Looking Back, Looking Forward: Commemoraring 40 Years of U.S – China Relations

25 October - 8 November 2019 Beijing

Organizer: Embassy of the United States in Beijing

Co-organizer: Three Shadows Photography Art Centre

Duration: October 25-November 6, 2019



"What is a road? It is something trampled out of a place where once there was no road; it is made from a place where once there were only brambles and thickets." 

— Lu Xun 


Officials and citizens in the United States and the People's Republic of China had no pre-ordained path to follow as they sought to establish diplomatic relations in the 1970s. It was not certain then that we would embark on a relationship highlighted by engagement in the decades that followed. Nonetheless, a pathway was forged through the wilderness that has become wider and more well-trodden than anyone could have ever imagined when formal diplomatic relations were established on January 1,1979. Indeed, engagement between our countries has gone from something that was carefully managed, high-level, and rare to an occurrence so frequent in business, science, academia, politics, tourism, and everyday life that we often take it for granted. The road created by our predecessors—while not wholly smooth, rarely straight, and at times challenging to travel—has contributed to prosperity for the people of both countries, and the whole world, through exchange of people, ideas, information, culture, and commerce. 


Today, the future path of our bilateral relationship is also uncertain. The road we choose to create will be hugely consequential for the people of the United States, the People's Republic of China, and the world. We owe it to our contemporaries and to those who will come after us to proceed in a way that honors the magnitude of that potential, even while we remain attentive to protecting the ideals and interests of our respective countries. 


The images in this exhibition, curated by Meridian International Center, organized by the U.S. Embassy in Beijing with support from Three Shadows Photography Art Centre, exemplify many aspects of engagement between our countries. I hope that visitors to it will not only reflect upon the past, but also ponder what photographs we might display another 40 years from now on the 80th anniversary of our formal diplomatic relations. The possibilities are almost endless. The brambles and thickets await our best efforts.


Dan Murphy

Executive Director

Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies and Harvard China Fund

Harvard University