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Shirley Young: Taking cultural exchange to the next level

Updated: 2014-04-03 11:11
By Hu Haidan in New York ( China Daily USA)

 Shirley Young: Taking cultural exchange to the next level

Shirley Young in her office in New York. Young said she is trying to bring the best of Chinese culture to American audiences "to help people understand China as a fully rounded country". Hu Haidan / China Daily

Shirley Young has been a first-hand witness to the great changes in the US-China relationship over the past 35 years.

Turning 80 next year, Young is the president of Shirley Young Associates, an advisory firm that caters to companies interested in doing business in China.

Young is also the governor and founding chairman of the Committee of 100, a national Chinese-American leadership organization, and she also serves as chairman of the Committee of 100 Cultural Institute, whose objective is to bridge the cultural gap between the US and China through the arts and education.

"China has become an incredible economic superpower," Young said. "... Americans may know a lot about China's economy, military and politics, but a country is much more than just that."

"A country really is its people and culture - its complete identity with its unique values and traditions," said Young.

Young said one of the most often-asked questions she gets from her American friends is: "I read the newspaper every day. How come when I go to China, it's completely different from what I expected?"

"It because we haven't achieved our goal yet, which is to help Americans who don't understand China see all the many different aspects of the country," Young explained.

When Chinese Vice-Premier Liu Yandong visited the US in the fall of 2013, Young caught up with her in New York, her last stop in the US.

She said Liu talked about how giving people a more rounded understanding of China was her primary objective.

"This is exactly what I have been doing in recent years - trying to develop cultural exchange, trying to bring the best of Chinese culture to American audiences, not just to create friendship, but to help people understand China as a fully rounded country," said Young.

Young, a former corporate vice-president at General Motors who helped the company's expansion into the China market as well as bringing China's dated industry into the modern world in the early 1990s, said that what people understand of China is different compared to 35 years ago.

"The need now is for people to have a better, more rounded understanding of China," she said. "I think that is very well recognized by the Chinese leadership."

Most recently Young helped with the New York Philharmonic's concert celebrating Chinese New Year at Lincoln Center on Feb 1. The program, which was conducted by Yu Long, director of the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, presented Chinese classical music, with singer Song Zuying performing three Chinese folk songs.

The event also included an outdoor Chinese dance performance by more than 70 children from New York's National Dance Institute, another project Young has worked on recently that has a growing educational exchange program with China.

US mainstream media covered the concert. The New York Times commented: "To an outsider, these songs can seem just schmaltzy, over orchestrated versions of simple folk tunes [but] The audience cheered, so much so that Ms Song sang an encore."

"The key to achieving a more rounded view - of people understanding some of the best of Chinese culture - is by having partners who are mainstream and influential in American society, those who can help you reach your audience," said Young. "The partnership with the New York Philharmonic has helped take Chinese performances to a higher level."

Young said the idea of "win-win" or mutual-benefit is essential. Her role in the culture event is to act as a bridge, help both two sides discover a mutual-benefit. Then they become partners.

"A true partnership is when each side has an objective and the two objectives can be reached in unison," said Young.

The New York Philharmonic's long-term partnership with the Shanghai Symphony was built by their traveling to China and giving performances every year in order to expand their audiences in Asia.

"Chinese artists' performances should not only be for the people in Chinatown or Flushing," she said. "When we talked about cultural-exchange, we expanded our goal; we were not just talking about Chinese dance and music. We were talking about how to use it to invite more people to better understand China."

"China has a wonderful culture, we don't have to adopt it or make it spectacular for Westerners - sophisticated Americans prefer the real thing," she said.




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