An American Ambassador

The new Ambassador of the United States in China, Gary Locke, has by dint of personal example begun to force ordinary Chinese to question the elitist manner in which many of the nation’s public servants conduct themselves. Locke has acted with humility, spoken with warmth and generosity, and has been unflappable in confrontational situations.

His behavior reminds me of a quote from Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, a late 20th-Century American Jewish leader, who wrote as America became the world’s sole superpower:

The world waits to see if our message is to pursue the easy gratification promoted by our pop culture, or to abide by the basic principles that have built our nation’s character. Simply put, is all that we are selling Coca-Cola and Rock music. America was founded on principles of justice, freedom, tolerance, generosity and hard work. [From In G-d We Trust: A Handbook of Values for Americans, 1996]

Locke’s predecessor as ambassador, Jon Huntsman, seemed to be the first US ambassador in a long time to realize that a high-ranking emissary is not just the de jure representative of his home government, but a de facto representative of his people and his culture, and made a conscious effort to be that American everyman. Locke has, intentionally or otherwise, taken that approach far enough to capture the imagination of ordinary Chinese.

I hope this is the beginning of a trend, and I hope it extends beyond Beijing. We need ambassadors who are not only politically acceptable and professionally capable, but who also represent those things we cherish the most in our country.

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