Madame Liu Yandong, State Councilor of the People’s Republic of China and the highest-ranking woman in the Chinese government, paid a visit to MIT Wednesday to strengthen educational and research ties between MIT and China’s universities. In a speech given to invited guests at Wong Auditorium, Liu stressed the importance of an international trade of people and ideas, saying through a translator, “True friends understand each others’ hearts … we need to actively create conditions for people-to-people exchange.”
Liu toured MIT with a delegation of Chinese officials, including Yuan Guiren, Minister of Education, and Zhang Yesui, China’s Ambassador to the United States. As the ceremonial centerpiece of the visit, Liu met with MIT President Susan Hockfield and top administrators and faculty members to sign two major documents: a Letter of Intent to encourage collaboration between MIT and Shanghai Jiao Tong University, and a Memorandum of Understanding that establishes a fellowship program with the China Scholarship Council to sponsor students from China to study at MIT.
“Universities are where cultures converge,” Liu said. “I am happy to see MIT leading this trend.”
China’s agreements with MIT are part of a larger push by the Chinese government to forge an educational pipeline with the United States. The signing at MIT came one day after Liu met with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington, D.C., to identify ways to increase cooperation between U.S. and Chinese research institutions. During that visit, Liu announced the addition of 10,000 new, Chinese-government-sponsored scholarships for American students to study in China, doubling that number from the previous year.
In a speech to members of MIT’s faculty, students and staff, Liu said of the new scholarship arrangement: “I hope to see more students from MIT among those 10,000 students,” and called the Institute a “powerhouse … your achievements have had a profound impact on the United States and the world.”
During the signing ceremony, Hockfield welcomed the prospect of stronger educational relations with China. “From my own visits to China, I have seen that [the country] has much to teach us,” she said. “For almost as long as MIT has been around, Chinese students and scholars have been part of MIT.”
Hockfield said MIT’s relationship with China built new momentum in the 1990s, when the Institute offered its first Mandarin language course and launched the MIT-China Program and the Sloan School of Management's MIT-China Management Education Project. She pointed out that people in China are the largest users of online educational materials provided by MIT OpenCourseWare, and added that the Institute draws more of its international students and researchers from China than from any other country.
During the visit, the Chinese delegation toured the lab of Guoping Feng, the Poitras Professor of Neuroscience and member of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research. Feng gave a presentation to the group on his work studying the genetics of neuronal synapses to understand the origins of psychiatric diseases. Gang Chen, the Carl Richard Soderberg Professor in Power Engineering, also made a presentation, demonstrating his work in solar thermoelectric power conversion.
In a gesture of friendship, Hockfield presented Liu with a vase, created at MIT’s Glass Lab, as a memento of the visit, as well as a specially bound book, Bridge of Education, commemorating MIT’s longtime collaboration with Liu’s alma mater, Tsinghua University.
In turn, Liu presented MIT with a collection of seminal works in Chinese literature, which were painstakingly translated, first from an ancient Chinese dialect into modern Chinese, and then to English. Liu hopes the library of books will give MIT an understanding of China’s rich social history, and help to cement MIT-China relations going forward.
In her speech, Liu briefly touched on the major turning points in China’s history, observing that this year marks the 40th anniversary of Henry Kissinger’s historic first trip to China — a diplomatic move that Liu says caused a national shift in attitude and opened the country up to “fully embrace the world.”
Liu said China is today actively seeking partnerships with leading universities and research institutions around the world in an effort to improve innovation in areas such as energy and the environment. She added that such partnerships would help the country meet key national goals, including a government pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 45 percent by 2020.
Liu hopes China’s international collaborations will increase the level of education across the country. Last year, students from Shanghai made international headlines when they outscored all other countries in standardized math and science exams. While Liu praised their performance, she described educational development as “uneven” throughout the country. She said Chinese students today deal with too much pressure, both from home and school, and referenced author Amy Chua’s polarizing book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, in illustrating a typical strict Chinese upbringing.
“In China, parents admire the American way, and want a freer environment for their children,” Liu said. “A marriage between the U.S. and China would create the best educational system in the world.”
As a final token of friendship, Liu and her delegation presented MIT with a large Chinese scroll, painted by a professor at Tsinghua University, depicting galloping horses. Liu said the horse has long been regarded in China as a symbol of strength, vitality and success. She added that the animal also has special significance for MIT.
“There are many idioms in China describing success using horse as a metaphor, and ‘ma,’ which is the Chinese pronunciation for ‘horse,’ has the same pronunciation as ‘Massachusetts,’” Liu said. “So we wish MIT every success in the next 150 years, and we hope that MIT will go from strength to strength in the future.”