Taking on Sinophobia Through Education – USA China Daily

I was privileged to have been introduced to the potential for U.S. – China relations while a student at Michigan State University. However, I’m well aware that across the United States, many remain skeptical and frankly, uneducated about what is going on in China.

Michael Barris of the USA China Daily wrote a great piece about this issue, quoting me alongside my long time friend and colleague, Tom Watkins. You can read the original here or see the text below:


In the midst of the chatter over China’s trade data report Thursday, there it was: Sinophobia.

“For better or worse, China has become the new linchpin of the global economy,” Investing Daily.com analyst Benjamin Shepherd wrote. Summing up the trade numbers, he said: “The old saw used to be that as goes the US, so goes the rest of the world. With China poised to become the world’s largest economy sometime in the next decade, that US-centric preconception will have to be revised.”

Shepherd’s characterization of China’s economic power as a “better or worse” proposition brings to mind Stephen Schwarzman’s comments to a New Yorker magazine reporter this spring, when the chairman and CEO of the private-equity firm Blackstone Group discussed the “hard-core, real anger” that exists toward China in the United States – sentiments that sparked his decision to launch a $300 million college scholarship for study, not here, but in China. Schwarzman, the New Yorker reported, was “hoping that familiarity with the world’s rising superpower” would “blunt growing American anxiety about changes in status.”

Schwarzman, the magazine said, first started thinking about offering the scholarship fund in 2010 when the juxtaposition of the US’ economic calamity and China’s then 9 percent annual growth rate stirred “negative attitudes” in the West toward China. “I was convinced that would create frustration in the West, and frustration would lead to anger,” Schwarzman was quoted as saying, “and that anger can lead to trade problems, and ultimately to military confrontation.”

At a certain point, he said, “it seemed logical” that “really bad things” would begin to occur. “We had to find a way to stop or ameliorate that situation.”

By establishing the scholarship fund, Schwarzman said he aimed to produce individuals who would understand China.

An effort is underway to teach the US about China. In 2006, a survey by the Modern Language Association – the organization for scholars of language and literature – showed that some 51,600 students at roughly 2,800 US institutions of higher learning were studying Mandarin – a 51 percent jump in comparison with a similar study four years earlier. The enrolment jump, MLA said, was mainly due to China’s increasing prominence on the world economic stage. For the record: Chinese is the most spoken language in the world, and more people speak English in China than speak it in the US.

But deeper obstacles can get in the way of attempts to change deep-seated attitudes about China. That’s the view of Tom Watkins, the former Michigan state schools superintendent and frequent China visitor, who has advocated stronger US-China ties for three decades.

“The biggest challenge is convincing people that the world has changed in profound and fundamental ways,” Watkins said in an interview. “We are living in a fast-paced, disruptive, transformational, technologically-driven, global, knowledge economy where ideas and jobs can and do move around the world instantaneously.”

In the years to come, Watkins said, “China, its history, culture and language will be front and center in all world decisions. The individual, city, region, state and nation that adapts to this new reality will prosper as the 21st century unfolds – others will fade from the scene.”

Another view of the issue comes from Dan Redford, the Beijing-based director of China operations for Wisconsin fund management company FirstPathway Partners. Redford said the biggest challenge in teaching Americans about China is “distance, both cultural and physical.”

“Because China is so far away, it is difficult to deliver that experience to most Americans,” he said. “So, our country will have to rely on individuals who have gone out of their way to get that experience to provide expertise and guidance on China.” He said there are “relatively few true China experts who understand China’s rise and how it has grown as a nation.”

Redford recalls being in a meeting with a local official in Michigan who claimed “he’d rather go to India on a trade mission than China because he preferred to deal with democracies, not communists”.

“That is so narrow minded and inaccurate,” he said. “I think that our education system has failed to produce effective leaders in government that can change the rhetoric and the narrative on the conversation with China.”

Unlike the analyst who saw China’s rise as a “for-better-or-worse” proposition, Redford believes the US will help its own cause by educating citizens about the changing of the guard that is well underway.

“It is widely accepted that China will have a bigger economy than the United States within the next 20 years…and perhaps sooner,” Redford remarked. “Enough said.”

Contact the writer at michaelbarris@chinadailyusa.com



Reflections on “10 Things Most Americans Don’t Know About America.”

As an American living in Beijing, I’d like to weigh in on a piece read this evening. In his post today, blogger Mark Manson chronicles the “10 Things Most Americans Don’t Know About America.”  Overall, it is an entertaining and well written piece that begs one to ask the questions “Is America really the greatest place in the world anymore,” and “Does it even matter?”

