Historically, solidarity between the Chinese and African-American communities has long existed, both publicly and behind-the-scenes contributing to the lasting China-U.S. relationship. Citizen diplomacy and activism, high-profile celebrity efforts, people-to-people and educational exchanges, and sports diplomacy have all been used to bridge gaps and break down cultural barriers.
In 1944, China was the sole member of the Big Four, (China, United States, Britain, and Soviet Russia) to suggest that racial equity should be a foundational pillar for the United Nations. The country stated that in order to create a global organization that transcended boundaries, it was necessary that each country and individual have racial equality. Soon, African-Americans in the U.S. would come out in support of this proposal.
Later in 1959, civil rights activist, esteemed scholar and sociologist W.E.B. Du Bois visited China with his wife, renowned American author, playwright, and political activist Shirley Graham Du Bois. In partnership with the China Peace Committee and the Chinese People’s Association for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries, W.E.B. Du Bois celebrated his 91st birthday at Peking University alongside more than 1,000 students and professors. A prominent speaker and writer, W.E.B. Du Bois became the first African-American to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1895. He would later go on to co-found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909.
More recently, President Barack Obama (2009-2017) shattered the glass ceiling when he became the first African-American to hold the office. He was also the first U.S. president to visit China during his first year in office, further solidifying the great importance he placed on U.S.-China relations. Obama believed the U.S. should evolve from a leader to a partner, welcoming globalization and everything it had to offer. Globalization and domestic aspirations for diversity were also reflected in the historic composition of his first-term cabinet, which included three members of Asian descent, two of whom were Chinese-American. At the official level, the eight years during the Obama administration brought an impressive degree of constructive cooperation in the U.S.-China relationship. From an economic standpoint, developments such as the expansion of the U.S.-China Economic and Strategic Dialogue, China’s purchase of U.S. Treasury bonds, and the ongoing U.S.-China bilateral investment treaty (BIT) talks induced an unprecedented level of economic integration. Culturally, people-to-people exchange programs like the One Million Strong Initiative, the U.S.-China Strong’s Hundred Thousand Strong Initiative, as well as the U.S.-China agreement to offer reciprocal 10-year tourist visas expanded the bilateral relationship further.
Sports diplomacy heavily influences the China-U.S. relationship. U.S. sports leagues have partnered with the most influential Chinese tech companies to help grow the National Basketball Association (NBA) into “China’s most popular sports league,” officially establishing NBA China in 2008. Since then, the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) has begun sponsoring, investing, and endorsing some of the most admired NBA stars in China. The Shanghai Pudong Development Bank Co. LTD even collaborated on a “Dream Big” commercial with James Harden of the Brooklyn Nets.
The China-United States Exchange Foundation (CUSEF) continues to be the bridge builder between African-American students and their Chinese counterparts. Through these cultural exchange programs, students are able to discover China’s understanding of the African-American past while offering insight into China’s philosophical thoughts, its complex history, and Chinese development and society.
The United States honors Black History Month every February to acknowledge the adversities the African-American community has experienced in the past, and celebrate the accomplishments of African-American thought leaders and visionaries. CUSEF’s people-to-people exchanges and partnerships with American educational institutions strive to generate a dialogue with future leaders who will transcend boundaries, enabling those leaders to create real change in their lives and communities. In the words of W.E.B. Du Bois: “You are not and yet you are: your thoughts, your deeds, above all your dreams still live.”