In our current state of affairs, the United States and China are going through tremendous political differences. Leaders of both nations are clashing amid a trade war that has had long-term consequences for both countries.
Considering the ongoing political divisions between China and the U.S., I have been thinking a great deal about my trip to China 20 years ago. The trip exposed me to China’s complex cultural histories, their giving people and inspirational stories.
On my visit to both Beijing and Xian in 2000, I had the opportunity to visit elementary and secondary schools and met students, teachers and administrators.On one of our first days of the trip, our group heard from China’s Vice-Minister of Education, Dr. Bao Quing Zhang. I was immediately struck by the similarities he spoke of regarding the educational goals for students of his entire country.
Dr. Zhang expressed China’s desire to improve educational opportunities for all children and he highlighted the difficulty in keeping teachers employed in small villages in the countryside where teachers felt isolated and occasionally in jeopardy. We were also fortunate to hear from college students whose goal was to teach in small country villages.
Although hearing from the educational experts was exhilarating, visiting schools, and interacting with the young students, was my favorite adventure. The graciousness and giving nature of these students was remarkable. My favorite memory was with a young art student.
The room was full of children busily painting and engaging in their creative work. As I visited each student ‘s table, I oohed and aahed as I admired their work.
One child caught my eye. His work flowed brilliantly on the canvas, and he was clearly engaged in his process. I stopped at his table to observe, and I was genuinely impressed; his work was lovely. I did not realize I’d stayed so long until I was informed our group had to leave. As I touched the youngster on the shoulder, motioning a bye-bye- wave, he began shaking his head.
His observant teacher quickly moved to our table. She put her hand on the young student’s shoulder and motioned to me. He wanted me to have his painting! She left the table momentarily and showed him how to roll up the wet painting using rice paper so the paint wouldn’t smear.
As I watched her interact with our young artist, I was struck by her consoling demeanor. He said something to her in Chinese and she nodded as he signed his art for me. As I stepped away, I bowed to the youngster as he grinned from ear-to-ear.
Today, the precious and beautiful painting hangs in my home in the living room for all to see. When people visit my home, they often ask about the beautiful painting, “It’s so unique. Where did you find it?”
Of course, I tell them the whole story. It would be magnificent if I could tell him today how special his gift to me continues to be. He was nine years old when he sent me home to America with this beautiful gift. Today, he would be twenty-eight years old.
I seldom walk by his painting without wondering how he’s doing. Did he become a professional painter? a home decorator? or an art therapist?
One thing is for sure, I’ll never forget him and the amazing people I met in China.
© Tyra Manning 2019