The Twelfth Sedona

China on Our Mind: Making Connections and Exchanges with China


Visual Literacy and the Use of Digital Media in Education


Sandra de Bresser, the newly appointed Executive Director of The Sedona Conversations, assisted in putting this excellent program together. This was a particular challenge, as most of her organization and contacts with each of the speakers was handled directly from the Netherlands, where she resides. She worked from a distance with Laura Phipps and Tim Grant on program details and web page management, respectively. As always, we are extremely grateful to Tim for his unwavering technical support, both in preparation for the conference and in Sedona. Sandra’s willingness to take on so much responsibility – even from half a world away – greatly facilitated this exciting conference on China.

China on our Mind, indeed.

There has been a tremendous amount of publicity and “hype” surrounding the economic resurgence of China as a significant player in the global economy. In order to better understand these developments, the 12 th Sedona Conferences featured presenters who have either had long-standing relationships with China or are contemplating increasing programmatic services for Chinese universities, colleges, and government agencies.

We emphasized not only the potential of business connections and exchanges in China, but the reality of cultural challenges. We learned a great deal of sobering information from the realistic and experienced presenters who came to Sedona.

The conference opened with an overview, presented by Paul Elsner, President and Founder of the Sedona Conference and Conversations, who has traveled extensively throughout China. For over a decade, he was instrumental in facilitating the Chengdu Exchange and other educational programs, during his tenure as Chancellor of the Maricopa County Community College District (MCCCD). He had also been involved in initiating the Wuyi University faculty exchange program, which commemorated its tenth anniversary last July, when MCCCD staff visited Wuyi University in Jiaman City and Guandong Province. He had special reflections and experiences to share with the group.

Don Campbell, Chairman of the MCCCD Governing Board, was scheduled to welcome the participants, but a delayed arrival from Australia, postponed this. Luckily, he was able to welcome the group by re-opening the conference for the second day, where he stressed the importance of looking at China seriously as not only a trading partner, but an educational partner, in years to come. Dr. Campbell had attended the AACC’s US-China Conference on Community Colleges in July of 2004, and then visited other aspects of China’s educational and cultural facilities in an additional two-week tour. The participants were impressed with Dr. Campbell’s enthusiasm for China.

The opening keynote address was presented Jerrie Ueberle, President of Global Interactions. Founded in 1984, the work of Global Interactions focuses primarily on China, spanning a twenty year period of rapid change and development. Global Interactions facilitates professional partnerships and development in education, science, technology, and business. Through exchanges with international counterparts, they promote domestic and international partnerships that accelerate the exchange of best practices, research, and technologies, thus furthering communication and understanding worldwide. Some of their conference topics in the past have included special education, women’s issues, entrepreneurship, and community colleges. Future topics for 2005 and 2006 include multiple intelligences, autism, and education leadership.

Among her contributions to the conference, Jerrie gave a realistic appraisal of the complexities of Chinese-American business relationships. She enlightened us with a metaphor that compared understanding China to peeling leaves from an artichoke: even when you get to the core, or the heart of the artichoke, its characteristics are fuzzy.

Our next speaker was Garry Ong, former commissioner for President Bush’s advisory commission on Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders. In addition to Garry’s extensive international experience, he is a driving force for Chinese affairs in the greater Phoenix area, where he often initiates huge gatherings of Chinese-Americans for special celebrations and political purposes. He gave very valuable insights into Chinese-American needs and the struggles of many Asian people who immigrate to the US. Like many Chinese immigrants, he comes from Guangzhou; over 80% of off-shore Chinese residents come from Guangdong Province. Garry’s stellar achievements make him a great model of success and leadership for Chinese immigrants.

Unfortunately, Michael Seiden, President of Western International University, had a serious illness in his family, so Judy Teng from San Francisco City College was kind enough to present her topics one day early. This turned out to be excellent timing, as she outlined the many realities of working and contracting for services in China. She has launched major occupational programs, including a huge aviation program, in China. She listed several considerations before entering into contractual relationships in China:

  • Know your own institutions’ capacity. Namely, what do you have the internal support to deliver?
  • Assess your institutions’ and faculty members’ attitudes toward providing services in China before you embark on or make commitments to Chinese partners.

