The Committee of 100’s members are among the nation’s most accomplished and connected; they work to foster constructive dialogue between China and the U.S.
With hundreds of prominent faces looking on, an army general, a bank CEO, and a film director among others rise one by one to speak in the ballroom of the Beverly Hilton.
Such was the scene at the 17th annual conference of the Committee of 100 in Beverly Hills, California in April 2008. Entitled “Bridging Progress, Sharing Vision,” the conference brought together high profile Chinese Americans and others. Speakers included filmmaker Ang Lee, world champion skater Michelle Kwan, YouTube founder Steve Chen and General John Fugh, the first Chinese American to become a U.S. Army general. Fugh heads the Committee of 100.
The Committee of 100 (C-100) was founded in the United States in 1989 by a group of forty distinguished Chinese, including I.M. Pei, and Yo-Yo Ma, and now has more than 150 high profile Chinese-American members. Membership is by invitation only and indicates a high level of professional success. Newer members, including television host Lisa Ling and Microsoft Vice President Ya-Qin Zhang, are equally prominent and come from a wide range of fields.
For the past three decades, C-100 has been committed to encouraging constructive relations between the peoples of the United States and Greater China, and promoting the full participation of Chinese Americans in all fields of American life. The group has not received financial support from the U.S. or Chinese governments.
“[Frequently] Americans don’t understand Chinese history or language and Chinese don’t have an understanding of real American society,” said Stuart Kwoh, founder of the Asia-Pacific American Legal Center in LA and Regional Vice-Chair for C-100.
“There is so much that people from both countries can learn from each other,” he said.
Indeed, the April conference and many C-100 programs and initiatives focus on education and cross-cultural understanding.
The three-day April event offered many panels and keynote presentations. Featuring a large number of business leaders as well as a few members from a variety of other fields including academia and the arts, the panels focused on politics and economics for the first half of the conference, and then branched out into areas of environmental sustainability, the arts and academia.
“I hope people leave with knowledge that there are outstanding Chinese Americans working effectively to bring about a better world,” sad conference co-chair Alice Huang, a senior faculty associate in biology at the California Institute of Technology.
But while the C-100 conference focused on major international political, economic, and cultural issues of today, they also sought to cultivate tomorrow’s leaders. One afternoon was dedicated to mentoring young professionals.
Since 2003, C-100 has organized six large mentoring events coinciding with their annual conference and several smaller events for groups of young professionals, during which members of C-100 from all fields interact with numbers of mentees as high as 300 per event.
“It’s a great chance for people in their twenties and thirties to sit down and speak with all sorts of people from different fields,” said Michael Lee, C-100’s director of development.
The Committee’s commitment to mentorship and education doesn’t end with the mentoring program. In 2007, C-100 won a commitment from Los Angeles Unified School District to provide Mandarin language instruction in all of its high schools and middle schools and one hundred of its elementary schools by 2020.
“To promote understanding between cultures, language is essential,” said Charlie Sie, a board member of Aviva Systems Biology and C-100 member.
C-100 also works directly on U.S.-China bilateral relations. In 2007, C-100 arranged a trip to China for prominent American journalists, including David Brooks of The New York Times, Charlie Cook of The Cook Political Report and Juan Williams of National Public Radio in order to make this learning more concrete.
The Committee tries to reach American business leaders through its “Report on Directors of Asian Ethnicity on Fortune 500 Boards.” This report raises the visibility of Asians and Asian Americans in high-level corporate positions and support executive level appointments for Asian Americans.
All these efforts are intended to create greater cross-cultural understanding, and from the results of a recent C-100 survey, these efforts are vital as China expands its international influence.
Hope and Fear, the December 2007 survey, shows that the Chinese have a more favorable opinion of Americans than the other way around.
“The images Americans hold of China are the Dalai Lama, Tiananmen, and Taiwan. There is very little positive,” said Juan Williams of NPR, who spoke on the panel “The Outlook for the U.S. and Greater China” during the C-100’s recent annual conference.
It is the mission of the C-100 to change these ideas. Their philosophy is based on their belief that influential Chinese Americans should use their unique bi-cultural heritage as well as their position to bring about broader understanding.
Ang Lee captured this sentiment at the conference, remarking, “To say there is a Chinese way and a western way is very frustrating for me. Having a collaboration really benefits me.”
The challenges associated with cross-cultural collaboration are many. As American and Chinese business and other interests bring the two countries into more frequent contact, the potential for conflict grows. C-100 is working to foster ties and improve understanding so as to avoid or minimize such conflict.
Meg Young is a graduate of the Public Diplomacy Master’s program at USC.