Reconstructing the World, One Archive at a Time

As a Chinese-American born in the illustrious city of Hong Kong, it’s hard to remember a time when my Cantonese roots were never at odds with their Western counterparts. On a personal level, it’s the “banana” that I’ve been frequently called, or the insensitive “you must be good at math!”

On a larger scale, it’s the repugnant whiff of pepper spray that I could smell just through the corner of my window, overlooking a wave of pro-democracy activists marching along the desolate streets of Hong Kong against a dissenting police force. It’s the anti-Asian hate crime that’s ravaged the streets of New York as I open my eyes to some rendition of “Chinese grandmother hospitalized” every morning, fearing for the lives of my cousins who live just 30 minutes away from such incidents. This conflicting identity—of being too American for a Hong Konger and too Chinese for an American—is what sits at the heart of an inability to culturally define myself.

Justin Wu making a speech at his school's history awards ceremony
Justin makes a speech at his school's history awards ceremony.

As such, during a summer-long independent history research project, I couldn’t have been more surprised upon realizing that a possible solution exists—that back in 1972, the Shanghai Communique represented a product of ideological and security compromise from both the U.S. and China. Under the imperative of Soviet containment, this era of Sino-American cooperation ended with both countries benefiting for the better. The adoption of market economics placed China in a better position for financial reform, while the U.S. gained military influence from China’s direct confrontations against Vietnam.

This led me to a realization that today’s politics has outgrown its categorization as a “public service.” While Mao and Nixon dealt with their share of domestic issues, the politicians’ ability to make mutual concessions propelled our world into an era of commercial prosperity. Ironically, today’s policy makers remain more conscious of their perception and personal pride, seeking to appease targeted voter blocs and mainstream media. 

Yet, while it’s the federal government that passes these policies, a country’s diplomatic decisions are greatly influenced by the public. United We Dream is a youth-led immigrant organization that occupied the halls of Congress in 2018, reintroducing the DREAM Act—a bill that provides temporary conditional residency to undocumented immigrant minors, and has now been approved by the House of Representatives.

Team ENOUGH, an intersectional youth movement dedicated to preventing gun violence, established a Lobbying Collective program that “trains students and young people on how to lobby legislators in their state capitols.” Its efforts led to an outpour of Congressional funding toward research on gun violence prevention in 2019. 

Examples such as these have stood as a reason for me to keep fighting to normalize bottom-up change, and as such, dedicating my academic interests toward manifesting a vision where passionate young activists are heard and more critically engaged with the political process.

In high school, my road to fulfilling this larger vision began with empowering the next generation of global citizens to speak up, starting from my school community. I became the founder and editor-in-chief of the Hourglass, an official school publication that seeks to inform others of current global events and their connection to the past. 

I launched the Hourglass with the intent of fostering political discussion within the borders of the Loomis Chaffee School (my high school), creating a space where both American and international students can recognize their national differences and forge relationships on the basis of mutual understanding. 

It was just one of many ways I’ve provided a platform for my peers to voice their sociopolitical opinions, spearhead a global movement for change, and most importantly, let their voices be heard.

Now—you may ask—why History?

Justin promoting Hourglass during his school's annual clubs fair
The Hourglass is a platform where young voices could be heard.

As we move toward a more innovative world in which machine-learning algorithms preside over the way we interact with our virtual society, what do we make of the archives and dated records of sociopolitical events scattered across the globe?

One of the biggest misconceptions about the study of History is that it fails to propel our society into the future. Yet, History provides us with a nuanced lens amidst highly polarized narratives surrounding today’s diplomatic issues. 

Had I not understood the immense benefits that manifested themselves after decades of Sino-American rapprochement, I would’ve felt helpless as flashy headlines of “Potential War on China?” are broadcasted over national television—or when Chinese citizens are vilified as “dog eaters” and “ruthless Communists.” History taught me that narratives of the past serve as tools to dispel narratives of prejudice, replacing single-lined generalizations with stories of collaboration and peace. 

Studying history is at its best when it accentuates the sociopolitical faults in our modern society, illuminating instances of success and empowerment that we should learn from. These events then lend themselves to constructing more holistic and equitable narratives on today’s marginalized groups.

Whether I’m conducting independent research or leading the Hourglass, my long-standing passion for History—and an awareness of its potential to diminish violence and polarization—provided me with the security to “lead my own path.” Born in a family of engineering professors and bankers, it’s the hope that I could contribute to a world in which my grandparents feel safe enough to travel to the U.S., in which my mainland Chinese friends could one day visit me in Hong Kong, that provides me with the validation to pursue my passions.

It is only by fueling a culture of activism and self-expression, and using history as a tool for advocacy, that the next generation can truly enjoy more opportunities for peace, health, and unity across the world.


“Youth-Led Lobbying Collective for Gun Reform.” n.d. Team ENOUGH. Accessed July 18, 2022

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Picture of Justin Wu

Justin Wu

A passionate debater and student writer, Justin looks to facilitate productive discussions on the most pressing sociopolitical issues of our time. Growing up in Hong Kong whilst attending boarding school in the United States, Justin's polarized cultural identity sparked his interest in foreign policy, engaging in topics ranging from the 1972 Shanghai Communique to present-day housing and education policy. When he isn't writing during wee morning hours, Justin enjoys playing basketball, squash, and video games with his friends. Justin will be attending Johns Hopkins University in the coming fall as an International Studies major.