  • Keep leverage at hand by withholding diplomas, degrees, and certificates, until the commercial conditions of the contract have been met.

  • Memorandums of Agreement are not contracts. They are but the beginnings of a long trust-building process. The Chinese must get to know you, and you must get to know them. Trusting relationships are the hallmark of successful cooperation.

  • As many other speakers also pointed out, what you see is not necessarily what you get. It is important to have persons in authority who are able to commit to government or municipal spending sign off on what you are attempting to achieve as a contract.

  • Go-between people are important for relationships, but they are not principal agents in conducting business.

We were extremely pleased with Judy’s contribution to the conference. Her presentation framed the commentary of many speakers that followed, who have had very similar experiences.

Following Judy Teng was Howard Woo, an experienced independent consultant and contractor to China. He is the managing director of Howard Woo Consultants, where he has many years of experience in helping international companies understand Chinese and Japanese cultures in order to sustain long-term successful business relationships. He has a distinguished background in Asian studies, holding degrees from the London School of Economics and the University of London in Far Eastern Studies.

Howard reminded us that Western culture often clashes with Far Eastern cultures in style and speed, particularly in regards to deal closure. He also admonished westerners for often failing to recognize the nuances of time, deliberation, respect, and the concept of gaining or losing of face among business partners. In some cases, it takes almost a lifetime to fully understand the nuances of Chinese culture, but to overlook that culture is a huge misstep. After all, as Howard reminds us, we are the new arrivals; they have 2,000 years of history that came before us. We have more to learn from them than we often assume that we can impart.

Next, we were enlightened by a faculty forum, titled, “Value Formation through China Exchanges.” This was an expression of the personal growth experienced by Clyde Perry, Lara Collins and Pat Honzay in their various China-related endeavors. Clyde Perry’s involvement with China has been extensive, having hosted several Chinese visitors in his home, as well as building joint vocational and technical enterprises. Like many of us, the panel members expressed the feeling that they were the beneficiaries of these relationships. They underscored that we learn more about our own culture by visiting, working and exchanging with the Chinese.

Lara Collins and Rick Effland, the latter of whom offered a highly personalized video chronicle of his experiences, offered a teachers’ perspective on Chinese students, most notably at Wuyi University. They expressed an appreciation for their Wuyi students, whose fresh views, moral character, sincerity, and appreciation contributed to a most satisfying teaching arrangement. The faculty consistently described the Chinese students as gracious, polite, considerate, curious, and less ego-driven, even in the face of having so much less than our own American students. We of course love our American students, but the Chinese students present a contrast that we have yet to fully understand, but much appreciate from our experiences in working with them.

Pat Honzay, who specializes in organizational development and leadership theory, offered observations from her visits to China. She sees China as more hierarchal, perhaps a less safe environment for open-ended and sometimes divergent creative thinking. Employees in China are usually looking up; the approval of leadership matters greatly. Whereas American employees are often more empowered, actually encouraged, to go off on their own, the Chinese face many challenges in encouraging greater individuality, thinking outside of the box, and more generative creative contributions. It is simply a newer concept to them. Pat’s reflections gave us many interesting things to think about in comparing leadership and organizational development styles and strategies with China.

John Frankenstein’s presentation offered a superb set of new questions and challenges. John is a former member of the US-China Foundation, and lectures at the City University of New York and Columbia University on China Affairs. He has lived in China and worked extensively in both state department and business affairs, much of which touched on China’s burgeoning developments. He was instrumental in facilitating relationships with China for many representatives in the audience.

John looked at China from a broad perspective. On one of his first slides, he offered Frankenstein’s Law: “Everything you hear about China is true, but none of it is reliable.” His Law takes into account the unification of China, its geographic scale, its centuries-long history, and its prospects for change, which contain many subtleties yet to be understood by Westerners.

In addition, John reminds us that no two parts of China are exactly the same. It is a complex issue of perception. Each region, major municipality, or rural area has its flavors, variations, and idiosyncrasies. Furthermore, China offers a legacy of secrets and stratagems. To over-simplify, in working with China, not everything is on the table.

