In December 2011, in one of his first speeches in Beijing, U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke announced the launch of Project Pengyou. So it was fitting that the ambassador rounded out his tenure by hosting a reception for Project Pengyou at his home away from home, the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.
Over 150 guests turned out to celebrate educational exchange and people-to-people diplomacy, including academic directors like John Thomson of the University of California Education Abroad Program, David Moser of CET, Jeremiah Jenne from IES and Han Bing from Alliance for Global Education; along with alumni representing over 100 U.S.-China educational exchange programs. Also present were two of our biggest supporters, rocker Kaiser Kuo and entrepreneur Richard Robinson, and a special surprise guest: comedian Joe Wong!
WE ARE ALL AMBASSADORS
During his years in Beijing, Ambassador Locke has been a tireless supporter of citizen diplomacy between the United States and China. From gaining instant fame when a picture of him buying his own coffee at Starbucks went viral on the Chinese Internet to his pilgrimage to his ancestral home in Guangdong, Locke has proved himself a down-to-earth and effective bridge builder. He made the U.S.-China people-to-people relationship a priority and we thank him for supporting a budding grassroots organization like ours.
At the reception, Locke emphasized the importance of cross-cultural leadership and the need for more China-savvy Americans.
“The world is looking for leadership from both China and the United States,” he said. “But to have that leadership occur, we have to make sure that the people of both countries understand each other, have a good working relationship, and have common interest and friendship.”
He stressed the value of everyday, people-to-people diplomacy and reminded us that we all have a role to play.
“It all starts with people-to-people. It all starts with mutual understanding, respect for each other,” he said.
“While I may hold the official title of U.S. Ambassador, each and every one of you is an ambassador every single day—advocating and representing the U.S.-China relationship.”
After Locke’s remarks, Chief Pengyou Holly Chang presented him with a tool belt monogrammed with the Chinese character for Locke on behalf of Project Pengyou. The perfect gift for an practical ambassador who is also something of a handyman. Indeed, Locke displayed his expertise by immediately recognizing it as a belt for electrical work and plumbing because it lacked a hammer loop.
WE ARE ALL PENGYOU
Next up was Elizabeth Knup, Chief Representative of the Ford Foundation Beijing Office and Project Pengyou’s founding sponsor. She spoke of the unique position that the Project Pengyou community occupies and Ford Foundation’s vision for international understanding.
“Constructive dialogue, based on mutual understanding, is the basis for international cooperation,” she said. “Which is ever more important in an increasingly globalized world.”
She continued, “Achieving pure mutual understanding is very difficult. But in the process of getting to that ideal state, we learn a great deal about ourselves and about the person we’re trying to understand.”
“I want to thank everybody who is standing in this room, you are all on this road to mutual understanding. We are all ambassadors and we are all pengyou.”
Holly Chang rounded out the speeches by sharing her own emotional China journey. She also noted that in 2011, out of every 1,000 American students enrolled in post-secondary education, only one studies in China. Holly encouraged every pengyou to utilize his or her China experience to motivate Americans to better understand China.
“If we want change, we don’t have to be a president-nominated ambassador or a high-level government official or a big CEO,” she said. “In fact, we can’t afford to wait for some messiah to come save this relationship. We only have us. There is only this community.”
“If we push each other and give hope to each other, I believe that we will achieve a level of greatness that we can only achieve when we work as one.”
Holly also unveiled our new Leadership Fellows Program, which will kick off with a four-day Leadership Summit in March 2014 at Harvard University. We’re aiming to train over 100 young American “China alumni” in grassroots organizing and cross-cultural skills so they can establish community chapters in every state across the country by year’s end. We hope it will be the start of a larger movement.
Before and after the speeches our guests nibbled on a host of all-American treats (including burger sliders and Twinkies!) catered by the Hilton Beijing and sipped on grape juice sponsored by ASC Fine Wines.
They also took part in the Pengyou Ambassadors Challenge, four small quests which allowed them to enter a raffle for an Apple TV when completed.
Pengyous had to sign the “We Are All Ambassadors” poster, tie a string from their hometown to where they live in China on our Pengyou Map (courtesy of FlowCS), commit to joining our grassroots campaign “We Are All 朋友” and record a short video introducing themselves and signing off with the phrase, “And I’m a Pengyou!”
Celebrity comedian Joe Wong got the crowd going in his signature style and handpicked our raffle winner, Justin Perkinson, a current Fulbright scholar, who went home beaming with his new Apple TV in hand.
Our event wouldn’t have been complete without a moving musical performance by our good friend Tavey Lin, troubadour and co-owner of the popular Beijing bar 4Corners, who also performed at our launch event. This time, Tavey had everyone clapping and singing along to “Stand By Me” and “Lean on Me.”
As people said goodbye, we couldn’t help but marvel at this amazing community of active and steadfast pioneers. The academic leaders and China alumni represent the potential within this community to reshape the U.S.-China relationship.
A very special shout out to the unbelievably professional U.S. Embassy staff, our diligent volunteers and the creative talents at FlowCS for making it an unforgettable evening. Thanks to everyone for coming out and supporting us!
Check out photos from the event here.