The RBF Joins in Support of the China–U.S. Scholars Program

In February, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Ford Foundation, the Harvard-Yenching Institute, and the Henry Luce Foundation together made a $3.1 million commitment to fund the China – U.S. Scholars Fellowship Program (CUSP). This one-time initiative will create opportunities for 48 Chinese and American faculty and students in the arts, humanities, and social sciences to conduct research, study, or teach abroad in China or the United States in 2021-2022. This initiative signals the critical importance we place on people-to-people engagement, especially during periods of intergovernmental tension.

The Institute of International Education (IIE), the nonpartisan world leader in international educational exchange and administrator of over two hundred international educational programs, will administer the CUSP fellowship for the 2021-2022 academic year. IIE was founded in 1919, in the aftermath of World War I, on the premise that fostering international educational exchange would build cross-cultural understanding and promote peace. The RBF began supporting IIE as early as 1950.

The Rockefeller family—and the RBF, in particular—has championed exchanges and dialogue between the peoples of China and the United States for decades. In 1956, John D. Rockefeller 3rd helped found Asia Society to welcome Asian leaders during visits to the United States, assist Asian students and members of missions staying in the U.S., promote the development of Asian studies programs in schools and universities, foster cultural exchange programs, and stimulate public lectures, conferences, and publications on Asia. The RBF was also instrumental in the creation of the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations, established to legitimize discussions about the People’s Republic of China in the United States, as well as to foster exchanges amongst leading citizens of both countries. Former RBF trustee Richard Rockefeller was a passionate advocate for strategic philanthropy as a bridge to strengthen U.S.-China partnerships and a platform to meet the global challenges of our time. Today, with the support of many members of the Rockefeller family, the RBF operates the Richard Rockefeller Fellowship, an annual program for two emerging philanthropy professionals from China to work and study in the United States for up to six months.

People-to-people exchanges between these countries have resulted in scientific and medical collaboration; greater awareness of Chinese and American arts, cultures, histories, and societies; and diplomatic breakthroughs when formal dialogues were constrained. The two countries’ rich scholarly traditions and world-class universities make such achievements possible.

Currently, many government-funded academic exchange programs between China and the United States have been suspended. In July, the Trump Administration pulled the plug on the 2020-2021 Fulbright program with China, leaving U.S. and Chinese scholars preparing to take part in the program with few options.

Our support for this one-time initiative will ensure that some level of exchange between these countries continues through the next academic year. It is our hope that the fellowship—and more importantly the academic collaboration, teaching, research, and exchange it facilitates—will inspire the resumption of government-support for people-to-people exchanges between China and the United States in the future.

Academic exchange programs are a cornerstone of public diplomacy and are especially effective during challenging geopolitical periods. Now more than ever, our world—and the peoples of China and the United States—need this opportunity for cooperation.

Applications for CUSP will be accepted from March 1 to April 15, 2021. The fellowship program will be 5-10 months long, beginning in fall 2021. For more information visit