Lehman Reflects on Impact of Shanghai Communiqué

Mar 4 2022

NYU Shanghai Vice Chancellor Jeffrey Lehman represented the university in three events last weekend to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Shanghai Communiqué, which signaled the beginning of rapprochement between the U.S. and China.

Lehman joined veteran diplomats including the Foreign Minister of the People’s Republic of China Wang Yi at a ceremony marking the release of the Shanghai Communiqué on Monday, Feb. 28 at Jinjiang Hotel, where the historic document was issued on the same day 50 years ago, during U.S. President Richard Nixon's visit to China.

When asked about how he viewed this historic development in bilateral relations as a teenager, Lehman started by recalling how excited he was to see the two pandas gifted to the National Zoo in Washington D.C., Ling Ling and Xing Xing, after the Communiqué was signed. He also recalled attending the exhibition match between Chinese and American ping pong teams at the University of Maryland in 1972, noting that he still remembers the names of the Chinese ping pong players. Later, Lehman joined the ping pong team at his university. 

“When I was fifteen years old, I never imagined that Shanghai would become my home. But I have no doubt that those first sparks of connection prepared my heart,” Lehman said.

A quarter century later, Lehman visited China for the first time while serving as dean of the University of Michigan Law School. Lehman said his interactions during the trip convinced him that China would become America’s most important partner in the 21st century. 

“I felt that it was important for people like me to do more to strengthen the bridges that Richard Nixon and Zhou Enlai had begun to create in 1972,” Lehman said.

NYU Shanghai Vice Chancellor Jeffrey Lehman at the event organized by the Shanghai Municipal Government on Monday, Feb. 28

Since then, Lehman has been working to build partnerships in higher education between the two countries. Lehman moved across the Pacific and became the founding dean of the Peking University School of Transnational Law in Shenzhen in 2008. He then joined the world’s first Sino-U.S. research university, NYU Shanghai as vice chancellor. 

Founded by New York University and East Normal China University in 2012, NYU Shanghai acts as an important bridge between the two countries, Lehman said. Under the co-leadership of Lehman, together with Chancellor Emeritus Yu Lizhong and Chancellor Tong Shijun, the university now boasts 19 majors, 200 faculty members – 60 percent of whom are from the U.S. – and some 2,000 students from roughly 80 countries and regions. The university is about to celebrate its 10th anniversary this year, and last month, Lehman was awarded honorary Shanghai citizenship for his contributions to the city through promoting cooperation in higher education between the two nations. 

“The Shanghai Communiqué changed my life. Richard Nixon and Zhou En-Lai opened the door to cultural connections,” Lehman said. “When I had the opportunity as a teenager to see the pandas and the ping-pong players, I did not expect that I would follow in their footsteps. But, in fact, I think that is what I have done, as I have worked to strengthen the bridges that naturally connect the people of these two very special countries.”

Lehman and Chancellor Tong Shijun together joined an event hosted by the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai – where Lehman serves as the Chair of the Board of Governors, the Committee of 100, and the National Committee on United States-China Relations on Feb. 25. The commemoration brought together representatives from both countries across different fields, including National Security Advisor and Secretary of State under President Richard Nixon Henry Kissinger, CEO of Citi China Christine Lam, and Vice President of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences Huang Renwei, to examine how people-to-people relations, business cooperation and diplomats have facilitated U.S.-China relations and how bilateral relationships may evolve in the future.

Chancellor Tong Shijun and Vice Chancellor Jeffrey Lehman at the event hosted by the American Chamber of Commerce on Feb. 25

At another event organized by the Shanghai Overseas Returned Scholars Association the next day, Lehman stressed the continuing importance of people-to-people connections in bilateral relations. “Fifty years ago, Chinese and American leaders abandoned biases, sought for common ground while reserving differences, and laid a solid foundation for the development of both countries. Today, we will continue to carry forward the friendship between the two countries developed over the last half century, and create a better future together,” he said.

NYU Shanghai graduate Julie Huang ’21 of Seattle, Washington also attended Saturday’s event. She is currently working at a Shanghai language rehabilitation company for disabled children, while pursuing her startup tea company, YuTea Kombucha.

“NYU Shanghai provides a unique environment for the integration and meshing of various cultures beyond just the U.S. and China,” Huang said. “People from all over the world come to share their life experiences and perspectives. There is no other place I can think of that offers the same kind of opportunity to be able to connect so closely with people. It grants you unforgettable experiences beyond the classroom, becoming open-minded to new perspectives, and lifelong friendships.”