American youth explore Chinese cities and forge new connections with China
American youth explore Chinese cities and forge new connections with China

BEIJING, July 8, 2024 /PRNewswire/ — A news report from Beijing Review:

“Coming to China has really been a dream of mine for a long time, from when I was a child,” Harriet Parkinson, a rising senior at Brigham Young University in the United States, said while attending the Bond With Kuliang: 2024 China-U.S. Youth Festival, which took place in Fuzhou, Fujian Province in southeast China, on June 24-28.

The seed was planted in the heart of this American girl when she was only 5 years old. At that time, her parents helped her make the choice to begin taking the Chinese classes offered by her school in Minnesota.

In June, she finally set foot in China for the first time and said she was fascinated by every new thing she saw and experienced. When talking about the biggest takeaway from this trip, Parkinson said she made many wonderful friends here, learning their stories and sharing experiences with each other.

The event was co-organized by the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries, the Fujian Provincial Government and the All-China Youth Federation. It gathered more than 200 American youth and over 300 of their Chinese peers.

About 50 activities were held during the weeklong event, including the planting of friendship trees, dialogues, intangible cultural heritage exhibitions, performances and sports matches.

Chinese President Xi Jinping sent a congratulatory letter to the event, saying he is pleased to see young people from all walks of life in China and the U.S. gather in Fuzhou to relive the story of Kuliang, pass on the love of Kuliang and help enhance exchange and understanding between the two peoples.

Young people are energetic and full of dreams, and the future of China-U.S. relations lies in young people, Xi added.

Kuliang, Kuliang 

The picturesque Kuliang, or Guling in standard Chinese, is situated on the outskirts of Fuzhou. From 1886 to the 1950s, people from more than 20 countries, including Britain, France and the United States, built villas in Yixia Village in Kuliang to spend the summer, fostering a harmonious coexistence with local villagers and thus contributing to the enduring “Kuliang stories.”

Many children of these families, after leaving China, have continued to recall those days, telling their children and grandchildren about their childhood paradise. And today, Kuliang continues to tell tales of friendship that has lasted for a century.

Josh Adams from San Francisco, California, still vividly remembers a scene of his childhood, where his great-grandmother would make a pot of fragrant jasmine tea every afternoon, saying it had a flavor reminiscent of the jasmine tea from Kuliang.

Adams’ great-grandparents arrived in China in 1907 to teach agriculture at a vocational school in Fuzhou. His great-grandfather, Arthur Billing, rose from teacher to principal, and even sponsored several Chinese students to study in the U.S. His great-grandmother was dedicated to educating young Chinese women, believing that they also deserved education opportunities despite education in China mainly being reserved for men at that time.

In 2017, Adams visited Kuliang for the first time, eagerly tasting the local jasmine tea. “That was the memory I had. It was exactly as I was having tea with my great-grandmother,” he said.

During Adams’s second visit to Kuliang in June, the Guo family—who bought the Billings’ villa before they returned to the U.S. in 1948, invited him to the house for a family dinner, and he exchanged contact information with a fourth-generation member of the Guo family, a young college graduate. 

“The friendship between the two families continues to be cherished and passed down,” Adams said.

Claire Ashmead, a doctoral student at the University of Michigan Medical School, was on her second visit to China. But this time, she arrived able to speak fluent standard Chinese.

In the fall of 2012, Ashmead, then a student at Princeton University, participated in an overseas exchange program that took her to Kunming in the southwestern Chinese province of Yunnan to work and study Chinese, and she lived with a Chinese family for a year.

Noting that it was a beautiful time in her life, Ashmead said she felt very fortunate to be in China again. “China is very interested in extending a hand of friendship to America. I think that bodes very well,” she added.

“When we talk about things like America or China, they don’t mean anything without the people that make up those countries,” Ashmead said, underscoring that the story of Kuliang is one of families coming to China and developing strong friendships. And that has created a blossoming effect where more family members have more friendships. 

A lovely coincidence was that Harriet Parkinson and her brother David Parkinson, who is now a medical student at the University of Michigan, were both invited to attend this trip and only found out just before departure. With a sense of “meeting a familiar face in a foreign land,” they spent some unforgettable moments together in China.

