­son Memo­rial and showed him our Capi­tol.”

“He was not a great com­mu­ni­ca­tor,” Steven­son told Xin­hua. But “he be­gan the re­form, and changed the world.”

Com­ing from a po­lit­i­cal fam­ily in the US state of Illi­nois and serv­ing as US sen­a­tor from 1970 to 1981, Steven­son has had many chances to visit China in dif­fer­ent ca­pac­i­ties af­ter re­tir­ing from pol­i­tics.

He launched a joint ven­ture in China to in­tro­duce ad­vanced com­mu­ni­ca­tion tech­nolo­gies in the 1990s, and acted as co-chair­man of Huamei Cap­i­tal, a US-China joint ven­ture lo­cated in Chicago help­ing Chi­nese com­pa­nies to in­vest in North Amer­i­can mar­ket in the 2000s.

As the chair­man of the non­profit Mid­west US-China As­so­ci­a­tion, Steven­son co-hosted China-US West Eco­nomic Co­op­er­a­tion Fo­rum in Bei­jing in 2005.

“I com­muted back and forth. Ev­ery time I went back to China, it was a dif­fer­ent China by ev­ery di­men­sion,” re­called Steven­son, who is now an hon­orary pro­fes­sor of China’s Ren­min Uni­ver­sity.

“It be­came more and more de­vel­oped, more and more crowded. Build­ings are ev­ery­where and streets are filled with au­to­mo­biles, just a to­tally dif­fer­ent coun­try,” he said.

“We tried to travel by train so we can see China on the ground, but pretty soon we were trav­el­ing by plane and then we could reach more places in China,” he added.

Steven­son praised China’s achieve­ments in its “very rapid” de­vel­op­ment since re­form and open­ing-up.

“China never has so many peo­ple lifted out of poverty so fast … and its open­ing up and eco­nomic re­forms be­gan only 40 years ago,” he said.

“We started the in­ter­net for China, now China has more in­ter­net users than in the US,” Steven­son said. “China’s de­vel­op­ment has been very, very, very, very rapid.”

“It is much more open to for­eign in­vest­ment; it has cracked down on cor­rup­tion,” he com­mented.

“The changes are too big and too many to enu­mer­ate,” Steven­son stressed.

And China has gone fur­ther be­yond those. “China now pro­motes the de­vel­op­ment of other coun­tries through in­vest­ment in in­fra­struc­ture … Now China’s in­flu­ence spreads ev­ery­where with its in­vest­ment,” he added.

Be­sides fam­ily pho­tos, most of the pho­tos pre­sented on the wall and on the ta­ble in Steven­son’s study were ei­ther taken in China or show­ing Steven­son be­ing to­gether with Chi­nese peo­ple.

“Now I travel and speak freely in China, and in English,” Steven­son said with a happy smile. “I may have more good friends in China than here in the United States.”

Steven­son still re­mem­bered well his last trip to China in May 2016. “Three re­cep­tion din­ners were given in my honor, and I have friends from all over, new friends as well as old, join me to wel­come me, toast me.”

“They all joined to­gether and sang Auld Lang Syne. That was very touch­ing,” the 88-year-old said. “I would love to go back.”

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