Young Americans, come experience the true and diverse China
Published: Jun 17, 2024 04:41 PM
Illustration: Chen Xia/GT

Illustration: Chen Xia/GT

I visited several famous landmarks in Beijing including the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, as well as the Beijing National Stadium and the National Aquatics Center with a group of American youth recently. Many of the participants visited China for the first time, and the trip exceeded their expectations. Despite knowing that there are many differences between China and the US, visiting China in person refreshed their understanding of the country.

From June 12 to 14, the flagship activities of the "Bridge of the Future" China-US Youth Exchange Program were held in Beijing. The American youth participating in this event came from various fields, such as the economy, education, technology, health, culture, sports and public welfare. In addition to Beijing, they visited 13 Chinese provinces in different groups to gain a real and comprehensive understanding of China. This exchange program aims to promote cultural exchanges among Chinese and American youth.

During the visit to the Great Wall, many American high school students told me that the Great Wall was even more magnificent and grand than they had imagined. Owen Leo Olsen from the University of Nebraska exclaimed, "The Great Wall is far beyond my imagination!"

The impression I got was that the young Americans participating in the activities knew very little about China. Most of them told me that this was their first time in China. While riding the cable car to visit the Great Wall, one marveled at how different China was from what he had imagined. Before coming to China, he thought that Chinese cities would be very crowded, with lots of trash on the streets and homeless people, similar to his city of New York. However, upon arriving in China, he was surprised by how clean the streets were. Sarah Shapiro and Silvina Herrera from Los Angeles told me that China was one of the most beautiful countries they had ever seen. "The food is delicious, the architecture is beautiful and everything is very welcoming to us."

Some of them had never been to China before and had often mistakenly believed that China was dangerous and closed off. For a long time, some US politicians and Western media outlets have viewed China through colored glasses, concocting false narratives such as the "China threat" theory. It is these misleading and defamatory narratives that have influenced some Americans' perceptions of China's security. They believe visiting China is considered dangerous. These rumors can easily be dispelled after visiting China.

Film director Vahan Bedelian has visited China three times and mentioned that each time he has noticed changes, but the one thing that has remained constant is the safety of China. He stated that he can walk around Beijing anytime and anywhere, which is not possible in Los Angeles, where he resides. Bedelian expressed his love for America but also mentioned that he believes it is a very violent country in many aspects. "There are places in Los Angeles that you can't go to, and if you do, you will be attacked," Bedelian said. He finds the notion that China is dangerous to be absurd and believes that the hospitality of the Chinese people is the most beautiful aspect of the country. "The food and history in China are amazing, but the people are the most valuable cultural thing that China has," he noted. 

It is important for the American youth to set aside stereotypes and to appreciate China firsthand by seeing it with their own eyes, listening to it with their own ears, and experiencing it in its entirety. Emily Broussard from the Carter Center shared her love for China, particularly for the pandas. She told me that Americans are eagerly anticipating the return of pandas to the US. Emily's trip to China surpassed her expectations, as she realized that what is seen in photos and heard in stories is limited. She hopes that in the future, through exchanges and cooperation between China and the US, more American youth will have the opportunity to visit China and experience it firsthand.

People-to-people exchanges between China and the US have a long history. Every important moment in China-US relations cannot be separated from the mutual efforts of the two peoples. These true stories all prove that, despite their very different cultural backgrounds, through in-depth communication and understanding, the two peoples can overcome cultural barriers and deepen their friendship. I sincerely hope that the friendships established by Chinese and American youth will promote mutual understanding between the two peoples, contribute to extensive communication between the two countries, and inject energy into the long-term development of China-US relations.

The author is a reporter with Global Times. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn