China Focus: "Bond with Kuliang" brings together Chinese, American youths to explore new opportunities, forge new connections

China Focus Bond with Kuliang brings together ChineseAmerican youths to explore new opportunitiesforge new connections.jpg

Guests display stamps they collected during the "Bond with Kuliang: 2024 China-U.S. Youth Festival" in Fuzhou, southeast China's Fujian Province, June 24, 2024. The "Bond with Kuliang: 2024 China-U.S. Youth Festival" concluded here on Friday. (Xinhua/Wei Peiquan)

FUZHOU, July 2 (Xinhua) -- Josh Adams from San Francisco, California, still fondly remembers visiting his great-grandmother as a child. Every afternoon, she would make a pot of fragrant jasmine tea, saying it had a flavor reminiscent of the jasmine tea from Kuliang in Fuzhou, on the other side of the Pacific.

Adams' great-grandparents arrived in China in 1907 to teach agriculture at a vocational school in east China's Fuzhou, now the capital city of Fujian Province. His great-grandfather, Arthur Billing, rose from a teacher to principal, and even sponsored several Chinese students to study in the United States. His great-grandmother was dedicated to educating young women, believing that they also deserved education opportunities.

The picturesque Kuliang, located in the eastern suburbs of Fuzhou, is a hillside resort. Since the 1880s, foreign expatriates residing in Fuzhou have built summer villas there, blending cultures and sentiment with local residents. In 1912, the Billing couple also built a single-story villa there.

For Adams, the taste of jasmine tea from his childhood is unforgettable. In 2017, he visited Kuliang for the first time, eagerly tasting the local jasmine tea. "That was the memory I had. It was exactly as I was having tea with my great-grandmother."

Before returning to the United States in 1948, the Billings sold their villa to a local family surnamed Guo.

During his second visit to Kuliang a few days ago, the Guo family invited Adams over for a family dinner, and he exchanged contact information with a fourth-generation member of the Guo family, a young college graduate.

"The friendship between the two families continues to be cherished and passed down," Adams said.

Today, Kuliang continues to tell tales of friendship that has lasted for a century.

"Bond with Kuliang: 2024 China-U.S. Youth Festival," a weeklong event starting on June 24, was co-organized by the Chinese People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries, the Fujian Provincial People's Government, and the All-China Youth Federation.

This event, the largest and most diversified youth exchange activity since the establishment of diplomatic ties between China and the United States, gathered over 200 American youths and more than 300 of their Chinese peers. About 50 activities were held, including the planting of friendship trees, dialogues, intangible cultural heritage exhibitions, performances, and sports matches.

Adams also took part in the event. Revisiting the stories of Kuliang, he witnessed how the sentimental ties there are being inherited and developed by new generations in the two countries.


American artist Augustina Droze has lived in Beijing for nine years. Now, a teacher in a local school, she participated in an art exhibition held by Chinese and American youths during the event.

"My artwork is called 'Discovery.' I use my children as the main characters telling the journey of my experiences as a foreigner in the form of a fairy tale fantasy," Droze said, noting that her artwork is influenced by China and has incorporated elements such as porcelain and dragons.

Droze said a web of tiny experiences during her life in China has shaped her perspective -- small moments like singing happy birthday to her Chinese neighbor's grandmother on her 99th birthday; trying to make a perfect dumpling; joining in the outdoor street exercises with a community of strangers with smiles and open arms.

"I no longer feel like an outsider here. I feel accepted, safe, cared for," she told Xinhua. "I think the event is promoting positive exchanges. I'm happy to be part of it. We are all playing an important part in helping communication."

Claire Ashmead, a doctoral student at the University of Michigan Medical School, is on her second visit to China. But this time, she speaks fluent Chinese.

In the fall of 2012, Ashmead, then a student at Princeton University, participated in an overseas exchange program. She went to Kunming in southwest China to work and study Chinese. She lived with a Chinese family for a year.

Noting that it was a beautiful time in her life, Ashmead said she felt very fortunate to be here again. "China is very interested in extending a hand of friendship to America. I think that bodes very well."

"When we talk about things like America or China, they don't mean anything without the people that make up those countries," she said, adding that the story of Kuliang is one of families who came to China and developed all these strong friendships. And that has created a blossoming effect where more family members have more friendships.


