BEFORE World War II, many thousands of Americans had their lives enriched by living for a time in China. Among them were missionaries, doctors, and nurses, educators, and their families. So when official Sino-US relations were resumed nearly 10 years ago, the stage was well set for the renewal of a rich and varied people-to-people relationship. That is exactly what is developing.
I visited China shortly after the conclusion of the 13th Communist Party Congress and its dramatic reaffirmation of China's policy of opening to the outside world. I met with acting Premier Li Peng and other high-level government officials, and expressed both for the United States government and people our admiration and support for that policy.
On an earlier visit to China, in 1981, with Chief Justice Warren Burger, I met with Chairman Deng Xiaoping and, along with the Chinese minister of culture, signed the 1982-83 US-China implementing accords for cultural exchange.
For 30 years, Americans' knowledge of the Chinese people was fragmentary and secondhand. But the investment both countries have made in getting reacquainted over the past decade has paid off. The results of student and teacher exchanges, artistic and athletic performances, exhibits, film weeks, exposure through television, and the myriad of people-to-people contacts and tourism cannot be measured statistically.
During my trip, however, I felt these positive results in the perceptive questions asked by the Foreign Affairs Institute students I addressed, people who will join China's diplomatic corps. And I sensed them in the open, cordial discussions that are now possible with Chinese leaders and in the visible spillover of China's economic reform to other aspects of its life.
Despite a few rough spots in our relationship, growing numbers of people in both countries are already putting to good use what they have learned about each other.
Chinese officials estimate that about 30,000 Chinese students and researchers are now studying and working at American universities. Likewise, about 7,000 Americans have studied and conducted research in China since the renewal of relations. Many are in Chinese studies, while others have gone to China to confer with their Chinese colleagues in such varied subjects as environmental studies, agricultural science, and medical research.
One recent Sunday, the hills of Fujian, of Sichuan, and of Manchuria were alive with ``The Sound of Music,'' as China Central Television aired the Julie Andrews musical, first in a series of 52 American films to be shown nationwide in China every Sunday night next year.
Chinese managers are learning modern management skills at the Dalian Management Center, a cooperative US-Chinese program in China's northwest. And others - workers and managers - are developing on-the-job skills in US-Chinese joint ventures throughout the country.
But if the United States and China are to move forward together toward a goal of even greater cooperation and friendship, we must deepen our understanding of each other. The Chinese, for example, need a clearer awareness of the American system of government and our concern for human rights. We, in turn, must teach more Americans to speak Chinese and become knowledgeable about China's culture and social system.
For our part, we will extend the broad range of the US Information Agency's electronic programming - including our new satellite television capability, Worldnet - to China. And we have strongly reaffirmed our commitment to expanded cultural and educational exchange.
The reform policies that have served China so well in the economic sphere can also enhance our exchanges in the academic, cultural, and information fields. There is reason to believe that many in China share this view. As one Chinese official told me, ``nothing is excluded'' from the realm of discussion.
In this climate, we can and will expand our human contacts with China in all areas. But in this period of government fiscal restraint, we must also rely on our academic institutions, foundations, corporations, and community groups to join vigorously with us in broadening our exchanges with China.
For America, what is at stake is our relationship with one-fourth of the world's people. But more than that, when the foundations of Sino-American relations are strengthened, everybody wins.
Charles Z. Wick is director of the US Information Agency, which is responsible for America's international cultural, educational, and information programs.