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November 30, 2016

Responding To: How U.S.-China Young People's Perspectives Influence Critical Global Issues

For Better or Worse: New Perspectives and Relationships

Caleb Huffman

University students from the United States and China provide a fresh perspective on the world and a willingness to foster cross-cultural relationships.

For better or worse, who stirs the heart of the people? Who carries out revolutions? Who overthrows the hierarchies of old? Youth. And, often, youth with confidence provided by an education, that is, students. Simply look to the recent United States primary election with the surge of Bernie Sanders, a socialist candidate in the very anti-socialist United States. Youth drove Sanders’ otherwise impossible rise. In China, it was students who took to Tiananmen Square in protest. This does not mean that the drive of youth produces beneficial change (however one defines the term), but students eager to make a mark on the world provide a source of substantial potential energy for genuine change.

This potential demands attention with recognition to its significance. Each new generation is taught the traditions of its people, through culture and interaction – even rational governments have realized this sponsoring institutions like public schools and conscripted military service to facilitate the process, consequently pointing youth in the direction determined by experience of the past. Such experience is typically well-learned and deserves to be heeded. But not always.

Not yet burdened with the weight of experience, the young have open minds to seeing the world anew. As a student, persistent study provides the theoretical framework for understanding the past, full of pain and progress, while personally experiencing only the obtained progress with no more than providing lip-service to the bygone pain. Naiveté can be a strength, an opportunity to truly rethink what the world can look like. Whether obtaining a new world is possible or the cost to be paid is worth it takes secondary importance to the new vision. This can be foolishly deleterious. Or it can be a message of freedom. Like an elephant chained to a pole since infancy, trapped as an adult only by the memories of relentless tugging as a calf, society can hold itself back marooned in false assumptions. Now, the elephant has grown and its chains can’t hold it anymore. Society, it’s time to break the chains. This is the power of students.

Current university students from the United States and China provide a particularly fresh analysis into the U.S.-China relationship. While analysts are searching for the next bipolar power struggle, university students today, born after the end of the Cold War and its bipolar global system, are asking if such a structure is actually ideal.

However, the possibility still lurks and a U.S.-China rivalry is a tempting top-choice for such a global struggle. Students can ease such concerns through mutual interaction. While mass exchanges between the general citizenry is unrealistic, students are more flexible and willing to explore other regions of the world. It is already happening. The Chinese Ministry of Education reports that every year over 570,000 Chinese students study abroad in the United States every year, while over 25,000 American students study abroad in China every year. Chinese students are making Facebook profiles, and American students are joining WeChat. This is more than symbolic. Real relationships are being forged.

Whatever the future holds, university students from China and the United States have the opportunity to shape it. How exactly this segment of the world’s population will influence the policies of their respective nations is uncertain. What is not uncertain is that this generation of university students will provide a new perspective shaped by personal relationships.

Caleb Huffman is pursuing an undergraduate double major in political science and communication at the University of Washington.

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