Surprise reply letter from Xi to US high school Chinese learners deepens students’ resolve to be cultural bridge
Pure friendship
Published: Apr 05, 2023 07:36 PM
Editor's Note:

Chinese people believe that letters are as valuable as gold. For thousands of years, letters, across mountains and oceans, have been delivering the writers' sentiments and conveying friendship and expectations.

Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and Chinese president, has managed to find time to reply to some letters from different sectors of the society and different parts of the world despite of his busy work schedule.

Through his letters, Xi has corresponded with international friends from all walks of life on numerous occasions, part of a series of excellent stories of China's international exchanges in the new era. The letters have also added vivid colors to the diplomacy between China and other countries.

The Global Times traced and contacted some of the recipients of Xi's letters, to hear the inspiring stories behind the letters and their communications with the Chinese president.

Wang Limin (right), a Chinese language teacher at the Niles North High School, holds copies of Xi's reply letter to the students who co-wrote a letter to the Chinese president, at a receiving ceremony on April 3, 2019. Photo: Courtesy of Wang

Wang Limin (right), a Chinese language teacher at the Niles North High School, holds copies of Xi's reply letter to the students who co-wrote a letter to the Chinese president, at a receiving ceremony on April 3, 2019. Photo: Courtesy of Wang

In April 2019, a reply letter from Chinese President Xi Jinping sent to a group of Chinese language learners at the Niles North High School in Illinois state, the US, had the recipients buzzing with excitement. 

Writing a letter to Xi was an interesting and challenging homework assignment for the students after having studied Chinese language for only five months, and they had never expected that the letter would receive a reply from the Chinese president. 

Four years later, they are still deeply impressed by Xi's amiability and care for young people in China and the US. As China embraces the world with open arms in the post-pandemic era, these American students are looking forward to opportunities to visit China and further learn about the real China.  

A sweet connection

Such an interesting bond was created through a homework assignment given by Wang Limin, a Chinese language teacher at the Niles North High School in the northern suburbs of Chicago. 

Niles North High School, established in 1964, is a public school in the US state of Illinois with over 2,000 students. The school attaches great importance to international exchanges and encourages students to learn foreign languages, and has offered Chinese courses since 2008. It currently has 11 classes of students learning Chinese as an elective course.

Wang asked her 44 students to write a letter in Chinese to President Xi, to wish him a Happy Chinese Lunar New Year in February 2019. 

The students then voted for the best letter, put their simple expressions together, signed the letter, and mailed it to the Chinese Consulate in Chicago.

"We are high school students from Chicago. Our school is Niles North High School in Illinois state in the United States. As we are studying Chinese now, we would like to write to you in Chinese," read the letter. 

"We like speaking Chinese, and we like our Chinese teacher. We like writing Chinese characters and having Chinese food. We like to say 'great,' 'I love you,' 'friend,' 'come on,' 'just so-so,' 'hamburger,' and 'tired' (in Chinese). We all love music. But none of us like doing homework," said the US students, whose daily expressions show their ebullience and passion for Chinese language.

"Do you like listening to American music? China is very big and beautiful. We want to go to China to take a look. We think you are a good person, and handsome, too. We look forward to your reply," read the letter.

About two months later, the students were entirely surprised to receive a reply from Xi. The letter arrived in Chinese version accompanied by an English translation.

In his reply letter to the students, Xi thanked them for their letter, saying he feels their love for the Chinese language and their interest in Chinese culture.

Studying Chinese helps better understand China, make more Chinese friends, and also make many friends who can speak Chinese across the world, Xi said in the letter.

He praised the students' neat writing and correct wording in Chinese, and encouraged them to continue the efforts to achieve greater progress in Chinese language learning.

"I have visited the US for many times, and was deeply impressed by the beautiful scenery, hospitable people and diverse culture there. I have also made many American friends, including young friends," the president said in his response to students' interest in his personal life. 

"My job is to serve the people. It is very tiring, but also very fulfilling," he added.

The Chinese president said he has a keen interest in philosophy, history, literature, culture, music, and sports, among others, adding that many of his hobbies have been kept since his middle school years.

Calling the young generation the future of the China-US friendship, Xi said he hoped that the students will cherish their youth, study hard, and make contributions to promoting friendship between the Chinese and American peoples. 

Noting that it is better to see something once than to hear about it a hundred times, the president welcomed the students to visit China. 

"That was not the first time that President Xi wrote back to foreign students, which tells us how much Xi values people-to-people exchanges and cooperation between China and other countries," then Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said at a regular press meeting on April 22, 2019, noting that it is pleasant to see the US' young generation developing such a strong interest in the Chinese language and culture and harboring such a pure friendliness toward China.

A group of Chinese language learners from several primary schools attend a festival and sing to celebrate the Chinese Lunar New Year on January 18, 2023 in Los Angeles, the US. Photo: VCG

A group of Chinese language learners from several primary schools attend a festival and sing to celebrate the Chinese Lunar New Year on January 18, 2023 in Los Angeles, the US. Photo: VCG

A surprise, an inspiration

"I was surprised, very surprised," Kendra Le, a Niles North freshman at the time, said about her excitement that her letter, drafted through her proficiency in grammar with the help of her Chinese teacher, has been selected and sent to the Chinese president.

"We had just started learning Chinese and our vocabulary was limited. We kept it simple by sharing what words we liked to ask simple questions. We wanted to express our interest in Chinese culture and thought that it would be cool to address it to President Xi in the hopes that he would reply," Le recalled.

"We assumed that President Xi would be too busy to look at a letter written by students who had just started learning Chinese. It became a huge surprise when we received his response. It was super thrilling because it became a new experience for me and my classmates," Le told the Global Times.

Many students, like Le, were stunned, unable to believe that the president of a vast country of 1.4 billion people would write back to them, Wang Limin told the Global Times.

"It all started with a very simple purpose. Every word of the letter had been written by them, from every word they had learned. At first, the students were worried that they could not write Chinese characters well, but I encouraged them to write it out no matter how beautiful it was," Wang recalled.

"The president's reply also used some basic Chinese words that they had learned which made them even more excited. Obviously, after receiving the letter, some of them developed more of an enthusiasm to learn Chinese for a long time," the Chinese teacher said.

The most attractive part of the letter, Wang noted, was the president's invitation extended to the students to visit China.

Inspired by this letter, and Wang's push, the Niles North High School and China's Fuzhou No.1 High School, Wang's alma mater, formed a partnership in 2019, with a sponsorship fund created to facilitate student exchanges and trips, though, unfortunately the planned trip was later canceled due to COVID-19.

"Many students in my class were looking forward to the opportunity to visit China, and developed a genuine and precious friendship with their partnered school peers, which I believe sowed seeds for their future role as cultural and language bridges. As we always say, language minimizes misunderstandings and maximizes mutual respect and comprehension in bilateral ties," she said.

"As we always repeat the quote from Nelson Mandela - 'If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart,' - that's what we expect our students to convey in the US-China friendship," said Wang.

Inspired by Xi's reply letter, Le, now a freshman at the University of Michigan, has been learning Chinese for almost five years. 

"A goal of mine would be to visit China one day and be able to communicate effectively in Chinese on my own," said Le. 

"If I could come to China, I would like to visit scenic spots and try many foods. I would like to know more about Chinese cultures, such as how to prepare different Chinese cuisine," she told the Global Times.

While emphasizing the significance of exchanges among youth generations and the expected resumption of more connections in the post-pandemic era, Le stressed that "having connections is always important and it opens more opportunities for people in the US and China."