Bonds of Sino-US friendship strengthened

By ZHANG YUNBI and HU MEIDONG in Fuzhou | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2023-07-07 07:27
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Friends of Kuliang, their family members and local residents pose for photographs in Kuliang, Fuzhou, Fujian province, over the past century. [CHINA DAILY BY THE KULIANG ADMINISTRATIVE COMMITTEE]

Officials, diplomats highlight need to continue cross-cultural exchanges

Elyn MacInnis, 72, a cultural expert from the United States who worked and lived in China for 30 years, impressed many Chinese students in the 1990s, when she taught English with an engaging smile on a popular show aired by state broadcaster China Central Television.

She and others in the US who advocate Sino-US friendship have recently been busy trying to encourage the younger generation to further this bilateral amity.

They feel it is vital to take such action for three reasons: the advocates are growing older, there are only a limited number of direct passenger flights between China and the US, and unfamiliarity and misunderstandings have arisen.

Members of this group are known as the Friends of Kuliang. From the 1880s onward, their ancestors, who included doctors, technicians, missionaries and traders, lived in Kuliang, a summer retreat in the suburbs of Fuzhou, capital of Fujian province, alongside thousands of expatriates from other nations.

MacInnis and her husband Peter's bonds with China date to her father-in-law Donald MacInnis, a member of the Flying Tigers — a group of US volunteer fighter pilots who helped Chinese fight the Japanese invasion during World War II.

President Xi Jinping recently sent a written message to a forum in Fuzhou that featured a reunion for the Friends of Kuliang with their Chinese friends. He referred to Donald Mac-Innis' love of China, praised the group members, and encouraged them to further build two-way friendship.

Speaking at the reunion on June 28, Elyn MacInnis said, "The future, our future, our friendship and cooperation is made of many small things that happen each day, and with the Kuliang spirit of peace, friendship, and love, with sensitivity and respect, small actions can build a better future."

Before she finished her speech, she gave the floor to her younger daughter Charlotte, who is the senior director of China Programs at Arizona International, a section of the University of Arizona.

Like her mother, Charlotte MacInnis is no stranger to numerous Chinese television viewers who are now in their 30s or 40s.

She first visited China in childhood from 1988-95, staying in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, before she and her elder sister Mika began performing on popular variety shows on networks such as China Central Television as guest hosts introducing Western culture.

In China, the sisters are known as Ai Zhong and Ai Hua. Combining the two names produces "Ai Zhonghua", which translates as "to love China".

Elyn MacInnis told the reunion audience: "I'd just like to say one thing. You ask if it (the friendship) is passed down from generation to generation. I want to introduce you to my daughter. I have two daughters, one is Ai Zhong, and this is Ai Hua. You know what that means," she said with a knowing wink and a smile.

Those advocating China-US friendship such as Elyn MacInnis believe it is important to engage more young people in this cause before it is too late.

Mutual visits between the world's two largest economies declined significantly at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and have since been affected by lingering political tension.

Despite these challenges, Kuliang has become a major venue for rekindling friendship through public diplomacy.

In 1992, Xi, then secretary of the Fuzhou Municipal Committee of the Communist Party of China, learned about Kuliang and invited Elizabeth Gardner, widow of Milton Gardner, who lived in Kuliang as a child between 1901 and 1911, to visit China.

When Xi was visiting the US as Chinese vice-president in 2012, he told the story of Kuliang at a welcoming luncheon held by US friendly groups, and the story resonated with people from all walks of life in the two countries.

Last month, some of the Friends of Kuliang, including Elyn MacInnis, were invited to revisit the retreat to check out time-tested facilities such as a post office, international welfare society, tennis courts and swimming pools — living proof of a community where locals and foreigners met challenges in daily life together and lived in harmony.

"It took me seven years of research in the US to find all the stories we now have that span the history of Kuliang from 1886 to 1949. We never expected to find so many moving and heartwarming stories of the people here," Elyn MacInnis said.

"I realize that without this foundation of sensitivity and respect, two different cultures cannot really have genuine peace, friendship and love."

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