Tag Archive: China 100 Blog

  1. Day 2: The jet lag sets in

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    On the first full day of the Yale 100’s trip to China, the group was confronted with a packed schedule: an alumni breakfast event, smaller meetings with Chinese government officials, a lunch with Chinese students and visits to the Forbidden City, a Peking duck restaurant and the Beijing Opera.

    Alumni breakfast

    The Yalies were up bright and early Thursday for a breakfast hosted by the Yale Club of Beijing, which featured an address by U.S. Ambassador to China Clark “Sandy” Randt ’68.

    Sandy Randt1

    U.S. Ambassador to China Clark Randt ’68 addresses the Yale delegation. (Michael Blank/YDN)

    In a brief discussion of the U.S.-China relationship, Randt discussed the Strategic Economic Dialogue, North Korea, human rights and religious freedom, and the environment. He also answered students’ questions about cultural exchange, economics and the environment.

    While Randt was largely optimistic about relations between the two countries, he was less conclusive about the possibility of change on the issue of human rights in China. While it is a “daily area of discussion,” he said, China’s deemphasis of human rights stems from its cultural tradition.

    “Our tradition is focused on the individual and rights, and … here society as a whole is valued over the individual, and harmony is key,” Randt said.

    Also in attendance was a descendant of Yung Wing, class of 1854 — the first Chinese recipient of an American college degree — and descendants of the “China 120,” a group of 120 Chinese students sent to America to study in a Yale-affiliated program in the 19th century, five of whom eventually earned Yale degrees.

    At the breakfast, Wen He Education — a company focused on improving the teaching and testing of spoken English in China — announced a donation of RMB 88,000, or about $12,500, to the Yale Club of Beijing’s Project Kick Start. The project supports needy Chinese students from rural areas during their first year of college in the city.

    Meetings with Chinese government officials

    After breakfast, the delegation broke into three groups for meetings with senior Chinese officials. I was in the “Blue” group, headed by Levin, which met with Jiang Zhenghua, the chairman of the Chinese Peasants’ and Workers’ Democratic Party. The party is one of several “democratic parties” that play an advisory role in the Chinese government, which is still controlled by the Communist Party.

    Blue Group

    Jiang Zhenghua, center, the chairman of the Chinese Peasants’ and Workers’ Democratic Party meets with Yale President Richard Levin and some of the students and faculty. (Courtesy Erica Smith)

    Jiang said his party works in “close contact and cooperation with the Communist Party.” The party also conducts policy research and acts in a “supervisory role” toward government activities, he said.

    As part of its supervisory activities, Jiang said, Peasants’ and Workers’ Party officials will share “direct criticism or direct opinions” in regular meetings with Communist Party leaders.

    But before we went into the meeting, Levin warned us that while the existence of the minority “democratic parties” is often touted as an example of democratization in China, the power of the parties is still minimal.

    In response to a question about the recent promotion of several non-Communist Party members to positions of power, Jiang acknowledged that the political power of the democratic parties remains relatively small. He attributed this to the Cultural Revolution, which crushed dissent in China in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and said the parties are currently in a rebuilding phase.

    “There are going to be more democratic party members assuming government positions,” he said.

    Jiang himself is vice chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress.

    While the “Blue” group’s discussion with Jiang focused mainly on domestic political issues — including health care, urbanization and women’s participation — the “Green” group met with He Yafei, assistant minister of foreign affairs. Their discussion of China’s role in the world was wide ranging, from the U.S.-China relationship to the ongoing genocide in Sudan. The “Red” group met with Wang E Xiang, vice president of the Supreme People’s Court of China.

    Green Group

    He Yafei, right, and Bruce Alexander, Yale’s vice president for New Haven and state affairs, meet Thursday in Beijing. (Michael Blank/YDN)

    Lunch with local college students

    After the official meetings, about 30 of us were invited to a luncheon with Chinese college students, organized by China Campus magazine.

