We are wanderers at the ends of the earth. But to meet each other here, why must we have met before?
In the 1970’s, in New York City (“NYC”) Chinatown, I met a famous Chinese-American folk-singer and story-teller. His name is Charlie Chin, and he began a song with the words, “I am an ABC, from NYC and I have been all around the world.” The song describes the perspectives of an ABC (American Born Chinese) from NYC. It is a story of the overseas Chinese who are sojourners, travelers or wanderers in different parts of the world who are born or live in places far away from the central kingdom, at least geographically. Many Chinese people do not know much about the realities and struggles such overseas Chinese face but there are many TV programs and “chuan-hua” stories which are taken as fact. Some are fun and entertaining and some are unfortunately sad and tragic.
Yet for centuries, many Chinese have ventured abroad to seek opportunities to improve their futures. Some come back home regularly, some maintain ties across the waters and some have never come home. The stories are as many as the drops of water in an ocean.
Why is this important to consider? For hundreds of years, there have been Chinese people navigating and thriving overseas, so we know it is not impossible.
I first visited China with my father in 1973, a year after US president Nixon visited Chairman Mao and Premier Zhou in Beijing. I was born and raised in NYC. That visit changed not only my ABC world view, but also China-then began its journey to China-tomorrow. The world watched the TV mesmerized as Zhou and Nixon downed Maotai liked they were bride and groom. We witnessed the beginning of an evolutionary transformation of China and its global cooperators that continues to this day, and which will stretch into future generations. That first visit to China for me 42 years ago propelled me into one of the characters in Charlie Chin’s song. Now truly, “I am an ABC, from NYC and I have been all around the world.” I have spent my last 30 years as a legal professional working with many other friends of China crisscrossing the globe to bring international companies, advanced technologies, large amounts of investment dollars and desperately needed skilled personnel to China to build power stations, factories, telecom infrastructure, and service companies, that have produced jobs and revenues.
It all began in NYC in 1972 with the arrival of China’s United Nation’s delegation as it established its consulate in NYC. This was followed by the people to people friendship activities during the 1970’s to establish normalized US-China diplomatic relations. Later supporting Chinese government agencies and trading companies, and bridging them to the outside world and the US, became a big focus of my attention. Now just like today’s “Go Out” efforts, led then by state-owned companies, we see a parallel today with that pattern as China companies went overseas in the 1980’s.
From the 1980s onwards, many China companies and delegations wandered out to many places at the ends of the earth. There they found people who were like me, the ABC’s and their friends, the professionals who bridged China and the world. The list of companies and mayors and artists and students were many. The friends they met to help at the ends of the earth were not so many then. Now there are both old and new friends.
Now with the latest wave of Chinese companies going out, the existing networks and trusted advice and experience are refreshed and strengthened to be called upon again.
The generals of the Tang dynasty wandered beyond the Pamir mountains. They had no maps, no guides and no ancient wisdom. Is that not unlucky for them?
We have met here as each of us wanders at the ends of the earth. You may be new to these remote places but we are accustomed to these windy passes. Why must we have met before? We are merely on a similar journey, an old journey for some of us. And now our paths have crossed. Do we need to have met before? Shall we share some warm tea and see if the paths of our journeys converge?