China has become the subject of my infatuation for the past four years of my life.China has always been of interest to me because of the parallel history and cultural institutions that rival the Eurocentrism that dominates American society and educational institutions. While I have always had the chance to peer at China from the periphery, moving to China provided me a unique opportunity to turn my perspective on its face and look from the inside at my surroundings–both figuratively and literally.
"China everything" has been my area of study. I began a 10-books-in-10-weeks reading challenge, covering first account stories of the Cultural Revolution, to analytical texts focusing on China's economy, governance system, foreign policy, political history, and ideological views on state-society relations. I have held discussions in small groups and one-on-one with scholars and guest speakers at the think tank where I work, to get expert insights into the nuances of China's political developments and dynamic role in the international community. Lastly, I have used interpersonal interactions with my Chinese friends and home-stays in rural areas to increasingly develop and mold a holistic understanding of Chinese society.
With every new word, idiom or colloquialism I learn in my Chinese classes and the books I read, I feel like it is incrementally cleaning away the blur of my window into China. While the glass may never become completely clear, I can begin to make out figures in the distance, such as the reason Chinese people use pictures of cats, stock photos, pop art, ect., as their profile pictures on the Wechat and Weibo accounts. Or why it's rude to "go Dutch" after eating with your friends and family members.
My long-term goal is to contribute to the amity that must be built between the United States and China to ensure a peaceful coexistence in the future. Historically speaking, the inevitability of a hegemonic power and rising power to spiral into conflict is quite high. With such contrasting cultural identities, institutions, and governing styles, the likelihood is understated by most and overstated by few. So, my intention of this experience in China is to forge relationships with key individuals who will be the next thought leaders, bureaucrats, and entrepreneurs. I will continue to nurture these relationships so that they may be leveraged to better allow me to contribute to American security geopolitically and in cyberspace.
My ultimate goal is to become a public servant. And with how little understanding our current elected officials have of China, I believe my experiences and relationships in China will be an asset in the policymaking process. To succeed in the 21st century, we must know China. It begins with people like me to get us there. It is my hope that more students like you will see this importance and follow course as well.
Author: Kamaal Thomas