The New Age of China Experts: What it Means to be a China Expert in 2022

Come join both Black China Caucus and USCBC for a discussion on what it means to be a China expert in 2022 in the midst of COVID-19 and increasingly tense US-China Relations.

The event will open with remarks by USCBC President Craig Allen, followed by a panel discussion of USCBC staff and Black China Caucus members as well as audience Q&A.


  • Jack Kamensky - Senior Director of Business Advisory Services – USCBC
  • Hannah Feldshuh - Manager of Business Advisory Services - USCBC
  • Lance Yau - Manager of Business Advisory Services - USCBC
  • Lorena James - Schwarzman Scholar at Tsinghua University – BCC


  • Greyson Mann - Masters Candidate at Middlebury Institute of International Studies – BCC

On Monday, February 7, the Black China Caucus (BCC) and US-China Business Council (USCBC) held a panel discussion on The New Age of China Experts: What It Means to Be a China Expert in 2022. 

The event opened with remarks by USCBC President Craig Allen on how being a “China expert” has changed in the 50 years since normalization of relations with China. Discussion then kicked off among a panel of young professionals that have worked at USCBC or are affiliated with Black China Caucus. The panel was moderated by Greyson Mann, master's candidate at Middlebury Institute of International Studies, and BCC member

Craig Allen pointed out that in the early days, Americans often didn’t have the opportunity to visit China and study it first-hand, and as a result, many China experts didn’t speak fluent Mandarin. And because China was very closed off to outsiders, it was possible to be a “China expert” and feel like you had a comprehensive knowledge of what was possible to know about the country. Fast forward to today, China is now much more open and therefore much more complex to study, and language proficiency - even fluency - is increasingly necessary. 

The panelists seconded those remarks. They all agreed that fluency in Mandarin opens career doors for Americans as well as generates opportunities for deeper learning and to build more authentic relationships with Chinese people. 

Because of the increasing complexity to studying China, the panelists also emphasized the importance of not relying only on your language skills, but on another specialization as well. Panelist Hannah Feldshuh, manager of business advisory services at USCBC’s Beijing office, suggested thinking of what you have to offer an employer as a “skills toolkit rather than a job title”. Identify what skills you want to build, both language and industry or functional expertise, and cast a wide net as you search for your first or second jobs in your career. Later you can pivot to something more niche.  

Panelist Lance Yau, manager of business advisory services at USCBC’s Beijing office, suggested setting oneself apart and showcasing acquired expertise by getting published, either by starting your own personal blog or by submitting articles to other outlets. 

Panelist Lorena James, Schwarzman scholar at Tsinghua University and BCC member, expanded on this, encouraging young professionals to build industry or functional expertise by working for a company in the United States first and then later rotating into the company’s China offices to flesh out China-specific expertise. 


Careers in federal government 

Allen and the panelists also discussed trends and options in China career fields. Allen briefly outlined his career in foreign service. He chose trade and investment as his area of expertise, but emphasized that there are about 30 specialties one can choose from when beginning a foreign service career, including politics, economics, agriculture, military affairs, American citizen services, public relations, and more. Because the US-China rivalry is not going away, Allen added that China-related job opportunities in US government are growing, while opportunities working for Chinese companies in the United States are not. The good news is that job opportunities working for US companies doing business in China seem to be stable. 

Panelist Antonio Douglas, former USCBC senior manager of business advisory services and current China trade enforcement analyst at the US Trade Representative’s Office (speaking for himself, not on behalf of the US government), cautioned that national security jobs can be hard to get for individuals that have spent significant amount of time in China or have deep connections there, due to the extensive security clearance process required.   

Allen discussed other such challenges and trade-offs that are increasingly confronting professionals working on China these days, including navigating questions about how your career choices may or may not be impacted by politics. Questions such as will working at a human rights non-profit mean one will never be able to get visa approval to travel to China? Or will working for a Chinese think tank mean one will be looked on with suspicion if they later apply for a US government job?  


Arriving in China via fluke and serendipity 

Though thinking through these questions is important, sometimes it is not always possible to develop a perfect plan for one’s career. As they shared their stories for how they came to study China, several of the panelists said they got interested in China by mere coincidence, and their China paths took turns along the way.  

Yau mentioned that his attention towards China was sparked by an interest in history and international relations. But his China career really began when he applied for a public affairs job “on a fluke” that happened to be in Beijing. A month later he was living in a Beijing AirBnB, starting his career in a new country. 

Feldshuh’s interest in China was sparked by serendipity as well. Her junior year in high school she was placed in a Chinese language class by mistake. Her “transformative teacher” ended up encouraging her to get scholarships to study in China. Her interest in the language led to everything else in her career. 

Only James started her interest in China from a young age, with her mother encouraging her to study Chinese in middle school. Later in her sophomore year of high school, she did an exchange program in Wuhan, and in college she did a semester in China.  


Identity in China 

The panel also discussed how their identities have impacted them in the China space. James shared that her China career was shaped by a Senegalese entrepreneur whom she interviewed and who later became her mentor. The West African had created a successful beauty products business in Shanghai, despite darker skin tones like hers not being seen as favorable in China. This affected how James, an African-American, views herself in the China space, inspiring her to start her own beauty brand. 

Douglas, who is also African-American, didn’t see his race as having an impact on him professionally or during job searching in China, though personal interactions were another story. He explained that Africans and African-Americans in China are often stared at and treated differently in China, though Caucasian foreigners experience that as well. However, black people in China are much more likely to have strangers try to touch their hair, and there are blatant stereotypes in common usage, such as Black Man (黑人) brand toothpaste, with a Sambo character decorating the box. Nevertheless, he felt that in general one can get by okay as a black person in China.  

As a Caucasian American, Feldshuh said she never felt more American than in China after the election of Trump and the onset of COVID-19. In her experience, many Chinese people seem less excited to meet Americans than before, as now Americans are seen as a carrier of disease (COVID), and the Chinese media has reshaped the idea of what being American means in this time of increased US-China tensions. 

Yau brought yet another perspective, as he was born and raised in the United States to parents originally from Hong Kong and Taiwan. As an ethnically Chinese American in China, he faces expectations that can be both positive and negative. On the positive side, he is more often seen as a local in China; but on the other hand, the expectations that come with being a “local” often don’t fit who he is.  

As US-China tensions continue ratcheting up, what moors the panelists to their China career paths? The opportunities, the excitement, and the hope of making a difference. Douglas explained that after working through initial cultural barriers, there were so many opportunities and room for personal growth. James looks forward to connecting not only with African-Americans in her China work and through BCC, but also to connecting with the African diaspora and their intersection with China. Feldshuh said that as the political echo chamber worsens and empathy decreases between the US and China, she hopes to bring more human consideration to the discussion. Yau seconded that, wanting to help both countries find a balance between positive competition and rivalry. Building on the collaborative tone, Mann shared a Chinese phrase, 你中有我,我中有你, which can be translated to “we are all in this together." 

With young leaders like these rising in the ranks, maybe US-China relations have a chance. 


Event Details

Monday, February 7, 2022 - 7:30pm to 8:30pm


Monday, February 7, 2022 - 5:00pm

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