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Thursday, May 5, 2016

One China, Two Freemans

One China, Two Freemans
Remarks at the Center for China - US Cooperation, University of Denver

Ambassador Chas W. Freeman, Jr. (USFS, Ret.)
Senior Fellow, the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs
4 May 2016, Denver, Colorado

I am delighted to join Professor Carla Freeman here this evening.  I admire her as a scholar even as I remember her as a remarkably muscular and willful infant, gifted student and ballerina, and the beautiful young woman whom I gave away in marriage when she was twenty-three.  Carla is my eldest child and my only daughter.  I am proud of her achievements, not just as an academic and university administrator but as the mother of two of my eight grandchildren.  I cannot match her knowledge of international relations theory, her expertise on China’s northeastern region and its neighbors, or her ability as a teacher.  I’d like to think I had something to do with her decision to study China and to explain it to her students.

But it may be genetic.  Neither Carla nor I was aware when we got interested in China that we were not the first in our family to do so.  Three of Carla’s great-great-grandfathers (my great-grandfathers) worked in China.  Around 1900, Chas Wellman, after whom I am named, was hired by Zhang Zhidong [张之洞] to help upgrade the Chinese steel industry.  John Ripley Freeman taught briefly at Tsinghua University around 1915.  He was lured back to China in 1920 by Sun Yat-sen (孙中山), for whom he designed what ultimately became the Three Gorges Dam [ 三峡水坝].  And the classes that my maternal great-grandfather, Robert Ezra Park, a pioneer American sociologist, taught at what is now Beijing University were the subject of enthusiastic commentaries by Fei Xiaotong (费孝通) and C. K. Yang [杨庆堃].

Unlike my daughter, I am not a China specialist or scholar.  I am a retired diplomat.  Diplomacy involves critical thinking that resembles scholarship.  But diplomacy is different.  It rests on empathy more than received knowledge, texts, or quantitative analysis.  It demands insight beyond the purely intellectual into what makes foreigners do foreign things.   Diplomacy is grounded in personal experience, apprenticeship, and area knowledge.  It is culture-specific, reliant on intuition, attuned to emotion as well as reason as a behavioral determinant, and tested in daily professional interactions with counterparts.

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