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From Looking at Each Other to Talking to Each Other: Practices and Prospects of Sino–Russian Youth Exchanges under the BRI

On June 2, 2019, the fifth New Buds Salon, on the theme of “From Looking at Each Other to Talking to Each Other: Practices and Prospects of ChinaRussia Youth Exchanges under the 'Belt and Road' Initiative,” was held at Lecture Hall B102, Gymnasium 2, Peking University, by the Institute of Area Studies, Peking University (PKUIAS) and PKU's School of Foreign Languages. Fei Haiting, assistant professor at PKU's School of Government; Zhuang Yu, assistant professor of PKU's Department of History; and Shi Yue, assistant professor of PKU's School of Foreign Languages, attended the event and served as panelists. Lu Sentong, former president of Federation of Chinese Students in Russia and chairman of Chinese Students & Scholars Association (CSSA) of Moscow State University, delivered a keynote speech. Guests and students from Peking University and Tsinghua University attended the dialogue segment.

Lu Sentong first introduced the history and current situation of the Federation of Chinese Students in Russia. With the support of CSSA, Chinese students studying in Russia and Russian youth organizations have established extensive contacts, and exchanges at the official level have become more frequent. However, he also pointed out that, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the mutual understanding of Chinese and Russian youths had not been particularly deep. How to discover the fundamental driving force of exchanges, make good use of it to help young adults find the best way to communicate is precisely the problem that these youths need to face together, and it is also the focus of this salon, he said.

In the presentation segment, Anastasia and Taisia from Russia introduced the development of overseas study and tourism between China and Russia from the perspective of national policy. There are increasingly more ways for two peoples to understand each other, and, in a geographical sense, a shift from “looking at each other to talking to each other” has taken place.

In the comments segment, Shi Yue, based on his experience and observation of studying abroad, pointed out that most Chinese have formed a stereotype of Russia, and are likely to fall into three kinds of cognitive bias: they may have cultural understanding but without historical background, they may have formed a rigid impression of Russia from the eras of the Soviet Union and tsarist Russia, or they may have a simple and fragmented cognition obtained through the mass media. These stereotypes can only be broken and corrected through actual life experience.

Zou Wenhui, from the School of Foreign Languages, shared her experience in participating in various exchange activities in St. Petersburg. She pointed out that the biggest problem with current Sino-Russian youth exchange activities is that they are more formalities than realities, and exchanges are for the sake of exchange. Fei Haiting further pointed out that in-depth understanding is also a prerequisite for conducting social science research. The significance of exchange activities is precisely to enable us to break free from written materials, see through appearances and try to understand all aspects of another country.

One of the values of cultural exchanges is to eliminate impression bias. Dr. Li Wendi, from School of Government, expressed her belief that there are multiple phases in the elimination of impression bias: first, de-labeling and recognizing the multi-faceted nature of culture; second, trying to avoid the interference of one's own culture on the cognitive process of understanding other cultures; third, seeking to understand a nation's culture from within. It is a very long and slow process to access to the three phases step by step. Zhuang Yu took a step further on Li's viewpoint. She emphasized that cultural exchange is a process of removing the fake and keeping the truth. Activities like understanding Russian history, mastering the Russian language and gaining experience in the field would greatly enhance the depth of communication, she said.

After the presentation, there was active interaction among the speakers, panelists and the audience members. Based on their experience and academic research, students enjoyed active and serious academic exchanges with the speakers.

In their closing statements, Fei Haiting and Zhuang Yu once again pointed out that language serves as the foundation of cultural exchanges. She also encouraged the students present to consolidate their Russian learning, to provide best conditions for in-depth exchanges. Shi Yue encouraged the students to relax and get over the anxiety of cross-cultural communication. He suggested that one seek to “know a little more” at first, and, step by step, a better understanding of the other country can be attained.