    The magazine is partially student-written and student-run, and Levin joked that it was the first — and to date the only — magazine to have ever put his face on the cover. China Campus editors had invited a number of students from around Beijing to meet with Yalies at the lunch.

    In a schedule so far filled with official meetings and speeches, the lunch was the first opportunity to really meet people from China, and the Yale students in attendance were enthusiastic about the event.


    Two Yale students, center and right, talk to a Chinese college student. (Michael Blank/YDN)

    Over the course of an hour, I met — among others — two students who are planning to come to the U.S. next fall to study, one at Georgia Tech and the other at Johns Hopkins, and another who works as a reporter for China Daily while she is a student. It was striking, however, that all of the Chinese students that I met were majoring in a science or social science field. The idea of being a history major with hopes of a career in journalism, as I am, seemed unheard of. One woman said the last time she had studied history was in high school.

    While these exchanges suggested that the liberal arts have yet to take full root in the Chinese education system, the same student was curious about Yale’s mandatory distribution requirements, and she expressed enthusiasm for her “interest classes” — what we would call electives — including one on Chinese dance.

    Outside the classroom, the common cultural touchstones at my table were “Friends” and “Prison Break.”

    To the surprise of at least this Yalie, Levin was treated like a rock star by the Chinese students. They lined up to have their pictures taken with him one-on-one, and he also had interviews scheduled with student publications.

    Tourism: The Forbidden City, Peking Duck and Beijing Opera

    After the morning’s string of speeches and meetings, the afternoon was devoted to tourism, beginning with a visit to the Forbidden City.

    Forbidden City2

    (Michael Blank/YDN)

    Forbidden City1

    (Michael Blank/YDN)

    Despite my best efforts to get completely and utterly lost in the narrow and apparently identical streets of the palace complex, the buses left on time for a dinner of Peking duck. The most impressive part of this dish is the nifty knifework needed to remove the meat from the bone, which is treated as a performance in a restaurant. The duck is then served wrapped in thin pancakes with scallions and duck sauce.

    Dinner was followed by a brief performance by the Beijing Opera of “Havoc in the Dragon’s Palace.” There, we learned that Chinese opera, which features traditional instruments, singing, dancing and even occasional acrobatics, really bears resemblance to Western opera in name only.

    Levin at Opera

    A waiter serves tea to President Richard Levin, center, and Jane Levin in a dramatic fashion. (Michael Blank/YDN)

    Opera Mask

    An actor applies makeup in preparation for a Beijing Opera performance. (Michael Blank/YDN)

    Opera Show

    The show goes on. (Michael Blank/YDN)

  2. President Hu welcomes Yale 100 to China

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    Four hours after we arrived at Beijing Airport on Wednesday, Yale faculty and students were welcomed to China by President Hu Jintao in a brief address at the Great Hall of the People.

    For virtually all of the students and some of the faculty, the audience with Hu — perhaps the highlight of the trip — followed nearly 24 hours of bus and air travel, beginning at 6 a.m. on Tuesday in New Haven. Our day would not end until 9 p.m. Beijing time, following Hu’s address, a photo op, and a Welcome Banquet, also at the Great Hall.

    USE Great Hall

    Students await entrance to the Great Hall of the People on Wednesday afternoon before meeting with President Hu Jintao. Digital photography was not permitted at the event with President Hu. (Michael Blank/YDN)

    In his remarks, Hu echoed both U.S. President George W. Bush and Yale President Richard Levin when he emphasized the importance of “people to people” diplomacy between the United States and China — one of the goals of the Yale 100 trip. Young people are particularly important in these efforts, Hu said, citing a Chinese proverb: “Heroes always come from young people.”

    “Further developing the cooperative U.S.-China relationship is in the fundamental interests of the two countries and peoples,” Hu said.

