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Elaine L. Chao: The Wise with Grace

It was on the afternoon of December 3rd that Ms Elaine L. Chao, the United States Secretary of Labor, addressed to Peking University. When stepped into the Sunny Hall of Yingjie Overseas Exchange Center, she received warm applause from the audience. The address lasted for about one hour and a half and there were still many students who could not ask questions due to the limited time. 


Before the address, Professor Zhou Qifeng, President of Peking University, had a courtesy meeting with Ms Elaine L. Chao. Professor Lin Jianhua, Executive Vice-President and Provost presided over the addressing ceremony and delivered the welcoming remarks. He praised Ms. Chao for her great contribution of bridging employers and employees in the United States as well as strengthening the connection between China and US.

Ms Chao delivered her speech. She greeted the audience as she went toward the rostrum, waving an air of elegance around this woman leader. In her speech, Ms Chao shared her perception about the Sino-US relationship and her understanding of both cultures.

Firstly, Ms Chao pointed out that the current financial crisis was a big challenge for the US as well as for the rest of the world. The US government has taken strong measures to support banks and small businesses through approving a billion-dollar budget in October. China is a very important player in global financial market. She has seen that China had made great efforts to promote domestic demand in order to maintain steady development.

When it comes to the work force, Ms Chao said that the labor condition in US was not as serious as people thought, with 155 million people out of employment. She also mentioned that there were three features of the US work force: productivity, flexibility and mobility. 2/3 of the people in the US who are in their forties or fifties have switched more than 10 jobs. That is why the Department of Labor took great measures to promote employment and protect the safe, healthy working environment. Ms Chao emphasized that accurate measurement of work force was of vital importance and that it helped to create successful strategies.

In terms of her personal life, what she said illustrated her deep affection for her family and her unique understanding of both eastern and western culture. Ms Chao recalled the early days when she arrived in America at eight with her family. They had neither friends nor relatives and had to face the difficulties involving people, language, food and tradition. Ms Chao said humorously that she did not like sandwich even to this day.

In the hard times, her father did three jobs to support the family and her mother made delicious Chinese meals every day to set up a loving and secure home. She and her sisters would accompany their father and gave him a hand when he was busy fixing a pipe or things like that. Those warm memories would never be deleted from her mind, as she said. Forward-looking, confidence and hope could create a bright future--- that was the philosophy she learned from her parents.

In terms of her experience of living in different cultures, Ms Chao talked about her understanding about the US and Chinese cultures. The similarity between the two cultures was that both American and Chinese cultures treasure family. On the other hand, the differences between them were also very obvious.

Firstly, contrary to the Asian culture which worships humility, sacrifice, harmony and stability, the US culture praises individual accomplishment and encourages innovation. "Change" is the norm of the US. For this reason, the US society requires leadership and the leaders in the US are persuasive, and verbally communicative. They work with the team and respect the peers. They not only give orders but inspire others. Based on this tradition, Americans are used to speaking out what they think about without being asked. While in China, people lay much emphasis on interaction and relationship. They are fully aware of others' needs and are good at unspoken communications.

Secondly, Chinese culture emphasizes on details while in the US details are not that important. People in the US make mistakes all the times and it is not unusual to start again. Mistakes are tolerated and even valued. As long as you have got dreams and energy, you can achieve success in the US. There is more than one way to success.

In the end, Ms Chao summarized that each way to look at the world is unique. Both of the two cultures have their advantages and drawbacks. Meanwhile we can not deny the existence of misunderstanding. Inevitably there will be some ups and downs on the way of communication between the two cultures, but she firmly believed that we could profit from this interaction.

Finishing her speech, Ms Chao answered the questions of the students from Peking University sincerely. When asked about the way of being a successful female leader, she said that she regarded education and knowledge as a vital element. The US economy was the economy based on knowledge. Education, knowledge and skills are always of great importance. We have to be optimistic although there are still some barriers against women at home, in workplace and society.

Commenting on the relationship among Chinese Mainland, Taiwan and the US, Ms Chao said that she agreed that there is only one China and appealed to more cross-strait discussions.

Ms Chao also said that she was greatly impressed by the tremendous changes in China in the past thirty years. She deeply admired the accomplishment made by the Chinese people and believed that the gap between cultures would not block us from working together.

Throughout the address, Ms Chao was graceful, ready-witted and sincere. She demonstrated her elegance and wisdom from both Eastern and Western cultures--- Yes, she is the wise with grace.

By Sun Xiaojing