To further prove the dichotomies of perception about China, John presented us with a number of recent headlines:

  • Made in China, Bought Everywhere

  • US Begins Steps to Limit Import Surge from China

  • Wave of Corruption Tarnishes China’s Extraordinary Growth

  • Investment Bubble Builds New China

  • Crouching Tiger, Swimming Dragon

  • “The China Price”

  • Across Asia, Beijing Star is in Ascendance  

In light of this, John asserts four basic challenges that China must face:

  • How to rule a large country with a large population from a single place

  • How to make China “great” again

  • How to transform China’s societal structure

  • How to deal with the outside world  

He also reviewed some of China’s economic challenges. Recent economic developments have brought China from “emerging” to “emerged.” While it is now the world’s number three trading nation, it must face over-valued RMB, World Trade Organization compliance, and a fragile – in some cases broken – financial sector. Investment and fixed assets now reach forty percent of GDP, and China’s hunger to feed development and infrastructure planning seem relentless. The demand for resources, such as energy, concrete and metals, is seemingly insatiable. Throughout the conference, we continued to touch on many of the points John raised in his address.

We had a wonderful break from our traditional presentations when Chris Forde put on a Tai Chi performance and workshop. Chris has traveled internationally to study directly with Grandmaster Chen Xiaowang, 19 th Generation Standard Bearer of Chen Style Taijiquan. He organizes the Arizona branch of the Chen Xiaowang World Taijiquan Association, where he teaches Chen Style Taijiquan and hosts Master Chen for seminars each fall in Phoenix. Chris also demonstrates Taijiquan at several Asian cultural festivals in the Phoenix area. Chris presented a power point slide show and gave demonstrations of Tai Chi as a relaxation and energizing technique, as well as a keen martial art.

Antoine Barnaart runs a large vocational education and training project in Chongqing, China, an urban area of over 31 million people. This project is supported with over 20 million dollars of Australian aid (AusAID). Many working relationships in China were formed out of Antoine’s experience. He emphasized trust, long-term relationships, local nuances, historical behavior, and forming tight and well-drawn contracts. Many such aid projects are developing right now, in hopes that one’s expertise will help build a better China. However, in many cases, you are expected to leave immediately after the training has been imparted. Still, for Australia and other aid-givers, it is important to help build a strong China; they want to assume a strong economic foothold in China to secure their own 21 st century prosperity.

Bernard Luskin, who always enthralls an audience, spoke to his China experiences, having run a company there for three years. From his experiences living and working in China, he discussed what he believes China needs to survive in the future. He discussed challenges of leadership, as well as the cultivation of new technologies and technology transformation, especially in the visual areas. Bernie sees the China market as significant for digital media and media studies and leaderships. He discussed the issues surrounding private universities, which are one of the fastest growing higher education segments in China. These institutions are particularly in need of leadership training at the middle-management and executive level positions. Bernie did an excellent job of relating these needs to China’s larger economy, and governmental and commercial development.

Jianping Wang, who is Assistant Dean at Westchester Community College, discussed the need for leadership training in China among the private sector institutions. She stated that the quality of leadership training in this fast-growing segment is very inconsistent. She consults and provides training for such institutions, and she says that the market is huge. Jianping has a fascinating background; as a native of the People’s Republic of China, she lived through the Cultural Revolution and witnessed firsthand its after-effects. Reflecting on her experiences as a participant at both the Shanghai Teachers’ College Conference and the AACC’s US-China Conference on Community Colleges last summer, Jianping outlined several aspects of the market needs for leadership training. This is one of China’s fastest-growing demands in higher education, and if properly approached, based on these new institutions’ stages of development, presents a huge market opportunity.

The conference closed with a speculative discussion about visual literacy. A white paper was presented by Ron Bleed, IT Director and vice-chancellor for the MCCCD. Pinny Sheoran, Director of the Business and Industry Institute at Mesa Community College and Bernie Luskin then responded. In gauging audience interest on this topic for a possible future Sedona, we learned from the audience that it is neither well-developed nor widely understood in its implications. These discussions will help us to explore this area at a future Sedona.

We were very pleased with the quality of the speakers and the depth of the conversations that followed. True to the Sedona tradition, we were much more conversational than most conferences. The evaluations were excellent, and many people approached me to say that they do not get this kind of intensity or interaction at typical conferences.


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