Friendship and Friendshipology: Interview with Billy Lee by US-CHINA BETTER RELATIONS COALITION – 2021

“Show real interest in who they are as fellow human beings,
and be not too judgmental by one’s own idealism. Cultivate
each other’s good qualities, and intrinsic goodness.”
Billy Lee

Interviewers: Inin Fan and Jackson Barkstrom
Editors: Emily Zhang and Jackson Barkstrom

In today’s interview, Billy Lee shares his thoughts on the importance of
global friendship and cross-cultural bonding, along with advice on how
to establish these cross-cultural bonds. As an individual who has worked
and participated in different projects connected with friendship, Billy
tries to promote mutual understanding and tolerance with an emphasis
on positivity and goodness of the self and others. The Friendshipology
website is one of Billy’s valuable projects where he helps share
meaningful stories and insights about friendship with the world.

To learn more about the Friendshipology website, please visit:


Billy Lee is a retired architect who worked early in his career with I.M.Pei. A graduate of Phillips Andover, he received both a BA and MA in architecture from Yale. Through an invitation by C.B.Sung in the 1970s, Billy joined an American delegation of architects lecturing at Tsighua University. Inspired, he ultimately established a scholardhip for young Chinese architects.

He is best known for numerous youth exchange programs through his Children, Art and the Environment Program, where he impacted over a million children. is proudest moment was the launching the World’s Children’s Mural Painting Park at the China National Children’s Center in 2008. An annual event, this program was proven to be an effective way to build Xin Xin Jiao ( Heart to Heart Bridges ) among children from different countries, backgrounds, and Cultures.



When and how was the idea of starting the blog about Friendship and Friendshipology born? 

I joined the US-China People’s Friendship Association South Bay Chapter in 2006, and was elected membership director in 2012. That started my serious inquiry on what friendship really means, and how it can be initiated, nurtured, sustained, and maybe recovered after some gross misunderstanding.

In 2015, I was invited to conduct a workshop on “Good Feelings” at the
International Child Art Foundation World Children’s Festival on the Great Mall in Washington DC, on a July 4 weekend. There sprouted the idea on guiding a group of international students to define friendship, write an declaration of interdependence, and propose an ideal cross-cultural institute on Friendshipolgy.

An amazing opportunity to start a project that may eventually lead to the ultimate ideal was a proposal to connect Stanford University’s and Peking University’s psychology departments to do a 3-year joint research project at both ends of the Pacific. The study was named “The Role of Emotional Values and Expression in the Development of Cross- Cultural Friendships in the US and China.” Our hope was this would initiate a momentum towards global engagement subsequently.

Although that proposal fizzled due to fund-raising difficulty, my dear 1990 Institute colleague Dr. Marsha Vande Berg, advised me to keep telling this story to my friends – To keep the idea alive! Surprise! Out of the Blue, a young friend, Yi-lu from Beijing, wrote to me and said she had set up a website (recently changed to, and had recruited three other young friends (Yihua, Wenmo, and Tingting) to help manage this bilingual website. I
started to post a few of my own articles onto the website but very wisely decided later to involve many of my close friends.

It is sometimes hard for people of different backgrounds/nationalities to establish a solid friendship with true bonding. There can be a wall between us that stays hard to break.  How can we build true and emotional cross-cultural friendships? 

I think we start with showing our own convictions and commitments, and make a real effort to reach out. Be kind, caring, empathetic, and respectful. Be patient, open-minded and appreciative about diversity. It always takes time to transcend from artificial to natural relationships. To start by reaching out mindfully. Show real interest in who they are as fellow human beings, and be not too judgmental by one’s own idealism. Cultivate each other’s good qualities, and intrinsic goodness.

You came to the U.S. for the first time at the age of 15. Can you share an early cross-cultural friendship experience and what you learned from it?

During my second year at Andover (for boys only then), I attended a tea dance at the neighboring Abbot Academy (for girls only then). Abby Emmons first reached out to me and taught me how to catch the rhythm and move step by step. She was kind and joyful. We have stayed friends after 72 years.

One year, I was invited to teach architectural design at Ningbo University, Ningbo – my ancestral home. The host professor warned me to keep apart one male student from a female student as they were in a romantic relationship. As I did not pay much attention to this particular warning, the professor was obviously very displeased. However, his attitude towards me totally changed one afternoon, as I saw his shoe
lace on his injured leg was loose and I knelt before him to tie the shoe lace for him. Before leaving Ningbo, he asked if I would consider serving as their honorary department head. This shows “paying proper respect” is especially meaningful in certain cultures.

You are a founding member of the 1990 Institute, and an active member of the US-China People’s Friendship Association. You initiated the C2C (Children to Children, Connecting 2 Countries) Exchanges, via The 1990 Institute –in collaboration with All-China Women’s Federation, China National Children’s Center, and China’s Environmental Protection Ministry. Do you see any progress in cross- cultural communication since the time you began working on this?

What I accomplished in China via the 1990 Institute, were most gratifying, but I really regret that 1990 did not follow up to support the International Students Mural Painting at China’s National Children’s Center. I think we needed just a few more years before CNCC understands the long-term historic significance of that project – annual gathering of international students to paint together in Beijing about
building friendship and protecting our common environment. Cross- cultural collaborative projects unfortunately grow or wane with political situations. Timing is important, but to allow enough time is also important.

Do you think that the pandemic affected cross-cultural friendship?

The pandemic certainly affected cross-cultural friendship. It should be viewed as an opportunity to confront our common cause instead of a convenient excuse to cover up one’s own weaknesses or a vehicle to promote fear and suspicion for political advantage. 

What are good ways for young people like us to promote global friendship?

 I am really glad that you emphasize global friendship instead of just US-
China better relationship. I urge you to consider this challenge a long-term commitment and a global challenge. I think you should do some checking on how similar youth organizations sustain for the long term. Obviously, climate change still needs youth support. Just a

few miscellaneous ideas here: Connecting students globally with a global journal, how about fight bullying together, learning each other’s most endearing songs, etc. Creating an indicator for measuring improvements, strategize on how to influence the influencers – youth, teachers, parents, activists, media, entertainment industry, and enlightened leaders everywhere. 

Important note:
Billy Lee and the Friendshipology website welcome more stories on how
Community Spirit affects individuals and how individuals can affect the
larger community. The website hopes to collect more inspirational and
educational case study examples and ideas which induce Friendship,
Bonding, and Good Feelings. If you have an article or an idea for a story,
please email Billy Lee at . With your email
please also provide a short vita and at least one of your favorite photos.