‘We have each other in future plans,’ Chinese Gen Zers see bright prospect in China-US relations through bridged divide, enhanced trust

Students from Muscatine High School learn Chinese calligraphy at Shijiazhuang Foreign Language School on April 21, 2024. Photo: VCG

Students from Muscatine High School learn Chinese calligraphy at Shijiazhuang Foreign Language School on April 21, 2024. Photo: VCG

Editor’s Note: 

The youth are the vanguards of our time, showcasing boundless energy and vibrant personalities.

Gen-Zers not only represent the makers of the future but also serve as agents of change in the present. With an open mindset and an international outlook, they actively integrate into the currents of globalization, engaging in deep exchanges, and collaborating with youth from around the world to explore pathways and strategies to address global challenges.

The Global Times has launched the “Voice from Gen Z” series, which focuses on the proactive actions and innovative achievements of young people in areas such as global governance, cultural exchange, environmental protection, and technological innovation. Through this column, we aim to showcase the unique charm and future leadership of global Gen-Zers.

Wang Jiaqi (right) plays with Christina (left) at home in Shijiazhuang on April 21, 2024. Photo: Courtesy of Wang

Wang Jiaqi (right) plays with Christina (left) at home in Shijiazhuang on April 21, 2024. Photo: Courtesy of Wang

Wang Jiaqi, a senior at the Shijiazhuang Foreign Language School in North China’s Hebei Province, will never forget the moment when she and her American partner Christina said goodbye. 

“We had already waved goodbye, but she ran up to me and hugged me before I got on the bus,” Wang recalled.

The embrace before parting deeply touched Wang. “When saying goodbye, Christina firmly told me that our friendship can continue,” Wang told the Global Times, noting that she and her American friend are staying in touch and sharing their daily lives frequently.

In late April, Wang and Christina, a student from Muscatine High School in the US state of Iowa, met in Beijing. Invited by the Shijiazhuang Foreign Language School, 32 students and eight teachers from Muscatine High School visited the school as part of their weeklong study tour to Beijing, Hebei, and Shanghai.

As the host of the study tour, the Shijiazhuang Foreign Language School recruited many student volunteers on campus to make the US youth feel at home. They paired up with the US students as partners, studying and living together during the tour.

After the school issued the call, many members of China’s Generation Z eagerly signed up. They saw it as a great opportunity to challenge themselves and showcase their abilities, while also hoping to further develop and maintain friendships with the US youth.

True feeling in details

Wang and her classmate Zhang Xinyi regard these US youths as part of the group of Gen Z “friendly ambassadors.” The delegation is a part of the program, which was announced by Chinese President Xi Jinping in November 2023, aiming to invite 50,000 young Americans to China over a period of five years for exchanges and study. 

From January 24 to 30 this year, under the care of President Xi, over 20 students from the school came to Beijing, Hebei, and Shanghai as the first group of US high school students in the program for exchange visits. This was Wang and Zhang’s first close contact with US youths.

“That unforgettable interaction further strengthened my determination to participate in this activity,” Zhang told the Global Times.?

What excited Zhang and Wang was that during the recent study tour, they spent six days with their new American friends, the second batch from Muscatine High School. They visited famous sites in Beijing and Hebei such as the Forbidden City and Longxing Temple, and took classes of Chinese martial arts together.?

They even had the opportunity to invite their partners to their homes.?

“After a thorough cleaning, we studied authentic Hebei cuisine together,” Wang said. 

To her delight, her partner Christina loved the food and enjoyed the warm familial atmosphere. “China is great, and your home is so warm,” Wang was told.?

At the dinner table, Wang found that contrary to the stereotype that Americans do not eat seafood or spicy food, she discovered that Christina was willing to try all types of dishes. “She was even particularly excited to see the Chinese toon, a common edible plant in China with a unique fragrance, and insisted on trying it.” In Wang’s eyes, her peers from the American Gen Z era are very enthusiastic and open, showing great curiosity about everything Chinese and are eager to explore different cultures.

Zhang Xinyi (right) and Brynn Ann Castle pose for a group photo after learning Tai Chi on April 21, 2024. Photo: Courtesy of Zhang

Zhang Xinyi (right) and Brynn Ann Castle pose for a group photo after learning Tai Chi on April 21, 2024. Photo: Courtesy of Zhang

Zhang had a similar experience. On the evening of April 21, Zhang welcomed her partner Brynn Ann Castle, an American girl about to start her collegiate life, into her home. In Zhang’s bedroom, Minions and Woody dolls quickly helped the two young girls find more common topics. 

After a brief ice breaker, Castle eagerly tried playing Zhang’s Pipa, a traditional Chinese musical instrument. Later, they looked through Zhang’s family photo album together and shared funny stories about their families, with endless topics to talk about.

During their conversation, Zhang mentioned that she could feel that Chinese teenagers are generally influenced by family and collective concepts, placing more emphasis on family and social responsibilities. US teens, on the other hand, tend to prioritize individual pursuits, and are better at expressing themselves and pursuing personal independence and freedom. 

However, Zhang also believes that with the development of globalization, the differences between the two countries’ teenagers are gradually narrowing. “We have a lot in common, such as both enjoying listening to music and eating desserts to relieve stress. I love Marvel movies, and my US friends also enjoy playing the game Honor of Kings,” she said.

Facing these similarities and differences, Zhang believes that exchanges between young people from both countries and sharing their cultures, values, and lifestyles, they can turn misunderstandings into understanding, amplify common interests, and enhance friendship and trust. 

In an interview with the Global Times, when asked about their views on current China-US relations, Wang and Zhang both expressed that what gives them clear hope for the future of bilateral relations is that they and their US friends have each other in their future plans.

Wang plans to meet up with Christina at Universal Studios in the US this summer. Zhang shared beautiful scenery photos from her trip to Sanya, South China’s Hainan Province, on WeChat. They eagerly made plans to travel together next time.

“This is just a small step for now, but we have taken it together steadily. In the future, we will see more beautiful scenery together,” Zhang told the Global Times.

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