Foreign guests are invited each year to join a fall walk at the beautiful summer palace in Beijing. Everyone was given identifying stickers, a bright yellow backpack, and a jacket to wear, and encouraged to mingle with hundreds of foreigners and Chinese hosts as they make their way around the palace grounds via a marked path.
Our university invited us again this year (our third year) to join the group. We had another commitment in the afternoon, but thought we would attend just the opening ceremony of the walk before quietly and unobtrusively leaving.
To our surprise, however, before the walk started we were honored on stage with big colorful “longevity” banners as the announcer said, “Charles and Laraine Chamberlain, American experts, are recognized for being the most outstanding walkers.” Apparently, we were the only ones who’d attended the event for three years straight.
After this honor, we felt so guilty about walking away, we stayed for at least some of the walk, then skulked away from the marked path and plethora of organizers by ripping off our stickers and hiding our bright banners as much as we could. Our hearts were beating fast as we sneaked away. “Outstanding walkers” indeed!
China does an outstanding job of opening up opportunities for dialogue with foreigners. It is obvious that a great deal of focus, energy, and money is spent on presenting a friendly face to the world. For instance, when an important global trade or government meeting is to be held in China, it is very common for the meeting to be held in one of China’s “tier two” cities. This gives the country an “excuse” and a deadline to renovate and upgrade that city. Travel anywhere in China and you’ll see massive road and landscaping projects in addition to the building boom. It reminds us of families who hold a daughter’s wedding reception in their backyard. It wouldn’t be uncommon to see the family remodel the living room, family room, and back patio in preparation. Now if we could just get more attention to those bathrooms!
Along with some of our university colleagues, we were invited by our university to attend a special dinner for foreign experts who are living and working in China. We arrived in buses and, for our benefit, the entire highway was shut down on the way to the dinner, which was held at The Great Hall of the People adjacent to Tiananmen Square. Some 2,000 foreign experts were in attendance and treated to an amazing dinner and speech from Vice Premier Han Zheng. He praised foreign experts for assisting the country of China in reaching its current strength and status on the 70th anniversary of the Communist Party in China.
At our table was a couple from the Ukraine, a woman from Mexico City, a man from the UK, a man from Russia, another American man, and two Chinese hosts. We had a delightful time getting to know them. Unfortunately, cameras and cell phones were not allowed in the hall. We did get pictures of our group at the university and outside the hall.
Incidentally, after the dinner the entire crowd exited the doors to the front of the hall, while I (Chuck) slipped into a restroom at the rear of the hall, behind some heavy curtains. I was there for just a few moments when an entourage of young men in business suits wearing ear buds entered the restroom with the Vice Premier himself. I was surprised and could only think to say, “Hi” to him. Afterwards I exited, holding open the curtain for him as we walked out together. I remember thinking, “Why are these security men allowing me to be so close to the Vice Premier.” Then I remembered the worried looks on their faces. Obviously, this bathroom break was unplanned and worrisome to those whose job it was to keep him safe. I caught them off-guard.
Laraine took some very heavy bags full of ingredients and utensils to the new campus to teach her students how to make American food, such as deviled eggs and layered bean dip. They were amazed (lots of “ooh’s and “ah’s” and many had never seen a cheese grater. Check out her pics:
Remembering that first class day in September when a new crop of leadership students at China Foreign Affairs University (CFAU) looked up at me expectantly, I could almost see the questions forming behind those beautiful brown eyes.
“Who is this American, and what will we be doing in this ‘leadership’
class?” “Does he really think we need to learn about leadership—something so
far into our future?”
On that first day, I looked into their skeptical eyes and got
no response when I said, “Raise your hand if you think of yourself as a leader.”
Polling the class, I verified what I had already discovered about most students
in China: they think of leadership only in terms of positional power.
I then did something unexpected: I showed four short video
clips of orchestra conductors leading their orchestras. Each had a unique
style. One kept a steady metronome-like beat, showing no emotion on his face.
Another closed his eyes while swaying and waving his arms in oversized motions.
A third conductor did an exuberant little dance while gesturing with his arms.
The fourth was the most unusual. He did nothing with his body and, strangely,
kept his arms folded while simply raising his eyebrows occasionally and pursing
his lips. This brought some nervous laughter from the class.
As the music went silent, I looked around the room at puzzled
expressions. Breaking the silence, I said, “The true essence of leadership is simply
manifesting your most important values. Can you tell what the first conductor valued?”
Getting no response, I continued, “The first conductor
valued a regular, steady rhythm.” I then imitated this maestro’s robot-like
“What about the second conductor?” Again, no response. I closed
my eyes and made big motions with my arms. “Can you tell this conductor really
valued the emotions of his music?”
“What about the third conductor?” I asked. Finally, a timid
student piped up, “He likes to dance.”
“Yes,” I agreed. “He seems to value physical movement and
expression.” Several students nodded in agreement.
“How about the fourth conductor?” This brought snickers as
the students remembered the conductor who seemed to do nothing. “Can you tell
what he values?” All heads went down to their desks.