I agree with some things in his piece, such as #3 “We Know Nothing About the Rest of the World.” It is no secret that many Americans are detached, quite ironically I feel, from the rest of the world. There is an old saying that “If you speak 3 languages, you’re tri-lingual, if you speak two languages you’re bilingual, and if you speak one language you’re a (ready for it???) an American.” In fact, I was just remarking this evening with a group of American students here Beijing traveling as part of an exchange program (more on that in a minute..) that only about 40% of Americans have passports and even less travel abroad to “overseas lands.” I’m glad to have been mostly confirmed on those off the cuff statistics here.

However, despite all the ways in which I think I’m nodding my head at Mark’s points, I’m still thumbs down on the article. Why? I just can’t get over the apathy. He’s given up, saying that he returns to America “only a few times a year” and that he thinks his points will “go on deaf ears.” If those of us that have these global experiences won’t stick up for America, then who will?

I have seen mostly the opposite when engaging with Americans abroad since starting my global journey in 2008. I believe that while the jury may still be out on whether or not America is the greatest country on earth, we can still take it back! Coming from the state of Michigan, I have learned about some of the hardest realities of the current state of America. People are poor, blight runs rampant, and the talented people with job creating capacity are leaving.

But, what if they came back? What if, as my friend Tom Watkins said in his Lansing State Journal Column last year, young people actually boomeranged back, bringing with them in one foul swoop an arsenal of global knowledge and resources.

It can happen. It is happening. I saw it this evening here in Beijing with a group of young American students from inner city schools taking part in a great program called the Jump! Foundation. Jump! is part of a series of programs overseen by Americans Promoting Study Abroad, which collaborates with U.S. high schools to offer scholarships to inner city kids to come learn Chinese in China.

Tonight I participated in my 2nd Young Professionals Panel with the students. These are young but impressive kids. Their questions are inquisitive, and when you talk with them, they sound wise beyond their years. Contrary to the apathetic and ignorant version of Americans elicited in Manson’s column, these kids are well aware of the lack of global knowledge and attention that runs rampant in their communities. After being in China, most of these students described to us how motivated they were to go back home and serve as educators to their friends and family.

And that’s it right there – the American spark of being pioneers to return home and report what we’ve seen. It is that spark that is being ignited across a nation of young globally minded people that have not yet come of age. When they do, it will be amazing to see what we can accomplish as a country. I believe that as generations that have come before, our generation will rise to the occasion to build our nation back up again. It will be people like those young folks I met tonight that will lead the charge.




Big Ten Fourth of July Weekend Bash 2013

One of the most unexpected joys of my time in Beijing actually has its roots in something closer to home than you’d think. While I am always of a mind that Spartans everywhere are changing the world, I am equally inspired by the work I see every day being done by Big Ten Alumni here in Beijing.

Since early in 2012, the Big Ten Alumni Clubs of Beijing has emerged as a dynamic group of individuals that are lighting this city on fire. As I mentioned in a previous post, til now we have hosted the 1st and 2nd annual Big Ten alumni Mixers, both bringing in alumni from around this city.

Big Ten Bash with Spartan alum Charles Eveslage (right) and Purdue Alum Sylvia Liu (middle)
Big Ten Bash with Spartan alum Charles Eveslage (right) and Purdue Alum Sylvia Liu (middle)

This year we tried something different: The Big Ten Fourth of July Weekend Bash in Ritan Park. It is always amazing to me the different kinds of people that you meet that come from so many different backgrounds that show up when hosting these types of things. We even had one MSU alum that took a flight in from the city of Changchun, which is is somewhat like going from Georgia to Michigan, just to be at our party! #Spartanswill

We also had an endorsement from the Deputy Chief of Mission of the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, Dr. Robert Wang, for the event. Dr. Wang received his PhD from Iowa so is a fellow Big Tenner! Check out the video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qEn_WXz8RN4

It was a great success, with over 200 alumni from around Beijing coming out to celebrate this great occasion, including members of most of the Big Ten schools. And to be honest, I was impressed especially by the turnout from the University of Wisconsin…looks like there is another dynamic club in the making.

We’ve made some great progress for the Big Ten Conference here in China and the MSU Beijing Alumni Club looks forward to collaborating on future events and initiatives.

My Chinese Television Debut – 助跑80后

One thing that impresses me about Beijing, despite its shortcomings and inconveniences (as I write this, the pollution level has surpassed 500 on the PMI 2.5 scale – read about it here in Bloomberg today), is that people are just generally interested in foreigners. After all, of the population of over 20 million in Beijing, only about 200,000 are foreigners, roughly 1%. For locals, its simply curiosity. For Chinese society, foreigners treading on China’s land is an essential part to China’s strategy to continue to expand and grow in the modern economy.


