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August 12, 2017

Responding To: A Reflection on the 2016-2017 U.S.-China Student Fellows Program

Global Responsibility, Criticism, and Value Reconstruction

Amy Duan

I am very glad to have had the opportunity to participate in the Georgetown U.S.- China Student Fellows Program. After we met in Beijing again and ended the one-week meeting, I felt I have never been changed so much by any program before within such a short time. The one-year program is intense, interesting, and intellectually stimulating. I have learned a lot from the student fellows, the professors, people we met during the briefing sessions, as well as the discussions and activities we’ve done together. It’s hard to summarize this great experience in a short blog, but there are three things I think are very important and will be the guiding light in my future life.

The first day of the Beijing meeting already taught me a great lesson. The day we climbed the Great Wall at Mutianyu together it was hot, which made the climbing even harder than we expected. At certain point, some of us decided to stay at the mid-level of the wall, while others decided to make it to the top, including me. Among this group, Richard was the first one to reach the top, and the rest of us were still struggling on the almost vertical stairs. I got so tired when I reached the last stage and my powerless legs constantly persuaded me to stop…then I heard Richard’s voice over the top—“Amy, you are almost there, come on! You can make it.” And after he cheered me all the way up to the top, he continued to encourage Ana, Vicky, and Yuqian by his contagious cheers. I was greatly touched that day. A person who makes big achievement alone is great, but those who can help others succeed are even greater. Great leaders have the power and the willingness to cheer up others along the way to the top.

Later in one of the session we talked about big powers’ responsibility for helping others, and Professor Wilder asked us a question: Do the United States and China have the obligation or responsibility to help other countries? The Great Wall experience made me believe the answer is yes, and I agree with Professor Wilder that China’s responsibility grows as its capacity grows. All the countries are climbers in their own way to achieve economic development and prosperity. Those who have benefited from globalization and are in the lead, like the United States and China, should never forget those who lag behind, like many in the Third World who are still suffering from poverty and diseases. We shouldn’t just ignore them or try to stop them in the way; instead, we should behave like Richard and shoulder the responsibility to support them in different ways.

The second thing I learned from the program is that one should be open to criticism and be free to make one. When we first met our American counterparts, I was astonished by their directness and sharpness in criticizing China for issues such as human rights and possible misdoings in some Third World countries. I knew some of them were true, but such ways of challenging each other are not Chinese, and I naturally became defensive when someone was saying something bad about my own country. So I tended to reject those criticisms and thought my U.S. counterparts were being too aggressive and prejudiced towards China. At the same time, I was afraid to point out what I thought was wrong of the United States. However, after the first meeting in Washington D.C., I reflected a little bit and realized I need to learn from my U.S. friends.

Actually, being direct and daring to challenge and criticize others are constructive in any genuine discussion. Both the American students and the Chinese students cannot see all the aspects of an issue. Seeing only part of the truth will result in prejudice and misunderstandings. I learned a lot from the American fellows’ criticism and gained much knowledge that I would never know if I only listen to domestic voices. For example, when Richard criticized China of violating human rights, I got to know Yang Jisheng, a historian whose landmark book on the Great Leap Forward famine was banned in China. I may not accept the criticism, but I decided to open to it, do some introspection, and make a necessary value reconstruction. Also, when I tried to express my dissatisfactions about American politics, I found that my counterparts were not offended, and they were interested in my views. I was proud that I made my voice heard and discussed. At the end of the Beijing meeting, I was so used to criticism and making criticism because I know it will build understanding and trust between us if I handle criticisms from others correctly and give reasonable criticisms to them.

I was also impressed by Professor Kline’s case discussions about human rights dilemmas. In face of the dilemma concerning human life and corporate interests, there were very different choices made based on different values by the fellows, which surprised and inspired me a lot. How should we judge other people or countries' decisions? Should we only see the possible harm by that decision to our country and point fingers to others without understanding the values behind that decision? Then, is every decision based on certain values reasonable and should be accepted by others? I believe most of the misunderstandings and conflicts happen when we disregard or reject other people’s values when we try to pursue our own values. The United States and China hold many different values, but I believe some of the values are common, such as pursuing development and world peace. When we talk about cooperation and mutual trust, we should focus on areas in which we share the same values. When conflicts arise, it’s important for us to decide which value should be respected, which should be criticized and also, which of our own values should be insisted and which should be reconstructed.

I believe that many years from now I will forget the specific issues or topics we have discussed, but I will never forget those values we have exchanged. I will soon start my career as an English teacher in China, and I believe I can use what I have learned from this program to influence the younger Chinese generation in the class. I want my students to grow up to be responsible global citizens, critical thinkers, and people who are ready to respect other people’s values and reconstruct their own values.

Amy Duan is pursuing her master’s degree in translation studies at Beijing Foreign Studies University.

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