Great Decisions 2010
* When: 6:30-8:30 p.m. Wednesdays
* Where: Hampton Park Library, 5345 Settingdown Road
* Week 2: Global financial crisis
* Week 3: Russia and its neighbors
* Week 4: The Persian Gulf
* Week 5: Peace building and conflict resolution
* Week 6: Global crime
North Georgia College & State University kicked off its Great Decisions lecture series this week with separate presentations on U.S.-China relations in Forsyth County and Gainesville.
Nearly 50 people came to listen to a North Georgia professor weigh in on current issues Wednesday at the Hampton Park Library in north Forsyth.
Two days earlier, the same talk drew about 70 people to the Gainesville Civic Center.
The six-week series continues next week with a lecture on the global financial crisis.
In this week's presentation, Christopher Jespersen gave a lighthearted, historical overview of the relationship between the U.S. and China during the last century.
Jespersen, dean of the School of Arts and Letters, said to understand the current climate, it’s important to look back at the past.
“For historians, it’s all about change over time or the lack there of,” he said.
While many remember hostile relations between the two countries, Jespersen said initial ties were positive.
Jespersen explained that during the 1920s and ’30s, many Americans were fascinated by the Chinese, especially Chiang Kai-shek, a nationalist leader of the country, and his wife, Song Mei-ling.
The glamorous couple was featured on the cover of Time Magazine numerous times.
Song was fluent in English, educated at Wesleyan College in Macon, and also was a Christian. Following their marriage, Chiang converted to
Christianity, making the couple especially popular with American missionaries.
The relationship between the two countries was strengthened following Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.
“Obviously, it isn’t that long before the U.S. and China are fighting on the same side,” Jespersen said. “They are our allies.”
Madam Chiang Kai-shek, as Song was called, spoke to Congress in 1942, urging them to consider shifting their efforts in World War II toward
Japan and providing greater military assistance in China.
“She is a hugely popular figure,” Jespersen said.
But after the war ended, China fell into its own civil war between the Nationalists and the Communists.
“Chiang’s popularity began to wain,” he said. “Our view of China switched 180 degrees — just like that.”
Jespersen said many Americans were confused by how a country that was portrayed as an ally could so quickly become the enemy.
The fear and distrust of communism during the Cold War was in part born out of China’s quick shift.
“That’s why when Joseph McCarthy says ‘I have a list’ ... of communists in the State Department, why do Americans believe it? Because for the last 20 years that China was just like us and China’s gone communist,” Jespersen said.
Though the two countries have had a rocky relationship over the past several decades, Jespersen said today the U.S. and China are trade partners and essential to each other’s economies.
“There is much to admire about China,” Jespersen said. “There’s tremendous change growth and opportunity.”
Following the presentation, Jespersen answered a number of questions about current events in China today.
Great Decisions 2010 is a forum that aims to engage people in foreign policy and international issues.
The long-running national program is being facilitated locally this year by North Georgia College & State University, whose faculty members will act as sources of expertise on a range of topics.
This year is the first time North Georgia has facilitated the forum. Great Decisions was started in 1954 as the cornerstone of the Foreign Policy Association, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., dedicated to engaging the American public to learn more about the world.
"We are extremely pleased to see so many people participate in this series,” said North Georgia spokeswoman Kate Maine.
"There are a lot of people very interested in current, global events, and part of the university’s mission is to provide educational opportunities, such as the Great Decisions series, to the community."