As a result, it has become common practice on Chinese Central Television (CCTV) to periodically feature foreigners as part of their programming.  Quite frankly, any foreigner worth his salt really has to be featured on a Chinese television show at some point during “the China experience.” Its a right of passage, a sign that one has stayed here long enough to almost be considered a “China – hand.”

For almost 2 years living and working in Beijing, the TV opportunity had escaped me. And then suddenly – it happened. Actually, it was the Spartan Network that finally delivered the opportunity to grace the bright lights and cameras of Chinese television. My friend and fellow MSU alum, Ray Wu, invited me to part of the show his wife, Cici, hosts on CCTV 7 农业节目电视台(Agriculture and Education Channel) this week, and needless to say, I jumped at the opportunity.

The show is called “助跑80后” (english translation:The Road After 1980), and the program involves Cici inviting famous entrepreneurs or public figures that have had success in the “New China” since the economic opening up in the late 70s – early 80s.

The set of 助跑80后

My role was to be part of the hudongtuan, which essentially is a group of 3 to 4 people that sit on stage and engage the guest and the host in a meaningful dialogue.

I participated in two shows, and among other things, it turned out to be a great networking opportunity. The first show featured Zhang Cai Ming, CEO of China’s largest underwear and lingerie brand, Aimer. On the second, we spoke with the CEO of JP Morgan’s China Investment Banking Division, Fang Fang. In the latter, I was able to give a major shout out to the Michigan State University Beijing Alumni Club when discussing networking techniques in China, which I felt pretty great about :).

While the shows both went smoothly, as a foreigner, it is a bit of an exhausting and challenging experience. Quite obviously, everything is done in Chinese, from the pre-production planning meetings, to the backstage interviews, to the on stage dialogue. For anyone that understands how difficult it is to communicate in a foreign language, you know that it is more than just being able to have a conversation and use the vocabulary you know. One has to simultaneously demonstrate cogency in the Chinese language while following the flow and dialogue of the show. These are very much professional skills learned over years of training.

The "Hudongtuan" in Action!
The “Hudongtuan” in Action!

I think I held my own up there, but most of my comments remained short. I was, indeed, the “token white guy.” Honestly, that really was the point. I learned that, regardless of my ability to contribute substantially to the show, in the end it did not matter. It is just important to have foreigners periodically show up in Chinese domestic productions to demonstrate China’s efforts to reach outside its borders. It will be difficult for China’s culture and production to really expand out into the world. Most people do not speak Chinese, which makes it difficult to recruit foreigners like me to take part in production, or even watch their movies or television. But as genuine efforts like this continue to grow, and Americans grow the confidence to use their Chinese participate in these types of productions, these exchanges can lead to some extremely beneficial results for U.S. – China relations.

The show debuts in a few weeks. I will be sure to send you all the link when it goes up online! Another great example of the power of the Spartan Network!


Spartans Unite at Alumni Clubs of Beijing Ball 2013

Since the beginning of 2012, I began taking an active role in the “Alumni Clubs of Beijing”(ACB). This group is a consortium of clubs representing over 60 universities, mostly in the United States but also including a few in the U.K. and China, that are organized here in Beijing. The mission of the group is to: “Provide a platform to strengthen and offer resources for Beijing’s university alumni clubs, such as sharing best practices and enabling cooperation for larger scale events. Together we can tackle the challenges that no one individual club is equipped to handle on its own.”


As the President of the MSU Beijing Alumni Club, I am not only responsible for organizing and hosting events to bring together Spartans here in Beijing. I want to make sure that MSU’s presence and the “banner of Sparty” is heard and felt throughout Beijing and China. I became involved in “ACB” because I saw it as an opportunity for the MSU club and for the university to make itself known in Beijing among others that share their passion for their university.

2nd Annual Big Ten Mixer, April 15, 2013

Moreover, it is also an enormous resource I can share with our club members that are looking for a job, a project, or anything to “get their feet wet” here. Beijing is indeed one of the world’s most important cities; it is also one of the largest, and thus easy to get lost. ACB is a tool that can be used to really take advantage of “six degrees of separation” to move more efficiently.

I am proud to say that among the crowd of universities involved, MSU has really been recognized as one of the most active, successful clubs. We have now co-hosted a first and second annual “Big Ten Pre-Alumni Ball” Mixer, in 2012 and 2013, respectively, each year bringing around 200 folks out for networking and fun.

This year, MSU once again participated in ACB’s signature event, the  2nd annual “Alumni Clubs of Beijing Ball.” As you can see from the picture, MSU was well represented by a group of top notch Spartans. We sure do look good, eh?

MSU Spartans at the 2013 Alumni Clubs of Beijing Ball – Kerry Hotel, Beijing, China

As my friend, Scott Westerman, Director of the MSU Alumni Association always likes to say, there are Spartans everywhere. Here in Beijing, we are uncovering a gold mine.