    At the Welcome Banquet, which Hu did not attend, Levin reiterated his appreciation for the Chinese government’s financial support for the trip. Eighty-five of the 100 students, faculty and staff in the Yale delegation have never been to China, he said.

    Levin Accepts a Gift

    Levin exchanges gifts with an organizer of the Welcome Banquet. (Han Xu/YDN)

    But for students, the menu may have proved more interesting than the toasts by Levin and other Chinese officials. Other than the airline’s attempt at Asian-inflected cuisine — including a particularly dismal rendition of dim sum just before landing — the dinner was the group’s first meal of the trip.

    Although my Chinese-speaking tablemate translated the printed menu loosely as “scallops, shrimp, chicken, beef, vegetables, ice cream,” what arrived on the lazy Susan turned out to be a vast array of dishes, such as abalone, that would have been foreign to most American Chinese restaurants. We had been warned in advance not to eat too much of the first courses at such banquets, but it proved virtually impossible. What I thought was a winding-down of the dishes turned out to be merely a half-time break, and the flow of dishes continued unabated out of the kitchen for close to two hours.

    Banquet Dinner

    Yale students and faculty sample from the cold appetizers served on a lazy Susan at the Welcome Banquet. (Han Xu/YDN)

    Students and faculty were seated with Chinese officials at the banquet. Although conversation dwindled as jet lag gradually took hold of the Yalies, we managed to get in topics ranging from the structure of the Chinese education system to secret society tap.

    Representatives from Yale and the All-China Student Federation and the All-China Youth Federation — which coordinated the group’s schedule in China — were making a valiant effort to keep the trip running smoothly. From personalized first-day schedules distributed on the plane to room keys handed out en route to the hotel (on preassigned, color-coded buses), their efforts were largely successful.

    But the first day of the trip was also a reminder that Yale cannot control everything. The buses departed New Haven just after 6:30 a.m. — right on time and more than six hours before scheduled takeoff — but they ran into an accident on I-95 that set them back nearly an hour and a half. Once aloft, it turned out that the in-flight video system in the coach cabin was broken — seemingly a minor inconvenience, but one that can feel like a calamity by the 12th hour of a 14-hour flight.

  3. China delegation gets sendoff from Levin

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    Faculty and students departing next week for China met Tuesday afternoon to hear from Yale President Richard Levin about the challenges facing China in the coming years.

    In his remarks, Levin identified four major issues China must confront in order to maintain its strong economic growth: rule of law, education, environment and income inequality. He highlighted efforts at Yale to spur progress in several of those areas, and also connected ongoing reforms to the possibility of expanded human rights and democracy in China.

    Levin Speaking

    Yale President Richard Levin addresses the delegation of faculty and students headed to China next week. (Michael Blank/YDN)

    The economic growth of recent decades has already prompted China to improve its rule of law because foreign companies have demanded consistent legal practices, Levin said, while the Beijing Olympics have spurred concerns about environmental conditions in the country. At the same time, concerns about how to continue to innovate once the country “catches up” to the United States in terms of labor costs are driving changes to Chinese higher education, he said.

    China is trying to foster innovative thinking rather than rote memorization in its classrooms, Levin said, in an effort to learn from Japan, where the economy stagnated after years of rapid growth.

    “In the last five year plan, which started two years ago, Hu Jintao declared creativity and innovation as the key concepts for China’s next 10 years,” he said.

    This has led some top-tier universities in China to move toward an American-style liberal arts education in place of specialization — a process Levin said Yale has encouraged by offering training sessions for Chinese university administrators about how American universities are organized.

    And these ongoing reforms in education and the rule of law may offer hope for the future of human rights in China, Levin said.

    “If you’re training them to think more independently … that in the long run is bound to have some political implications,” he said.

    But he acknowledged that it is “not an impossible scenario” that Chinese leaders would return to a closed economy if continued openness appears to threaten their political control.

