AP NEWS
Related topics

Peace Corps Trainees Take First Step to China With AM-China Bjt

May 30, 1989

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Despite weeks of political turmoil that has gripped China, a band of Peace Corps volunteers plans to travel there in mid-August to begin a two-year experiment as English teachers.

The two-dozen volunteers were hailed Tuesday as ″the hand clasp″ between China and the United States as they embarked on a training course for the Corps’ first-ever project in a communist country.

At a ceremony marked by inspirational speeches, cups of tea and good-will wishes, the group celebrated its historic venture with Peace Corps officials and representatives from the Chinese Embassy.

″In a way, this is a symbolic gesture, part of China’s opening up and choosing closer relations to the United States,″ said Paul Englesberg, the group’s team leader.

Peace Corps Director Paul Coverdell told the group they were ″embarking on a special mission and taking a special piece of our country with you.″

″You are the hand clasp between us, you are the symbol of relations between two nations and their commitment to peace,″ Coverdell said.

Xiao Houde, the counsellor of the Chinese Embassy, told the group the program ″is very important because it reflects the friendship between our two peoples.

″You have a special responsibility. You will set an example for your followers,″ Xiao said.

Lisa Smoker, 24, of Lancaster, Pa., and Janelle Cavanagh, 22, of San Francisco, Calif., said the political tumult doesn’t bother them.

″I’m not worried,″ Ms. Smoker said. ″The demonstrations don’t seem to be directed against Americans.″

Ms. Cavanagh said her parents were excited for her, since they both had expressed an interest in joining the Peace Corps when they were young, but had not been able to fulfill their dreams.

″I guess I’m the one to get the chance,″ Ms. Cavanagh said.

Peace Corps spokesman James C. Flanigan said that despite the pro-democracy demonstrations and political uncertainty that have gripped China, the trainees have several months to prepare, ″and by then, things may shake down a little.″

The Chinese are eager to have English teachers in order to help push forward with Deng Xioping’s modernization program, and Flanigan said the Corps has received no indication from China that the program will not move forward.

The group will be the first in the Peace Corps’ 28-year history to serve in a communist nation. Currently, there are 6,000 American volunteers and trainees working in 65 nations under the program, established to help people in the developing world.

After an intensive three-month course in Chinese language, culture and technical arts, 20 of the volunteers will be chosen to teach English in various locations in China’s western province of Sichuan.

Tuesday’s ceremony marked the end of a nearly five-year effort to bring the U.S. program to China.

″Our presence is definitely a sign of transition in the U.S.-China relationship,″ Flanigan said. ″In the 1970s, we were reviled in China as an imperialistic agency.″

As the Chinese aspired to impress lesser-developed nations during those years, the American volunteer agency bore the brunt of a Chinese propaganda attack. Radio China broadcast attacks against the Peace Corps, condemning the workers as agents for the CIA.

Relations improved after President Nixon’s historic trip to Beijing in 1972, but it wasn’t until Election Night 1984 that the subject of a trial run for the Corps was suggested by the Chinese.

Chinese officials had been invited to watch a broadcast of the U.S. election returns at the Great Wall Hotel in Beijing. A Chinese official approached an American official, saying there was interest in the program.

Although the Chinese initially asked for some 800 volunteers, it was decided that ″the emphasis should be on quality program, over a large number of volunteers,″ Flanigan said.

The Chinese have requested English teachers for the trial run, and if both sides find the two-year program satisfactory, other types of volunteers in health, agriculture or other technical fields might be used.

The volunteers have come from all around the country and only a handful have any skills in the Chinese language, but they all have a zest for adventure and interest in helping their fellow man.

″I didn’t do any military service, but I felt compelled to do something for my country,″ said David Moore, 29, of San Antonio, Texas.

Moore, who has a masters degree in teaching English as a second language, said he has always been fascinated by Asia, and relishes the chance to live among the Chinese.

″I’ll be teaching English, but also about America. You can’t teach language without giving people insight into the culture,″ Moore said.

AP RADIO
Update hourly