By Zhang Penghui, The foundation of China-U.S. relations lies in the people and the source of strength lies in the friendship between their peoples, said Chinese President Xi Jinping when replying a letter from John Easterbrook, grandson of former U.S. General Joseph Stilwell.
In his reply, Xi thanked Easterbrook for the letter sharing the story about the friendly exchanges between General Stilwell and several generations of the Stilwell family and China.
Xi said he is glad to see that General Stilwell’s dedication to friendship between China and the United States has been passed down to the fifth generation of his family, expressing his hope and belief that the Stilwell family would continue to contribute to the development of friendship between the two peoples.
“I am quite honored to have received his letter,” said Easterbrook when receiving a telephone interview from People’s Daily, adding that he was still digesting the most kind words from Xi.
The octogenarian noted that Xi is very familiar with General Stilwell’s experience in and contribution to China, as well as the long-term friendly exchanges between the Stilwell family and China.
He said he is very moved by Xi’s knowledge of the commemorative events to mark the 140th birth anniversary of General Stilwell recently held in Chongqing, China, and by Xi’s humanity in noting that the fifth generation of the Stilwell family is being immersed in the Stilwell legacy.
Recently, Easterbrook wrote a letter to Xi, recalling Stilwell’s exchanges with China and the Chinese people, introducing the efforts by the Stilwell family and his descendants to enhance cultural and people-to-people exchanges between the United States and China, paying tribute to Xi’s long-term support in this regard, extending gratitude to the Chinese government and people for not forgetting old friends, and expressing the Stilwell family’s wish and determination to promote cultural and people-to-people exchanges between the two countries.
Easterbrook said he wrote to Xi because he wanted to thank the Chinese President for his support of people-to-people activities between the United States and China.
This year marks the 140th birth anniversary of General Stilwell. The Stilwell Museum in Chongqing, preserving the shared historical memory of the Stilwell family and the U.S.-China relationship, has become another important venue for U.S.-China people-to-people exchanges and a witness to the friendship between the two peoples.
Easterbrook told People’s Daily that the commemorative events to mark the 140th birth anniversary of General Stilwell held in the museum were successful and meaningful, adding that the two countries must ensure that the friendship between the two peoples is passed down from generation to generation.
Xi said that General Stilwell was an old friend of the Chinese people, who gave active support to China’s cause of liberation and progress and made positive contributions to the friendship between the two peoples, which the Chinese people will never forget.
General Stilwell served as commander of U.S. forces in the China-Burma-India Theater from 1942 to 1944 and is fondly remembered as a hero who fought side by side with the Chinese people during the Chinese People’s War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (1931-1945).
The Stilwell family has long fostered friendly exchanges between China and the United States. His youngest daughter Alison Stilwell Cameson and youngest son Benjamin Watson Stilwell were both born in China.
In 1982, General Stilwell’s oldest daughter Nancy Stilwell Easterbrook and Alison started a scholarship program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey in the United States. By raising funds through art sales, the program has sponsored over 50 Chinese students to study in America over the past 40 years. Currently, John Easterbrook serves as honorary chairman of the Stilwell Scholarship.
Easterbrook said the Scholarship symbolizes the profound friendship between his family and the Chinese people. With continuous donations, many Stilwell Scholarship recipients have participated in U.S.-China people-to-people exchanges, becoming envoys of friendship between the two peoples, he noted.
The two peoples should strengthen exchanges, enhance understanding and expand cooperation to continuously inject new impetus into the development of bilateral relations, Xi said.
This strikes a chord with Easterbrook. He said friendly people-to-people exchanges can enhance friendship, and his family’s exchanges with the Chinese people is an example.
He believes that in today’s international environment, which is full of challenges, people-to-people and cultural exchanges are specifically important and significant for deepening mutual understanding and friendship between the two peoples.
The commemorative events held in Chongqing to mark the 140th anniversary of the birth of General Stilwell, themed “Remember Our Shared Struggle for Peace, Carry on China-US People-to-People Friendship,” were joined by nine from the Stilwell family, including General Stilwell’s granddaughters Susan Cole and Nancy Millward, as well as those from the fourth and fifth generations of the family.
These events included a photo exhibition, at which nearly 200 historical photographs and more than 60 items provided by Easterbrook were put on display. These photos and items reviewed and paid tribute to General Stilwell’s efforts to resist Japanese aggression with the Chinese people, and looked back on the profound friendship between the American general and the Chinese people.
When receiving an interview with People’s Daily, Susan Cole noted that people-to-people activities lead to mutual learning and understanding, and it touched her that Xi personally joins and supports people-to-people exchanges between the U.S. and China.
“I was personally and deeply appreciative of being able to introduce my children to China and the Chinese people for the first time, thus extending the Stilwell legacy of friendship to the fifth generation,” she said.
“We will strengthen exchanges and cooperation with relevant U.S. institutions and individuals to collect, organize and study relevant archives, documents and items, so as to publicize General Stilwell’s affection for the Chinese people and love for the Chinese culture, as well as his historical contributions to people-to-people exchanges between China and the U.S.,” said Tao Yan, the curator of the Stilwell Museum, located in Yuzhong district of Chongqing.
“We will build an enduring bridge to pass down the friendship between the two peoples from generation to generation,” Tao added. Easterbrook said it is important to encourage more people to join people-to-people exchanges between the U.S. and China, and the Stilwell family will continue to look for ways to engage with the Chinese people.
“After all, the more we get to know each other the more we realize that we have much in common with basic wants, needs, and dreams. With that understanding, we can build on common objectives to make the world a better place,” he remarked.