2005 China Exchange

When I was growing up in Oakland, California’s Chinatown in the 1940s and 1950s my father told me stories about his homeland, instilling in me an attachment to China that I have to this day. So, in May of 2004, when Roger Shimomura, a distinguished Japanese American artist, led an art and professional exchange to China I participated as one of the six artists and educators in the delegation. During the 10-day exchange I viewed China through a new lens as we lectured at universities and colleges in Beijing, Xian, and Shanghai. At the conclusion of Roger’s tour I knew that I wanted to lead a future exchange. Through the auspices of World Trade and Exchanges LLC in Redmond, Washington, I applied immediately for an opportunity to do so. Before long, I received a letter from Mr. Li Hanquan, Deputy Secretary of the Chinese Workers Center for International Exchange, inviting me to lead an exchange to China in 2005.

In October of 2005, after organizing for eighteen months, I led a delegation of outstanding artists, historians, and other professionals – Greg Chew, Nate Chew, Lenore Chinn, Allison Chop, Joyce Iwasaski, Nina Koepcke, Alexandra Lieu, Jane Place and her mother-in-law, Betty, my sister, Lai Webster, my husband, Edward K. Wong, and Connie Young Yu – to China. Our destinations were Tsinghua University in Beijing, the Xian Academy of Fine Arts, and the Shanghai Academy of Arts and Crafts. As official delegates on a people-to-people basis, we represented the art, history, and business worlds of the San Francisco, South Bay areas of California and the Seattle, Washington region. We were also fortunate to have the support of the San Jose-based Arts Council Silicon Valley (ACSV) through the presence of their president, Joyce Iwasaki, and through the work of Diem Jones, Director of Programs. I had two goals for the exchange. I wanted to introduce the diversity of American artists and their work to the Chinese students. I wanted them to learn about the Chinese diaspora in America.

In Beijing, the first stop of our tour, we were officially welcomed at a sumptuous banquet by Mr. Li, officials of arts organizations, and art professors from Tsinghua University. In all three cities, our delegation presented two panels –an art group and an historical and business group through power point programs. Each artist – Lenore Chinn, Nina Koepcke, Jane Place, and I – talked about our paintings, drawings, ceramics, and installation art. Joyce Iwasaski presented the art of two past ACSV fellows, Binh Tai Danh and Terry Acebo Davis. Connie Young Yu, writer and historian, anchored the historical and business panel. Connie spoke about the history of the Chinese in America; Allison shared her experience as a manager of a Whole Foods grocery store; Greg addressed his role as an urban planner. At each site, our delegation, filled with excitement and anticipation, were warmly greeted by officials and administrators. Our presentations improved at each new site and during our last presentation at the Shanghai Academy of Arts and Crafts lecture we soared. We were elated that there was a standing room only event with students enthusiastically snapping photographs of the proceedings with their digital cameras. In Shanghai as in Beijing and Xian we distributed our personal art postcards, t shirts, and other items to the students at the end of the presentations.

In addition to presenting, our delegation toured the art departments of the universities and colleges. We saw the Beijing Biennale, which introduced us to contemporary art being shown in China. Jane Place, Karen Brown (a 2004 delegate), and I (thanks to support from South Bay art supporters, Jerry Hiura and Yosh Uchida) displayed our art in a Beijing group exhibition, which our delegation viewed. In Xian, we visited an art department office at the Academy of Fine Art, viewed student exhibitions and later we ate lunch with students and professors, giving us a much-desired opportunity to exchange ideas and to ask questions in a more intimate setting. We also visited vibrant art districts in the three cities, including the Beijing-based 798 Gallery region and the amazing Shanghai Museum of Art.

I was honored and privileged to lead the exchange. My greatest satisfaction came when the Mr. Li and Mr. Zhao, the Beijing region coordinator, told me that they had learned so much from us at our Tsinghua University presentation. I was also pleased to see that students from the three institutions were eager to gain knowledge about America through our eyes. Since settling in at home various delegation members have been sharing their stunning photographs, attending Chinese opera performances, and presenting on post-exchange panel presentations. Most importantly, our delegation now understands a little more about the complexities of China through art and culture, thanks to the excellent translation of our interpreter and trouble-shooter, the exquisite Mao Lina who accompanied us throughout our destinations in China.

I think that my father would be proud.

Flo Oy Wong
March 22, 2006

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