“Buddha’s Light” Shines from China to Tucson for Gabby

Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and Captain Mark Kelly in Sichuan in 2005

In recent days, the fragile and fractious relationship between the US and China has been on technicolor display. US Defense Secretary Gates came to China to use the upcoming US visit of President Hu Jintao to restart military-to-military relations. Communist Party leaders met him with soothing smiles.  The Chinese military greeted him with the sabre-rattling unveiling of a prototype stealth fighter. As President Hu heads to DC next week, Congress is lining up hearings to examine how China’s financial and geopolitical rise threatens the US economy and national security. The White House is figuring out how President Obama can play the friendly host while also getting tough with China since his cooperative gestures of the past two years have been largely rebuffed by Beijing.

But on Tuesday afternoon, in tranquil corner of western Beijing in a lakeside meeting hall in the Chinese leadership’s Diaoyutai guest house, Chinese and Americans found heartfelt common cause. US Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords brought them together.

At the end of a China-US strategic relations symposium attended by notable academics and policy influencers  from both countries, everybody bowed their heads in prayer and respectful silence. They were united in the sincere hope for the full recovery of Congresswoman Giffords. Some of the Chinese attendees in the room are close friends of “Gabby,” as she is known by the many loyal Chinese friends and admirers she has attracted as an active member of the Young Leaders Forum (YLF) of the National Committee on US-China Relations.

The moderator who called for the prayerful moment was Fu Jun, a YLF member and close friend of Gabby and her astronaut husband Mark Kelly. Fu Jun, a Harvard grad and Executive Dean of the School of Government at Beijing University, and other Chinese and American YLF friends have been furiously exchanging emails this week with Captain Kelly, getting updates on her condition, offering kind words of support and exchanging photos of and swapping stories about their past gatherings in China and the US.

As an American YLF member said in one exchange:

“YLF is itself a prime example of how two great nations can be brought together from the grassroots level, by people meeting and befriending one another. And China is not unfamiliar with inexplicable senseless violence at the hands of deranged civilians. We are all touched by this. And Gabrielle has always been a friend of China, making no distinction between the delegates she meets at YLF events no matter which country they hail from.”

Mark and Gabby met in China through the YLF, when Gabby was a junior Arizona State Senator and Mark a young astronaut. Gabby was recruited to join the YLF after word traveled to Washington DC about an extraordinary Arizona legislator with an infectious and  optimistic personality, a true belief in public service and a genuine desire to make the world a better place.  NASA recommended  both Mark and his twin brother Scott to be YLF members, but Mark got the nod because Scott had a space mission that conflicted with the YLF schedule.

Mark and Gabby met during the 2003 YLF sessions atop Huangshan, a sacred Chinese mountain that has long inspired Chinese poets, painters and lovers with its towering pines and sharp granite peaks that poke through the clouds. They were married four years later, with former Labor Secretary Robert Reich toasting them: “To a bride who moves at a velocity that exceeds that of anyone else in Washington, and a groom who moves at a velocity that exceeds 17,000 miles per hour.”

Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and Captain Mark Kelly in Sichuan in 2005

Huangshan is famous for its “Buddha’s Light” phenomenon. Known in the science world as a“glory,” this is an optical phenomenon in which a halo of multicolored light rings can be seen by observers who are positioned between the sun and the clouds. Chinese legend says that those who view Huangshan’s Buddha’s Lights are getting a sign of attaining personal enlightenment, especially when the halo illuminates a person’s shadow.

A bright halo of Buddha’s light must have been sweeping across Huangshan when Gabby and Mark met — and that light still burns in her close circle of YLF friends whose hearts are focused on the Tucson hospital room where she is struggling to recover.

A remarkable group of more than 100 individuals have been recruited into the YLF since the program started in 2002. The program’s goal is to identify future leaders of the US and China, in all fields of endeavor, and put them together to foster friendships and mutual understanding. The only requirements is they be under age 40.  The YLF includes notable playwrights, bankers, lawyers, soldiers, physicians, entrepreneurs, politicians, journalists, social workers, scientists and artists. They meet for four days once a year, alternating between locations in the US and China. They talk about everything under the sun – from science and society to politics and personal fulfillment to how individual identities get mixed up with national identities – and educate each other about their respective countries. As one American participant describes it, the YLF is “not a policy think tank.  It is a friendship tank.”

Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and some YLF fellows in Huangshan in 2003

These days the Chinese and American friendship tank of the YLF is spilling over with love and hope for their friend Gabby.

As American and Chinese leaders struggle to sort out how to deal with each other as China rises and the US seeks equilibrium, it is good to remember that there are many, many people like Gabby and her friends who bind these two countries together. China will welcome her back with open arms.

Link: http://www.ncuscr.org/ylf, Young Leaders Forum, National Committee of United States-China Relations

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About James McGregor
James McGregor is an American author, journalist and businessman who has lived in China for more than 25 years. Currently, he is chairman of APCO Worldwide, Greater China. A professional speaker and commentator who specializes in China’s business, politics and society, he regularly appears in the media to discuss China-related topics. McGregor is the author of the books "No Ancient Wisdom, No Followers: The Challenges of Chinese Authoritarian Capitalism" (2012) and "One Billion Customers: Lessons from the Front Lines of Doing Business in China" (2005). He also wrote the 2010 report "China’s Drive for ‘Indigenous Innovation’ – A Web of Industrial Policies." From 1987 to 1990 McGregor served as The Wall Street Journal’s bureau chief in Taiwan, and from 1990 to 1994 as the paper’s bureau chief in Mainland China. From 1994 to 2000, he was chief executive of Dow Jones & Company in China. After leaving Dow Jones, he was China managing partner for GIV Venture Partners, a $140 million venture capital fund specializing in the Chinese Internet and technology outsourcing. In 1996, McGregor was elected as chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in China. He also served for a decade as a governor of that organization. He is a member of the Atlantic Council, Council on Foreign Relations, National Committee on US-China Relations and International Council of the Asia Society. He serves on a variety of China-related advisory boards.

One Response to “Buddha’s Light” Shines from China to Tucson for Gabby

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