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Building Bridges with China through Competition

A BYU student's profound message in Mandarin wins major award.

BYU student McKay McFadden (Mechanical Engineering and Chinese ’25) took second place in the twenty-first annual Chinese Bridge language competition, held from April to June 2022. The Chinese Bridge competition is comprised of an essay contest and a talent contest, and it is specifically for young adult Chinese learners who are not Chinese to show off their language skills and their cultural understanding. The theme for the twenty-first annual competition essay was “One World, One Family.”

Held each year since 2002, the international competition starts with regional competitions all across the world. Winners from each region attend the global finals, which usually take place in China. McKay competed in the Washington, DC, region along with eleven other students from nine other schools around the United States and, according to Professor ShuPei Wang (Chinese), he gave an excellent performance.

The Washington, DC, regional competition was still remote this year, so each contestant submitted a three-minute-long video essay in Chinese and a video recording of a cultural talent performance.

McKay’s talent (calligraphy) and essay were inspired by the book The Anatomy of Peace. They focused on the importance of seeing people as complex individuals. As he recited his essay, written entirely in Mandarin, he spoke about snowflakes as an analogy for all the things that make people different from one another and how people need to take time to see those things. While we all have our differences, he continued, we are also all alike. We are all people with families and jobs and dreams. The world would be a more peaceful, united place if we saw and appreciated other people in that way.

McKay tied his essay’s theme to his talent by performing calligraphy of a Chinese poem about making an effort to see things more clearly. The poem, called “Climbing White Stork Tower” by Wang Zhihuan from the Tang dynasty, leans in on the idea of adjusting one’s perspective to see better and to appreciate something more fully.

After working with his professors to refine his essay (translating ideas clearly from English into Chinese) and practicing the calligraphy until he felt content with his abilities, McKay recorded and sent the videos off to competition. His essay took first place, and his talent performance was barely beaten out by a University of Idaho student who sang a Chinese song, “ChengDu” (成都). McKay’s two scores together (essay and talent) placed him in a close second place overall.

McKay has been learning Chinese since high school, but he really got into it on his mission to Taiwan. After he returned in 2019, he started at BYU in mechanical engineering, then soon added Chinese as a double major because he had fallen in love with the people and the culture. He now wants to be part of crossing real bridges through his knowledge of language and through an understanding of other people.

In a later interview, McKay bore a powerful testimony about language learning, life in general, and God’s hand in all things. He says, "God is involved in everything” and “language is a gift from God” that we can use to serve others. Even as we use our minds and hearts to learn a language, and use that language to help others temporally, it is 100 percent a spiritual endeavor.

McKay, his wife—who has also studied Chinese—and their baby will be moving to Taiwan next year as part of McKay’s Chinese studies.

McKay McFadden ready to perform Chinese calligraphy

The poem "Climbing White Stork Tower" was written by Wang Zhihuan during the Tang Dynasty. Here is the translation:

Dēng Guànquè Lóu
[ascend] [stork] [sparrow] [tower]
Climbing White Stork Tower

Bái rì yī shān jìn,
[white] [sun] [on] [mountain] [finish]
The white sun sets behind the mountains,

Huánghé rù hǎiliú;
[Yellow] [River] [enter] [sea] [flow]
and the Yellow River flows into the sea.

yù qióng qiānlǐ mù,
[want] [furthest] [thousand] [mile] [eye]
To see a thousand mile view,

gèng shàng yì céng lóu.
[more] [ascend] [one] [floor] [tower]
go up another floor.