    Levin encouraged participants to ask questions about human rights while they are in China, particularly during meetings with faculty and students of Chinese universities. The trip itinerary includes meetings at Peking University, Tsinghua University, Xi’an Jiaotong University and Fudan University.

    “Ask for yourselves,” he said. “You’re not the State Department, you’re individuals.”

    In response to a student’s question, Levin also laid out the reasons for the Yale trip, which resulted from an invitation given by Chinese President Hu Jintao in his 2006 speech at Yale. China’s rapid economic growth has inspired some anxiety about the possibility of a future confrontational relationship between China and the U.S., Levin said, and this trip will help forge the cultural understanding that is needed on both sides to keep relations peaceful.

    “[Hu] believes, as I do … that cross-cultural interaction and people-to-people contact is the best investment we can make for international security in the long-run,” Levin said.

    After Levin’s talk, trip participants had a chance to mingle at a reception, which also offered them a small taste of China — in the form of dumplings and beef skewers.


    Trip participants mingle at the reception following Levin’s address. (Michael Blank/YDN)

  4. Bush meets with Yale delegation to China

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    WASHINGTON — President George W. Bush ’68 met Friday afternoon with Yale President Richard Levin, China’s Ambassador to the United States Zhou Wenzhong and other participants in the upcoming Yale trip to China.

    At the Oval Office meeting, Bush conveyed his greetings to Chinese President Hu Jintao, who invited the Yale delegation to China in a speech at Yale in April 2006. The group of 100 faculty, students and administrators is expected to meet with senior Chinese government officials during the 10-day trip, which begins May 15.

    Oval Office Visit

    Participants on the trip to China meet with President Bush. (Courtesy Eric Draper)

    Levin said the idea for the presidential sendoff originated with Zhou, and was organized by Yale. Bush has granted similar meetings to other Yale groups, including a number of Chinese officials participating in the China-Yale Senior Government Leadership Program last summer.

    At Friday’s meeting, Bush spoke about the diplomatic importance of personal connections between Americans and the Chinese in overcoming American “protectionism” and “Chinese nationalism,” which he called the biggest prospective stumbling blocks to friendly relations between the two countries.

    “The best diplomacy is … person-to-person diplomacy,” Bush said.

    Bush voiced concern about some Americans’ belief that China is stealing jobs from the U.S., suggesting instead that the Chinese should create a better pension and old-age health care system so that Chinese consumers will save less and consume more American goods.

    But Bush also referred to historic tensions between the United States and China over the issue of Taiwan, and when Zhou asked Bush to continue to keep an eye on Taiwan’s activities, Bush reiterated his opposition to any “unilateral” change — from the mainland government or from Taiwan — to the status quo.

    A discussion of Sudan also exposed some disagreement between the two countries. Although cooperation between China and the U.S. over Sudan has improved in recent months, China — which invests heavily in Sudan and relies on its oil exports — has in the past been reluctant to intervene to stop violence in the Darfur region. When Zhou told Bush that China now plans to send a delegation of engineers to Sudan to pave the way for peacekeepers, Bush expressed appreciation for China’s willingness to become involved but also asked what engineers could do to save lives. In the event that Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir does not allow peacekeeping troops into the country, Bush said, he is prepared to follow through on his earlier promise of sanctions.

    Before the meeting at the White House, Zhou hosted a luncheon for the Yale group at his official residence. Wishing Levin and the students “bon voyage,” the ambassador described the trip as setting “another record for Yale” because sending a delegation of this size and composition is relatively unprecedented.

    Topics of conversation at the lunch ranged from the next round of Chinese elections, expected to take place next year, to Chez Panisse — the Berkeley, Calif., restaurant started by Alice Waters, who also spearheaded the introduction of sustainable food to Yale dining halls.

    The full delegation to China includes 62 undergraduate and graduate students and 38 faculty and administrators. The group will travel to Beijing, Xi’an and Shanghai, and their itinerary includes stops at major tourist destinations as well as meetings with professors and students from local universities.