Since the first group of Americans officially visited the People’s Republic of China more than four decades ago, U.S.-China relations have evolved dramatically and in almost every conceivable aspect. Increased interaction in educational, cultural, economic, and political realms, along with growing interdependencies of all kinds, has created a more productive and dynamic relationship. As each country grapples with how to adapt and manage the relationship, each must cultivate and train new stewards for this responsibility.
Effective stewardship requires a foundation of knowledge and understanding of each other’s language, history, and culture. Since the normalization of relations, China has invested heavily in teaching English in country and consistently encouraged students and professionals to study in the United States. A lack of comparable investment by the United States resulted in China developing a greater bilingual and cultural competency, and left Americans with a relatively weak understanding of Chinese intellectual dialogue, cultural and historical context, and political institutions.
Over recent years the situation in the United States has improved. As U.S. interests in Asia have grown, initiatives encouraging study abroad and people-to-people exchange with China have likewise increased. Ever-greater numbers of Americans have traveled to Greater China to study and work, returning to the United States with both Chinese-language skills and the sort of insights that can only be gained from navigating day-to-day life in mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.
Both major U.S. political parties agree that deeper engagement with the Asia-Pacific is essential for the United States’ future prosperity, peace, and security. Harnessing the expertise of Chinese-speaking Americans with experience studying and living in Greater China is key to the success of that endeavor. It is our belief that fostering this broad and diverse talent pool should be a national priority.
While efforts to encourage Americans to study in China are increasingly effective, a much better job needs to be done nurturing these students when they return to the United States.
Having already spent considerable time, effort, and resources to develop professional Chinese language skills, returnees face the daunting challenge of maintaining these skills as they embark on diverse and demanding careers. Unfortunately, the demands of the workweek often overwhelm individuals’ best intentions to maintain language fluency and their skills rapidly deteriorate to the point of Chinese becoming something they “used to know.”
Although the United States urgently needs their expertise, these American returnees have found little external support for their efforts to further develop their Chinese-language skills, deepen their knowledge of policy issues related to Greater China, and build careers in which they can continue to hone and apply their expertise.
The American Mandarin Society (AMS), a nonpartisan, nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization founded in 2011, is dedicated to filling that need.
The American Mandarin Society’s mission is to help Americans who have returned from study and work in Greater China stay deeply in touch with the region, maintain and develop their Mandarin Chinese language skills, and build the professional networks that will allow them to engage in the vital work of strengthening the United States’ ties with Asia in the 21st Century.
AMS’ 2,000-plus members have lived in Greater China, speak Mandarin Chinese, and want to contribute meaningfully to their country’s effort to deepen its engagement with the Asia-Pacific. Our steadily growing membership includes federal, state, and city government employees, businesspeople, scholars, employees of civil society groups, and other professionals.
AMS’ commitment to supporting these Americans is rooted in the conviction that prosperity, stability, and peace in the entire Pacific region depend on it.
AMS achieves its mission by:
- Providing a networking and mentoring forum for Chinese-speaking Americans across the United States who have returned from study and work in Greater China;
- Sponsoring Chinese-language policy lectures and discussion by visiting officials and professionals from Greater China, helping audiences maintain and develop their Chinese-language skills;
- Running a Fellows Program that each year takes a select group of mid-career Americans to China for a week-long “deep dive” into the Chinese decision-making and training process, conducted in Chinese at the same institutions that train Chinese government and Party officials;
- Publishing a curated series of annotated learning guides to help China-focused professionals expand their knowledge outside their area of expertise and brush up on related Chinese-language vocabulary;
- Maintaining a robust website offering Chinese-language learning tools and policy analysis related to Greater China;
- Disseminating a weekly educational newsletter with analysis of Chinese policy developments, links to related Chinese- and English-language readings, language learning lessons, and occasional listings of Greater China-related career opportunities;
- Producing and disseminating a Chinese-language podcast;
- Developing opportunities for Chinese-speaking Americans to build bridges with their Chinese-speaking peers in other countries, including Japan.
AMS is strictly non-partisan and values a diverse membership, including in race, gender, ethnicity, age, and perspective.