Maps of China
I. The getting-to-know-you years, page 4 of 5
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I have gone into some detail about my memories of that trip in 1975 because it served as my first exposure to the People’s Republic of China and it was an up-close and enlightening learning experience for everyone in the delegation. It was certainly an important part of the getting-to-know-you-process. I have a copy of the Rockefeller Foundation report on the trip, which was compiled by John Knowles based on a diary he kept of the trip. The report contains some interesting photographs taken during the trip, including one of the operation using acupuncture anesthesia and the one of the delegation with Deng Xiaoping at the Great Hall.
Back to Washington, D.C.
Throughout the 1970s, this “getting to know you” process continued with delegations and groups from the United States representing a wide range of work-related interests and skills including teachers, athletes, artists, musicians, businesspeople, and labor union officials. From the Chinese side, people from a similar range of professions and areas of interest were involved, but Communist Party officials and/or party members were also well represented in all their delegations.
Of course, wherever these groups traveled in each other’s countries, they mingled with their counterparts and others in the community, and they observed how life went on each other’s society. And they carried their stories back to the homeland. The Americans were learning more about the real China, and the mainland Chinese were getting acquainted for the first time with American society. This was cultural exchange at its best—the getting-to-know-you process working the way it was designed to work—“public diplomacy” without that name.
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By 1977 I had been reassigned from the State Department back to the U.S. Information Agency as the deputy director for East Asia. The area of my responsibilities still included China, but in this prerecognition period, we still had no USIA offices or libraries there.
One memorable day in the fall of 1978 we were told that Deng Xiaoping had announced that he wanted to send 10,000 Chinese students to colleges in the United States for study. Our reaction was: “Does he realize what he is doing??? Does he know how this will change the new Chinese generation’s outlook and thinking?” Well, the Chinese students started pouring into our colleges in1979, and they have kept coming ever since. In 2002 Chinese students in United States degree programs numbered 63,211—11 percent of all foreign students. And today an impressive number of the exchange students who came in the 1980s are occupying high-level positions in the Chinese government.
It was at this time—late 1978—that because of certain economic incentives and my wife’s urging, I decided to take an early retirement. I had had more than thirty years of service. By early December that year, I had completed all the necessary paperwork, when on the evening of December 15, President Carter announced that China and the United States were establishing diplomatic relations on January 1, 1979, and that Prime Minister Deng Xiaoping would be in Washington for the formalities. The next morning I was called in by the director and asked if there was anything that would change my mind about retiring. I knew what he meant—assignment to the embassy in Beijing to set up and run the USIA programs. It was very tempting, but as I told him, my wife would never forgive me. So my exit from government service coincided with what had been my longtime goal.
Fortunately I found a good place to pursue my personal goals on Cape Cod. It wasn’t long after we settled here that I was struck by the huge gap in Americans’ knowledge of China, so I decided to reverse my roles. Instead of working to inform the Chinese about the United States, I set out to help Americans better understand China. And I have been pursuing that as my public diplomacy objective ever since.