Do you know what Tiananmen Square is?

Three of us – Jessica, Haley, and I – arrived yesterday in Beijing! We were picked up by two members of Peking University’s AIESEC branch, Kooki and Justin, who patiently waited for over an hour as we navigated Chinese customs. The first thing we noticed was how courteous and helpful they were. From painting signs with our names to paying for our bus and cab fare, Kooki and Justin prepared us for the generous hospitality we’ve already received in our short time in China.

Beyond this generosity, Kooki and Justin struck me as very intelligent and earnest students who were willing to have a fascinating and frank discussion about our countries. Kooki said she spoke for “most young people” when she said that she wished to study in the United States. “We admire America,” she said, explaining how she wished China would be democratic. She didn’t think it was likely anytime soon, explaining that China’s culture is too autocratic. “In the old time, everyone worked for one emperor and if you didn’t, you’d be put to jail or killed,” she said, adding that the current system works for the Chinese elite. Justin also wants to go to America for graduate school. As a prospective medical studies major, he sees America’s graduate programs as far superior to China’s.

He also wanted to talk about the difference between how political rivalries are settled in American and in China. In America, after Hillary Clinton lost the Democratic nomination for the presidency, she worked for Barack Obama as America’s senior diplomat. In China, on the other hand, Bo Xilai – an immensely popular politician who made his name in Justin’s hometown of Chongqing – has been recently been expelled from the Chinese Communist Party after a familial drama worthy of a poorly made soap opera. Justin believes that Bo Xilai was dismissed because his charisma and charm was a threat to the new chairman, Xi Jingping. “In China, two tigers cannot remain on the same mountain. One must leave or be killed,” he explained.

Both Justin and Kooki are proudly Chinese; they believe Deng Xiaoping “saved the nation” and follow the country’s hard-line views of Taiwan and Tibet. China is not emerging as a great power in their eyes – China is re-emerging after a brief sojourn from the pinnacle of global power. They were also the first posters of China’s comprehensive censorship – neither of them, despite studying Chinese history in college, knew anything about the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989.

They’re not sure that America and China will be friends because of their country’s growing power, but I think it’s a good sign that they both want to study in America. I think Kooki said it best when she explained, “China is growing and America is still the most strongest [sic] country so there will be conflict, but I think they can still be friends.”

Rishabh Bhandari


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