Understanding China's Rise Firsthand

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by Travis Gidado
The US-China Strong Foundation's mission is to increase the number of Americans studying Mandarin and studying abroad in China.

This article is a part of the East-West Center - US-China Strong Foundation Guest Contributor Program, which shares the experiences of American students currently or previously studying in China.

When I landed in China just over three months ago, it was my first time traveling to Asia. Unlike most of my peers, I was neither consumed by a decades-long fascination with China’s development, nor was I a pre-existing student of the language or the culture. My interest in China began relatively recently, starting with my first postgraduate job as a legal analyst for an investment bank. We were thinking about opportunities for international expansion, and China naturally rose to the top of the list. Next, I began work on European affairs for a think tank in Washington and was surprised by the subtle ways Chinese foreign policy endeavors intersected with our world. Two years later, as an intern in the federal government, I would produce materials for meetings with Chinese counterparts that served to advance strategic goals at the heart of the US-China relationship. And just a few months ago, while working for a startup in Berlin, it became clear that Chinese venture capital firms were becoming increasingly involved in foreign markets for startup investment.

In short, my early professional experiences have borne witness to a reality that notable scholars and policymakers have foreseen for some time, which is that China’s growth and development will meaningfully impact every sector and geography imaginable. As the Chinese government pursues a more vigorous foreign policy and its economic strategy deepens, engagement with businesses both at home and abroad, forward-thinking leaders must seek opportunities to understand how this unprecedented geopolitical and economic evolution will transform the very fabric of globalization in the years to come. It was with this pursuit of understanding in mind that I applied to the Yenching Academy of Peking University, a fully- funded master’s degree program for future leaders around the world to witness China’s rapidly-changing landscape firsthand. Although I arrived with far less knowledge than any of my peers, I have been stunned not just by the depth of exposure I have received to various elements of China’s evolution – from the proliferation of bike-sharing platforms to the diversity of expatriate communities that now call China home – but the breadth of areas in which China is fueling rapid innovation.

It is easy for Western observers to look upon China’s burgeoning global influence with trepidation, and there are certainly areas for improvement. But with China’s rise, there are also numerous opportunities for cross-cultural understanding, relationship-building and mutually beneficial growth. I have seen these opportunities for myself in my short time as a Yenching Scholar, and I look forward to discovering even greater platforms for engaging with China’s ongoing transformation – an evolutionary process that will come to shape our collective future as we know it.

Travis Gidado is an American graduate student in Beijing, China, and is part of the US-China Strong Foundation Student Ambassador Program.