Some of the United States' best brains and most outstanding talents are gathering at the National Center of the Performing Arts (NCPA) in Beijing to kick off the inaugural US-China Forum on the Arts and Culture this morning.
Last night, the participants were fortified for their three-day adventure in China with a special dinner at the US embassy catered by no less than Alice Waters, the doyenne of modern American food culture and owner of the famed Chez Panisse in California.
Her collaborators in this opening banquet were the organic farmers of Beijing.
Partnership will be the recurring theme for the next few days, in all the seminars, workshops and performances which bring together some of the best known names in the United States and their Chinese counterparts in music, film, dance, art, photography and food.
Today, after the opening ceremony, Chinese American author Amy Tan and cellist Yo-Yo Ma will share their experiences Growing Up in Two Worlds. The seminar is moderated by Orville Schell, the main brain behind this high-powered exchange.
Schell, former professor and dean at the University of California, Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism, is currently director of the Center on US-China Relations at the Asia Society in New York. It was he who mooted this high-powered exchange, because he feels there is not enough true understanding between the US and China.
He told the Wall Street Journal in an interview that policy makers in the US are frozen by the current situation.
Schell says it is not that they don't know what they are doing with China. "It's just that they're broke, they're preoccupied, paralyzed and also, I think, somewhat dispirited."
Schell's solution - to break the ice and the paralysis - was to organize a "class trip" to China that would create an event conducive to sharing experiences and knowledge, and where arguments on currency, trade and territorial disputes can be set aside and forgotten. It took him two years to gather his illustrious friends, and if you browse through the program below, you'll probably realize how much effort that took.
One thing is certain, Schell is sure to make more friends in China.