Celebrity Ambassadors Travel to China for Arts Forum

U.S.-China disagreements over a range of issues are featured so regularly in the media, I’ve almost begun to believe that disputes are the only characteristic of this relationship. However, since my internship at Project Pengyou began, I’ve come to realize that the US and China have undertaken plenty of efforts to better understand one another. One high-profile example is the recent ‘US-China Forum on the Arts and Culture.’

Held in Beijing from November 16th to 19th and organized by the Asia Society, the Forum attempted to promote mutual understanding through the exchange of arts and culture via some high-profile celebrity ambassadors. The roster of crème-de-la-crème artists included: Oscar-winning actress Meryl Streep, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, novelist Amy Tan, dancer Charles ‘Lil Buck’ Riley, celebrity chef Alice Waters, and filmmaker Joel Cohen, in addition to their Chinese peers.

The first of its kind, the Forum was intended to showcase an American “cultural vibrancy” founded on openness with the hope of both sides learning more about the other. Over the course of the Forum’s three days, the US and China artists collaborated in live performances, and held cultural ‘salons’ discussing topics ranging from literature to cuisine.

Lil Buck and Yo-Yo Ma perform crowd-pleaser 'The Swan'.
Lil Buck and Yo-Yo Ma perform crowd-pleaser ‘The Swan’.

One of the most crowd-pleasing performances was a rendition of ‘The Swan’ by composer Saint-Saens, performed by Yo-Yo Ma and ‘Lil Buck’ Riley, which played to a standing ovation. Also of note was a refreshingly frank discussion panel with Amy Tan and Yo-Yo Ma, who shared their experiences of being raised amidst two different cultures, and the respective pulls of both.

The raw talent of its participants was impressive, but I think what made the Forum successful was the improvisational spirit of the participants – allowing for a more genuine and open exchange between the American and Chinese artists.

As for the purpose of this Forum, Orville Schell, Director of the Center on U.S.-China Relations at Asia Society and the “chaperone” of this trip, noted: “When countries cannot agree at a diplomatic level, you have to be able to relate in ways other than over the contentious issues that divide you.” I couldn’t agree more. Arts and culture are common grounds that the US and China can share in ample reserves. While efforts similar to the Forum may not always attract the level of media that they deserve, their effectiveness at helping reach a mutual understanding between the US and China should not be underestimated!

Photos courtesy of The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.