Nanjing, Nanjing 

After completing their itinerary in Fuzhou, a small group of American youth also visited Nanjing in the eastern province of Jiangsu from June 28 to July 1 for activities organized by the Global Young Leaders Dialogue (GYLD). GYLD is a program that regularly takes international participants on tours of different regions across China to offer them the opportunity to gain a more in-depth understanding of the country.

Zoey Chopra, a student at the University of Michigan, said he couldn’t wait to order a takeout of local duck blood vermicelli soup and tangbao, or soup dumplings, on the night he arrived in Nanjing. “Although it was very different from my usual diet, it was delicious!” he said.

During their stay in this capital of six ancient Chinese dynasties, which has rich and distinctive culture, the young Americans visited historical sites such as Zhonghua Gate, the Qinhuai River and the Nanjing City Wall Museum that showcase the history and beauty of the city.

At the Nanjing Yunjin Museum, they were amazed by a demonstration of the operation of the city’s ancient wooden looms. Yunjin, with a history of more than 1,600 years, also known as yun brocade, is an exquisite kind of silk brocade indigenous to Nanjing. It was inscribed on the Intangible Cultural Heritage List of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization in 2009.

“I hope to come back to China in the future and learn more, not only about Chinese art, but also about its deep history and culture,” Leila Assadi, a sophomore from the University of Iowa in the U.S., said.

This was not Rigel Adams’s first time in China, but he said he was still impressed by its rapid changes in recent years.

Being a graduate from the University of Washington, he first came to China in 2016 when he was a student at Lincoln High School in Tacoma, Washington State. During President Xi’s first state visit to the U.S. in 2015, he visited Lincoln High School and invited 100 students from the school to visit China. “Through travel, you will know China better, and hopefully, you will like China,” Xi said.

Those times that Rigel Adams spent experiencing Chinese culture and meeting Chinese people left an indelible mark.

During the group’s visit to Nanjing University on June 29, he served as a host for a seminar, where Chinese and American young people exchanged views on such topics as global climate change responses and protection and inheritance of intangible cultural heritage.

“American and Chinese youth should build more connections and work together to create a more collaborative and better future,” Chopra told Beijing Review, adding that dialogue is important to promote mutual understanding.

Brandon Chan, a financial manager at Seton Medical Center in the U.S., who was also part of the group visiting Fuzhou and Nanjing, said it is interesting for young people from different countries and cultural backgrounds to engage in these kinds of dialogues.

Chopra, along with the other members of the group, also tried their hands at making traditional lanterns, lacquer fans and other forms of Chinese intangible cultural heritage while in Nanjing. He said these activities introduced to the participants different cultural values and sense of history, helping them understand the people and culture on the other side of the Pacific.

China, China 

“This is my first time in China and the real China is completely different from what I imagined. I was deeply impressed by the friendliness, kindness and hospitality of the Chinese people,” Andria Tupola, a Honolulu City Councilwoman from Hawaii in the U.S., told Beijing Review.

“The more I get to know about China and the more I’m here in the country, I think it’s just about one word… It’s the word ‘friendship’—one thing you cannot see or touch, but that’s how you learn about each other,” Tupola said during the seminar at Nanjing University. She said she was deeply moved by the interactions among the youth from both countries.

Many of the young Americans participating in the visit expressed their intention to return to China in the future to learn more about the country. Harriet Parkinson was one of them.

In college, Harriet Parkinson minored in Chinese while majoring in urban planning. She became friends with many international students from China, learning from them how to make dumplings and play mahjong, and having hotpot parties together. According to her, Chinese students in the U.S. have also made a big leap to share their culture with Americans. She told Beijing Review that she has decided to apply for graduate programs in China, and a place at Nanjing University in Nanjing is her goal.

“I can think of no better place for a young person to get to know about the wider world and its marvels than China,” said Lisa K. Heller, U.S. Consul General in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province in south China, while she was in Kuliang for the festival.

“Let us continue to build on the foundation of friendship in the future,” she added.

Shen Xin, Secretary General of the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries, said “the only purpose of [hosting such activities] is to let our young people to talk with, listen to and learn from each other.”

“During those interactions, you may find we do differ a lot, but we can also find a lot of things in common. So we can do something together for a better future in this world,” he added, hoping that youth from both countries would forge long-lasting friendships.

“I expect we will work together, especially as the youth, that we can build up more bridges and both countries can become more successful,” David Parkinson said.

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SOURCE Beijing Review

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