American Moira Gourley came to China six years ago. What she knew about China then was limited to the Great Wall and some scrappy information learned from school textbooks.
After years of studying Chinese culture in Beijing Language and Culture University, she managed to obtain much knowledge about this ancient Asian country across the Pacific Ocean as well as a good command of Mandarin. She is now working in a Chinese firm in Beijing.
"Cultural difference does exist. But try not to be judgmental, just enjoy the very different culture here," Moira told her peers who want to travel around China.
There are about 3,000 US students like Moira studying in China, a small number compared to 60,000 Chinese students studying in the United States. To most Americans, China remains a mystery.
Cultural exchanges constitute a social basis for understanding between the two countries. Inadequate trust between the two world giants has to some extent diminished the prospects for their closer linking.
Despite being major trading partners, Beijing and Washington are divided over the Taiwan issue, textile trade and American concern that China's development could harm its regional interests. A recent effort by Chinese oil giant China National Offshore Oil Corp. (CNOOC) to buy Unocal Corp. , was interpreted by some US politicians and taken as a threat to US national security.
"It's normal that China's rapid growth might cause concern to the United States . The key is to let the world know what is going on in China and its concept of peaceful development," said Fu Mengzi, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Contemporary International Relations.
Chinese President Hu Jintao planned to promote better understanding of China's "peaceful development" in a scheduled visit to the United States, which was postponed by the deadly Hurricane Katrina though.
Still, President Hu and US President George W. Bush met on the sideline of the United Nations summit this week in New York, agreeing to further cooperation and tackle differences.
During the meeting, Hu pledged to reinforce intellectual property rights protection and expand imports from the United States to resolve the trade imbalance, a move to show China's desire for negotiations and mutual trust.
Bush will finalize his visit to China in November, following the summit meeting of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum. The US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfield will also visit China in October in a bid to further military ties between the two sides.
"This is a very good thing at the high level because it shows by example that there is a dialogue that people are sitting and talking to one another," said Commander of US Pacific Command William Fallon last week in Beijing.
No relations in the world are as complex as those between China and the United States. US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, on her four-nation Asian tour in July, described the relations as "complex " but good.
"(The relationship) combines elements of competition and suspicion with elements of cooperation and some level of trust although the level of the trust is far too low for what it should be," said Michael Swaine, an expert on US-China military and security policy at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a leading think-tank in the United States, in an interview with Xinhua in Washington.
But political concern as well as radical cultural differences have not hampered the trade between the two countries, which hit 169.6 billion dollars in 2004, 69 times that in 1979.
Productive collaboration can also be seen in anti-terrorism, United Nations reform and the six-party talks on the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue.
"The United States must understand that only a highly cooperative and trusting relationship with China can bring peace and prosperity," McNally Christopher, a China expert in the US East-West Centre, told Xinhua via e-mail.
"On the Chinese side, this requires a much more open and transparent attitude vis-a-vis the United States, especially in discussing military matters and China's long term strategic posture," Christopher added.
"As frictions between the two countries are inevitable, high-level dialogue will help eliminate strategic misjudgment and push forward bilateral relations in a healthy, mature and mutually-beneficial manner," said Liu Jiangyong, a Tsinghua University researcher.
The two countries held their first ever strategic dialogue in Beijing in August, which was said to help eliminate strategic misjudgment and push forward constructive cooperation.
"The recent commencement of a strategic dialogue between China and the US is an important step, but more needs to be done," said Christopher. "In particular, the United States must officially discontinue strategic thoughts of 'containing' or 'encircling' China. China and the United States must be true partners to forestall another cold war," said the US expert.
The cornerstone for a trusting partnership possibly relies more on the communications between people like Moira and the Chinese public. By exploring their perceptual differences, the Chinese and American publics can build bridges between them without dependence on their governments.
Earlier this year, a US-based survey of American's views about China showed that 59 percent of Americans have a favorable opinion of China, compared with 46 percent 10 years ago.
The survey was conducted among 203 Americans who are leaders in the fields of business, media, government and academia familiar with China-US relations, as well as 1,202 adults selected at random nationwide.
As encouraging as the result of the survey seems, Christopher remained realistic. "The future of China-US relations still indeterminate," he said.