Nov. 29, 2005

Rawlings ends whirlwind China visit with agreement, collaboration and table tennis

Hunter Rawlings
Blaine Friedlander/Cornell
Cornell President Hunter Rawlings gives opening remarks at the Cornell University-Tsinghua University Information Science Symposium in Beijing on Nov. 17.

SHANGHAI -- Cornell President Hunter R. Rawlings and his small delegation ended their mid-November whirlwind China trip with exchanges across the table and in a friendly table tennis game.

Earlier on the trip, Rawlings signed an agreement establishing a new major -- the China and Asia-Pacific Studies (CAPS) program -- with Peking University in Beijing. He also delivered a keynote address at the prestigious Beijing Forum, an academic summit on Chinese and Asian cultural and economic issues organized by Peking University, held at the Great Hall of the People. And he kicked off the first collaborative engineering seminar between Tsinghua University and Cornell. In between meetings, Rawlings was interviewed on China Central Television ( CCTV) for an audience of about 300 million Chinese, twice as large as a Super Bowl television audience.

While in Shanghai, Rawlings and his delegation, which included David Wippman, vice provost for international relations, and Chen Jian, the Michael J. Zak Professor of History for U.S.-China Relations, worked closely with Chinese government officials and began discussing collaborations on historical Cold War research.

Chen noted that Cornell now is participating in an international project that seeks to understand historical forces that shaped and ended the Cold War. Chen and Frederik Logevall, Cornell professor of history, are studying China's declassified documents on the Geneva Conference of 1954 and U.S. President Richard Nixon's visit to China in 1973. Results from the Geneva study will be announced next February at an international conference at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C.

Before arriving in Shanghai, Rawlings gave the opening remarks before a standing-room-only crowd at the Cornell University-Tsinghua University Information Science Symposium in Beijing on Nov. 17.

"I am delighted that Tsinghua and Cornell are moving to an even higher level of partnership," he said. "It makes possible a two-way exchange of information in cutting-edge science and technology fields."

Rawlings described the recipe for top-quality higher education. Referring to a recent survey published in The Economist, he said the world's best universities rely on several sources of funding, they offer a comprehensive range of studies, they compete for the best faculty and students and they are never content with their own success.

As China's educational system expands, the top Chinese universities are following an American model of development. Rawlings said Tsinghua University was in the process of developing new revenue streams, such as technology transfer and business development, to underwrite the university's mission.

"China targets a small group of already outstanding universities for major investment, and universities like Tsinghua are emerging as true world leaders," Rawlings said. "As of 2004, [Tsinghua University] had 560 patent applications approved. I think that bodes well for the health of Chinese higher education and especially for the continued primacy of Tsinghua as one of the world's best research universities."

Rawlings discussed how to attract the world's best students and faculty members. "When it comes to worldwide influence on higher education, the best universities -- whether in China or the U.S. or elsewhere -- must earn and re-earn their places through successful competition for faculty, students, research funds and academic partners year after year," he said. Following the engineering talk, Rawlings and Tsinghua President Gu Binglin faced off in a friendly table tennis match. Gu's formidable, fast action beat Rawlings in two close games.

Then Rawlings and Chen played matches against Wang Xin, Tsinghua's varsity pingpong coach; Yang Yedan, Tsinghua's student pingpong champion; and Wang Fuping, a Tsinghua mathematics professor who was once a champion table tennis player.

Following the hour-long round of matches, Rawlings presented Gu with a Cornell baseball jersey. The excited Tsinghua president put it on immediately.