BYU welcomes visitors from as far as Beijing for BYU’s annual China Conference, including Counselor Wang of the Chinese Embassy.
“We need to talk,” said Robert Griffiths, current political science adjunct faculty in the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences and former consul general at the US Consulate General in Shanghai.
Usually a scary line to hear, right? But in this case, Griffiths uses the need to talk as an invitation to improve relations between the US and China, rather than a red flag indicating a possible breakup. In the interest of learning and talking together, BYU students, faculty, and friends in the Chinese community gathered together on March 11, 2023, for the annual BYU China Conference to hear from academic and diplomatic speakers, including Xiaofeng Wang, counselor of the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in the United States of America. The conference program also included a networking luncheon and a question-and-answer panel session with the speakers.
Founded in 2015, the conference’s mission is to promote BYU values of faith, lifelong learning, and service as it builds an integrative community through providing educational, professional, and cultural opportunities to strengthen ties between the US and China. The conference is organized and hosted by a student committee. An advisory board of faculty and staff from different colleges and programs around campus oversees the committee, including staff from the College of Humanities Chinese Flagship Center and the Center for Language Studies.
Reflecting on the work of the student committee, the chair of the advisory board, Adjunct Associate Professor Peter Chan (McKay School of Education), spoke highly of the students he works with, saying, “The student committee was absolutely fantastic. They are professional, dedicated, and easy to work with. This event would not have happened without their leadership and efforts.” Chan helps the students on the committee establish contacts, discusses the format and aspects of the event such as logistics and marketing, and imparts his experience and wisdom as they plan. But while he advises them, Chan said he also makes “a great effort to show my respect for their ideas so that they are empowered to make many important decisions.”
For every conference, the committee invites speakers from the BYU community and its many Chinese associates. Speakers teach about demographics, business and finance, politics, history, and current events, and a number of other topics. This year, along with special guest and keynote speaker Counselor Wang, the conference welcomed friend of BYU Changyun Kang (associate dean at Beijing Normal University) and Zhihong Yi (professor of finance and former vice president of Renmin University of China), who both came to the conference while in North America on business. Three speakers from BYU also participated: Griffiths, Renata Forste (international vice president of BYU), and Kirk Larsen (associate professor of history in the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences).
Altogether, the 2023 conference focused on friendly international relations between China and the US—both past, present, and future—and education (particularly a liberal approach to education in China). Speakers’ specific topics were as follows:
- Opening remarks by Renata Forste
- Kirk Larsen, “More than Great Power Competition? Reflection on Two Centuries of Sino-American Interactions”
- Zihong Yi, “The Development of Financial Technology (FinTech) in China: What We Have Learned in the Process and How It May Apply to You”
- Changyun Kang, “Coping with the Future: Cooperation between Chinese and American Educators Across One Century”
- Robert Griffiths, “Seeking a Brighter Future for US-China Relations”
- Keynote speaker Xiaofeng Wang, “China’s Diplomacy in a Changing World and the Right Way for China-US Relations.”
- Closing remarks by the student leadership
BYU student Alex Keogh (Chinese, Psychology ’26) attended the conference as a member of the Chinese Flagship Program. During the lunch break between the speeches and the question-and-answer session, he commented that while the last BYU China Conference he attended in 2019 was focused on business, this had a more diplomatic focus. “Cross-cultural understanding is really key,” Keogh says. “Our understanding of culture and history is not deep enough.” And to him this conference was very positive—focused on collaboration, the value of communication, and mutual understanding.
After the conference, Abner Hardy (Geography, Chinese ’25), another student in the Chinese Flagship Program and a member of the conference student committee, also commented on how inspiring the conference was. He personally learned a lot about China-US relations. As a committee member, he hopes that other attendees gain a better understanding of China as well.
In a concluding statement on this year’s conference as a whole, Chan said, “The conference was very successful.” He continued, “The speakers gave well-prepared and thoughtful presentations, and the audience was very engaged. The event created a rare platform of understanding during a time of tense relationship between China and the United States.”
The BYU China Conference helps to foster that understanding and make connections through the students, or “young ambassadors” as many speakers called them during the conference.
If you want to be part of the talks or learn more about China and the US, BYU China Conference takes place every winter semester, and all are welcome. (No language experience is required). You can also find information about this year’s speakers and their topics, as well as information about past conferences on the conference website.
For other ways to get involved, BYU has many classes and programs for Chinese in the College of Humanities and the Kennedy Center, including the Chinese Flagship Program. If you would like to take part in organizing the conference, send the committee a message through the organization’s Facebook page and send the committee a message.