“It might be hard to recognize, but can you see that this
conductor valued the musicians’ individual and collective expression and
interpretation of the music—even without his involvement? He wants them to come
forth with their own expressions. But it doesn’t make him any less a leader,
As the school year progressed, students became less
skeptical, more engaged and more determined to be “values-expressing” leaders. They
joined me in exploring leadership through discussion and memorable activities.
We went through John C. Maxwell’s 5
Levels of Leadership, examining case studies, working in teams to make
critical decisions in simulated conditions, and even analyzing Deputy Barney
Fife’s humorous behavior as a “Level 1” leader in the old American sit-com, The
Andy Griffith Show. We worked through concepts in Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High
(Kerry Patterson et al.) by creating simulated conflicts and allowing students
to practice newly learned techniques to resolve those conflicts. We used unusual,
right-hand/left-hand writing and drawing methods developed by Dr. Lucia
Cappachione (The Power of Your Other Hand,
etc.) to become more self-aware in order to more effectively lead others.
Students kept a leadership journal, starting with a list of
their most important values. As the year continued, some were able to share
from their journal and examine how well they had expressed those important
values with others in their class, in their teams, in their community and at
Finally, at the end of the year, we examined Fortune Magazine’s
list of the 50 top world leaders. Choosing the top twelve who happened to be leaders
in government, business, activism and philanthropy, we discussed what they all
had in common. Because the list included male and female, old and young (even a
16-year- old), rich and poor, employers and employees, etc., the common element
was obvious. Each leader had been successful in identifying a value within themselves
and moving heaven and earth to express and manifest that value. Students’
understanding of leadership and their roles in it had taken a huge jump forward
from the first day of class.
China Foreign Affairs University is the “cradle of diplomacy” for China. All Chinese diplomats must receive training at CFAU, and a large percentage of China’s diplomats have also received undergraduate or graduate degrees at CFAU. It feels good to know this powerful nation’s future is in the hands of those who have a better understanding and passion for leadership.
What might the world reap from the seeds sown in my “leadership crop” this year?
Our university invited us to attend a conference in a “small” town of just 1.2 million people. We accepted the invitation and soon found that we were the guests of honor (token Americans) at a huge “friendship walk” in central China. In XinYang, we were “wined and dined,” put up in a 5-star hotel, and treated like royalty.
At the Opening Ceremonies, we were escorted into a stadium filled with thousands of cheering people. I was given a red jacket with a Chinese flag over my heart, and put on stage with about 11 other foreigners. They introduced me as a distinguished teacher from America while thousands of people cheered, a half-dozen drones flew around our heads, taking pictures, and television cameras recorded everything.
When it came time to leave on the 13 Km walk, we were mobbed by people wanting our picture. Even as we walked away and came to a small village, I stopped to stretch and young boys pulled out their phones to get pictures. My memory is bending over at the waist to stretch my hamstring while a young boy laid on the ground, peering up at my sagging red face with his camera a few inches from my nose. I don’t even want to see that picture. — Chuck Chamberlain
Key to pictures below: 1) Pic with host at dinner 2) Another host at dinner 3) host with Lynne, our school liaison 4) on our walk, these men stared very intently at us, and it seemed they had never seen an American in person. We asked to take their picture 5) workers harvesting tea leaves -so beautiful 6) more greenery on our walk 7) Card playing in hotel lobby, two girls from Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan joined us 8) Fellow teacher, Cory, is very tall and a magnet for picture taking 9) little guy and his mom very curious about us 10) trying to stretch, missed the best picture of the boy on the ground getting my face as I bent over 11) forming C-F-A-U with our fingers 12) Introduced as a high muckety muck 13) fellow big shots on stage 14) One of the many drones getting our picture 15) With fellow big shots 16)Chuck, Laraine, Lynn, Cory, and a local helper 17) in our hotel lobby
China Foreign Affairs University (CFAU) participated in an annual activity with other schools at the Summer Palace in Beijing. The purpose was to walk around the large lake which constitutes the majority of the center part of the property. Instead of doing the 8 kilometer walk this year, we decided to sneak off the path and see other sights there. We realized that by staying with the group, walking the perimeter of the massive estate like we did last year, we missed out on many of the wonders of this beautiful area. Because there were checkpoints located at various spots around the property, and we were wearing the blue sweaters provided by the organizers, we had to sneak around so they wouldn’t keep telling us we were lost. So we did NOT get a certificate or a prize for completing the walk. Instead, we got a greater appreciation for the palatial beauty of the area. It was awesome.
Danger! Deep Water! No Romping!
With his knee bothering him from so much hiking, Chuck sat at the bottom and waited for Laraine to come back from a hike up the stairs to the top of the palace. Going up would have been no problem for him; it’s the coming down part that’s bad.
Laraine’s climb was to the top of that building in the background.
The view was rewarding from the top. Here’s the sunset over the Summer Palace grounds in Beijing.
Lots of stairs to hike. Chuck and his bad knee did okay. He only chose to sit out on just one of the climbs.