Just days after thousands of anti-China protestors and pro-China supporters lined San Francisco streets for the ceremonial promenade of the Olympic Torch for Beijing's summer 2008 games, a delegation of Chinese students will arrive at Stanford University to discuss international affairs.
They will participate in a conference called "On Common Ground 2008," designed to break down barriers between U.S. and Chinese students.
Organized by the student group Forum for American/Chinese Exchange at Stanford (FACES), the conference brings together U.S. students from colleges nationwide with students from three Chinese universities to discuss U.S.-China relations.
A series of events open to the public are also scheduled.
The keynote address features the only American ever to join the Chinese Communist Party and a translator for Mao Zedong, Sidney Rittenberg. His talk on doing business in China is scheduled to take place Wednesday.
Talks on topics ranging from economics in Asia to China's environmental policy will have professors, business executives and political advisors such as former Treasury Department official Brad Setser as speakers.
Meanwhile, Chinese and American students will forge friendships through group meals and private seminars. The goal is to get future world leaders thinking about cooperation at a tender age, FACES' student leaders said.
None of the conference's talks will explicitly address recent Olympic protests or clashes between Chinese police and Tibetan rioters. Yet students say discussion of current events among peers has been heated.
Dozens of comments filled Stanford senior Annie Jonas' inbox this week as American and Chinese students used FACES' e-mail chat list to weigh in on conflict in Tibet, she said.
The conversation revealed many Chinese students grew up believing the Dalai Lama is an evil man out to overthrow China — a stark contrast to the Western perception of a lovable leader, she said.
Dong Wang, a sophomore at Peking University traveling to Stanford for the conference, said tense discussions about the Olympic boycotts also have been raging on the e-mail thread.
Wang, a member of one of FACES' Chinese chapters, is one of 40 students chosen by FACES students from roughly 700 Chinese applicants.
Through the e-mail list and in person conversations at conferences, FACES provides a forum for communication — critical for students from the world's two great powers, Wang said.
He's noticed even simple similarities such as a fondness for the T.V. show "Prison Break" help break down barriers between American and Chinese college kids.
Jonathan Yin, a sophomore at Fudan University, said earlier generations' lack of understanding is attributable to the Cold War and Iron Curtain — but his generation has no excuse.
Dialog clears up cultural myths, according to Yin, who is also flying in from China for the conference.
"Student organizations like FACES can help disprove the cultural stereotype that Chinese students are nerds with no socializing ability," he said. And he's learned Americans aren't as self-centered as many Chinese assume, he said.
Stanford senior Kai Lukoff even discovered that Chinese students are more stereotypically "American" than U.S. students after his trip to a conference in China, he said.
"When I talk to the Chinese delegates, they're not at all interested in Communism. Really they're interested in getting rich. They today have a more capitalistic attitude toward their goals than most American [students do," he said. Many U.S. teens profess goals of improving the world, while Chinese students seemed intent on career advancement through business, he said.
Jonas learned that not all Chinese view their political system as oppressive, she said.
At last fall's FACES conference in Beijing, a Chinese student's explanation of his internship with a government censorship bureau opened her eyes, she said.
"He justified his work by saying he was really saving people's lives by stopping conversations that could lead to dangerous situations," she said.
Despite occasional political enmity between the two nations, they share common interests — such as green-technology development and cutting down on pollution, according to Stanford junior Chi Nguyen, who attended the conference in China last fall.
The conferences help students form real bonds, she said. She's joined an international network of current and previous participants and has friends to call next time she's in Beijing or other cities, she said.
"You feel empowered and like the world has gotten a lot smaller, which is always a good feeling," she said.
A complete list of public talks is available on the FACES Web site at http://faces.stanford.edu .