Another year and another exploration opportunity was opened to the School of Diplomacy students. As in 2018, China was the destination of choice. There was no doubt in all the travelers’ minds that “the Red Dragon” was a wonderful location to learn and observe new ideas of diplomacy in a vastly different culture.
As the trip’s course name was “China’s Rise: Opportunities and Challenges,” the adventure brought a series of wonderful experiences from sightseeing Beijing, Nanjing, and Shanghai, to meeting local students and officials who work in U.S.-China relations. The trip came at a time when diplomatic relations between the U.S. and China have been damaged because of an ongoing trade war. This gave the students a chance to search for some common ground between the two world powers.
Dr. Zheng Wang, a professor at the School of Diplomacy, lead the 11-member delegation. The 14-hour flight may have delayed some of that excitement, but as soon as the cohort exited the airport to take their first breath of Beijing air, the adrenaline kicked in.
Our first official day started with a visit to the National Museum of China, where most Chinese historical documentation is stored. The exhibition trailed through a journey of many dynasties.
Directly outside the museum is Tiananmen Square and the Great Hall of the People.
Unfortunately, this year’s trip took place during the gathering of the country’s National Congress, which necessitated extreme security measures in many public spaces. That afternoon, we walked through five gates of the Forbidden City, the palace where both Ming and Qing dynasties resided until the fall of the Feudal system.
The next day, we hiked the marvelous Great Wall of China in the morning. This excursion left many students in wonder, of the magnificent architectural feat of the Wall. After, we visited the tomb of the 13th Ming Emperor along with the Sacred Path, where rituals were performed before the emperor was taken to his final resting place.
Peking University was our first professional stop, where we spoke with undergraduate students in International Relations to understand their perception of the U.S. Then, we visited the Institute of American Studies in China’s Academy of Social Science, where graduate-level students provided more insight into the current political climate between both nations. The last stop in Beijing was a visit to Greenpoint, a strategic consultant firm to multinational companies who have an interest in U.S.-China relations for business.
The experience of boarding a high-speed train that only takes three hours to travel from Beijing to Nanjing left everyone amazed at China’s infrastructural development. In a city with a mixture of both traditional and modern values, we visited Nanjing University to discuss the South China Sea matter with Ph.D. candidates.
Afterwards, the group was humbled by the Nanjing Massacre Museum, revisiting the tragic stories of local people during the Japanese Empire Attack. Nanjing was concluded with a hike to Sun Yat-Sen’s Mausoleum, where the Nationalist Party founder’s historic site gave us a magnificent view of the city.
Standing 128 stories above the ground, the Shanghai Tower Observatory was an incredible sight. The fast-paced style of living in Shanghai quickly returned the group to a familiar lifestyle. Though it is a modernized city with many skyscrapers, outside Shanghai brought images of old times in China. Strolling through old corners of the “water town” exposed peacefully aesthetic scenery.
During the last days, we had the privilege of touring both China Ocean Shipping Company (COSCO) and Apple’s Shanghai headquarters. These visits gave us a sense of how companies with very different business focuses operate in China. Our visit to Shanghai International Studies University left the best impression of our interactions with Chinese students. Aside from the usual discussion, we enjoyed a delicious dinner together and discussed likenesses rather than differences.
There are many similarities between the U.S. and China. Both countries develop gradually every year. However, China’s innumerable skyscrapers made us feel that even a city like New York cannot compare to the magnitude of infrastructural development that the Chinese have achieved.
Still, much needs to be addressed in the country. Environmental sustainability is an immediate issue in China. There have been measures to reduce the pollution, but due to the excessive population in most Chinese cities, the matter is still a difficult one.
In our meetings, we realized that most discourse revolves around the issue of whether U.S. President Donald Trump will stay in office and his foreign policy regarding China. In light of the ongoing trade war that complicates this important relationship, the trip proved to be a wonderful opportunity for both sides to meet on the grassroots level for further bilateral understanding.
Dr. Wang, who labored tirelessly over the trip’s organization, said, “I think the trip went well. It exceeded my expectations especially with all the unexpected difficulties with these kinds of international logistics.”