In Kuliang, many U.S. residents realized their dreams. Elyn MacInnis, founder of Friends of Kuliang, a group gathering about 50 descendants of U.S. families who once lived in Kuliang, had a father-in-law who was a member of the Flying Tigers and later a teacher in Fuzhou. Edward Bliss, a doctor who graduated from Yale University, pursued and married May Bortz here, leaving behind a tale of romance.

Today, many Americans continue to chase their aspirations in China, writing their own stories of ambition and success.

Over half a century ago, a little American girl crouched on the beach with a small shovel and a plastic bucket, diligently digging into the sand. The hole got deeper and deeper. She believed that if she kept digging, she could reach the other side of Earth, and her father told her that that place was China.

In 1979, when diplomatic relations were formally established between China and the United States, Roberta Lipson, who had already studied the Chinese language and history at college, came to China. It was her chance to reach the other side of Earth that she had once hoped to dig to as a child.

She found China "so wonderful" and decided to stay and develop her career. In 1997, Lipson founded China's first foreign-funded private hospital in Beijing, United Family Hospital, which has now become a leader in high-end medical services in China.

"I feel fortunate to have been in the right place in the right time, and to have been able to identify a need that I could participate in moving forward and fulfilling," Lipson told Xinhua.

"I think the opportunities are really endless. China is still developing very quickly. And every new stage of development brings new opportunities. There are still plenty of opportunities for young people to come from all over the world to work together and make wonderful things happen," she added.

Lipson's words have resonated with Carla Canales, an influential opera singer who is also a senior advisor and envoy for cultural exchange with America's National Endowment for the Arts.

During the evening gala, Canales performed "I love you, China," a song popular in China, with Chinese artists, receiving waves of applause.

Years ago, during a trip to China, a friend played the song to her. "The lyrics are very moving. When I read the translation, I thought this is how I feel about China. So, I really wanted to learn it," Canales recalled her nervousness when she first performed the song at China's National Centre for the Performing Arts in Beijing, worrying about whether the audience would accept her.

"But I really sing for my heart and the appreciation was so much," she said.

Since 2011, Canales has visited China multiple times, and her travels have now covered nearly 20 cities. She made friends in China one by one, and over time, these seeds of friendship have blossomed. "Now I really feel that we've experienced a decade of growth together."

In 2010, Jake Pinnick, a college student from the post-1990s generation, left Illinois and traveled alone to the Wudang Mountains in China to study martial arts. There, he met his future Chinese wife and became the longest-staying "foreign disciple" in the history of Wudang.

Today, dressed in Taoist robes and carrying a bamboo flute on his back, Pinnick teaches martial arts to Kungfu enthusiasts from all over the world. He now has a daughter who fluently speaks both Chinese and English.

"My daughter is learning both martial arts and Chinese plucked zither. I didn't start to explore China until I was 20, and it wasn't until I was 28 that I began to deeply understand the country. But she started at the age of four," Pinnick said.


When talking about the biggest takeaway from this youth festival, Harriet Parkinson, a rising senior at Brigham Young University, said she made many wonderful friends here, learning their stories and sharing experiences with each other.

"Coming to China has really been a dream of mine for a long time from when I was a child."

When she was five, her school in Minnesota offered Chinese classes, and her parents helped her make the choice. A few years of Chinese studies planted a seed in the heart of this American girl.

In college, Parkinson minored in Chinese while majoring in urban planning. She became friends with many international students from China, learning from them to make dumplings and playing mahjong or having hotpot parties together.

For Parkinson, Chinese students in the United States have made a big leap to share their culture with Americans.

"This will be the start to many more connections between us here in China and in the United States," she said about the event.

Shen Xin, secretary general of the Chinese People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries, frequently engaged in in-depth discussions with young representatives during the event.

"The only purpose of this event is to let our young people to talk with each other, listen to each other, and learn from each other. During those communications and interactions, you may find we do differ a lot, but we can also find a lot of things in common. So we can do something together for a better future of this world," Shen said.

He also hoped that youths from both countries would forge long-lasting friendships through the event.

"I can think of no better place for a young person to get to know about the wider world and its marvels than China," said Lisa K. Heller, U.S. consul general in Guangzhou.

"Let us continue to build on the foundation of friendship in the future," she added. 

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