Emory University has another reason to be proud: it is the home of the first student-run group in the country founded to promote friendship among Chinese and Tibetan students. The relations between the People’s Republic of China and the Tibetan Government-in-Exile have been rocky since the former group overtook the latter in 1950. Such political tensions led to social restraint in the relations between Chinese and Tibetan people.

The China-Tibet Initiative, co-founded by College seniors Bart Qian from China and Dawa Tsering from Tibet in February 2011, works to alleviate these tensions. The two decided to start an unofficial group after meeting and developing a friendship in the Few and Evans (Fevans) Residence Hall their freshman year. The club has grown from having only a few members to boasting meeting audiences of more than 60, and even students from the Oxford campus have commuted for events.

“At the beginning, students were reticent to join our club because of the misconceptions and the social and political stigma surrounding China and Tibet,” Qian said. “But, on the lines of Dooley’s famous saying, governments may come, governments may go; but people remain forever.”

The club’s purpose is to bring people together through the removal of political barriers. They hope to accomplish this by focusing on open and unlimited people-to-people conversations, according to Tsering.

“We just enjoy the time we spend with each other,” said Jampa Khechok, a Tibetan Buddhist monk on campus and a member of the club. “We talk about meditation, about life-styles, about things we have in common and also about our different experiences.”

Sonam Choephel, also a Tibetan Buddhist monk and an active member of the group, stressed the importance of the fact that membership is not limited to only Chinese and Tibetan students. The club is open to anyone interested.

This year, the non-political group received an official charter from the university. Furthermore, Lobsang Nyandak, the official representative of His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama in North America, offered the group the chance to become a governmental organization with headquarters at his office in New York. However, the club decided to first build a solid basis and to try to maximize its impact on campus before trying to expand outside the university’s boundaries.

The club organizes two types of gatherings: China-Tibet Initiative meetings and meditation meetings. The first type is mainly discussion-based and is a friendly forum for gathering together and sharing stories. The meditation sessions are more personal and are classified into breathing, compassion and loving-kindness meditations.

In addition, the club hosts several special events, including a Thanksgiving celebration, a Tibet-themed Wonderful Wednesday and a lecture about Chinese and Tibetan medicine held by two Tibetan doctors.

The visit of His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama is an event that brings much excitement to the group.

“[Last Wednesday we had] the chance to have a personal audience with the Dalai Lama where we [had] the opportunity to talk about what we have been doing and to ask His Holiness questions,” Qian said.

For the future, the club is focusing on strengthening membership and keeping friendships alive. Qian and Tsering are optimistic about the growth of the group, pointing out that people seem to become more and more interested in Tibetan culture and the China-Tibet situation.

According to Qian, an example of this growing interest is illustrated by the high percentages of Chinese students taking Tibetan language classes. Approximately 60-70 percent of the students taking these courses are of Chinese origins.

“We can see a general trend toward people wanting to come together and learning from each other,” Qian said.

– By Loli Lucaciu