Maps of China
Early Getting-To-Know-You Years,
The Meaning of Public Diplomacy
I would like to explain or to clarify the meaning of the term public diplomacy. Currently the State Department defines the term within the context of three types of diplomacy: Public diplomacy is “engaging, informing, and influencing key international audiences”; public affairs refers to “outreach to Americans”; and traditional diplomacy is “to advance U.S. interests and security and to provide the moral basis for U.S. leadership in the world” (1). Actually the term itself is either the invention of the Bush administration or their revival of terminology seldom used in the past. It has been brought to people’s attention recently by Charlotte Beers, the Madison Avenue executive who until recently headed up the so-called public diplomacy (PD) operation in the State Department.
During most of my career, the information and cultural work in foreign affairs was conducted by the U.S. Information Agency (USIA), which was formed in 1953 and headed then by the renowned newsman Edward R. Murrow. Libraries, book translations, press relations, cultural exchanges (including Fulbright grants), visiting lecturers, and TV and films all existed as tools for doing our work, and the Voice of America (VOA) was also a part of the agency. We worked closely within the framework of the societies in which our offices were located with invaluable assistance of local employee staffs to help guide us in our cross-cultural communications.
Unfortunately, with the winding down of the cold war in the 1990s, the USIA’s budget and operations were cut back drastically, and finally, what was left of it was moved and placed under supervision of the State Department. All of the libraries were closed, and all the other operations I just mentioned were either abolished or cut back severely and remain so. This means that our day-to-day personal contact with the leaders and people in other countries, if not eliminated entirely, is now severely limited.
The Beginnings of My Association with China
In 1945, while I was serving in the U.S. Navy, I had a glimpse of China from the Qingdao harbor, and I came out of World War II determined to enter the foreign service and somehow become involved with China. After completing my education at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy (of Tufts University) in 1951, I entered the foreign service. After a very brief training period, I was assigned to the Philippines as an information officer to Davao, a one-man post managed with the assistance of a large Filipino staff. There, I learned my lessons, some of them the hard way, in working cross-culturally in a foreign environment.
My desire for Chinese language training and China assignments had, of course, been frustrated by the Communist takeover of the mainland in 1949 and the expulsion from Beijing of the American mission–including the State Department’s Chinese Language School. We transferred our embassy to Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, where the government of the Nationalist Republic of China (ROC) had fled, but the Chinese Language School was not reopened there until 1956. Even though I was in Holland when the school reopened, I applied immediately to enroll in it. Finally in 1958 I began my training, after which I was assigned to Hong Kong, which is where this story begins.
Hong Kong, Early 1960s
Of course, the first step in getting to know another culture is to learn to understand and speak their language. Then the real work begins. My years in Hong Kong were a good introduction to another side of Chinese society because the island was a Cantonese British Crown colony and home to refugees from the mainland. My experiences during those years served as the source of my early education on mainland China affairs. Hong Kong was the listening post for the United States regarding mainland China (better known then as “Communist China”).
It was during this period (the early 1960s) that a very important development began—the split between China and the Soviet Union. This change unfolding in the relationship between the two communist countries was the spark that started the movement within American high-level thinking toward seeking a formal relationship with Communist China. (Continue to page 2)