BEIJING — Interim President Hunter R. Rawlings III concluded his visit to Peking University yesterday afternoon after spending a day finalizing the China and Asia-Pacific Studies program with Peking University president Zhihong Xu. The Cornell delegation used the time to discuss U.S.-China relations with Peking University faculty in a symposium titled “Beyond ‘Strategic’: the Cultural-Educational Challenges Facing U.S.-China Relations.” Cornell’s Prof. Sherman Cochran, the Hu Shih professor of Chinese history, moderated the discussion, which included Prof. Chen Jian, history, and several Peking faculty members from their School of International Relations.
“The best way to increase our understanding [of each other] is by having your students come to Cornell, and Cornell students come to Peking University, because it’s often the students who make such a difference in understanding each other,” Rawlings said to Peking students. “They are active in learning new things and then coming home to transmit what they know back to their own culture. Students are the secret for this, and this is why we are so pleased about starting this program.”
During the visit, Rawlings was shown a room at the center of the Peking campus in their School of International Relations building called “The Cornell Office” which will be converted to a headquarters for future Cornell students studying in the CAPS program.
“Many of the graduates from Peking University become very important leaders in China. In the same way, many of the graduates of Cornell University become leaders in the U.S. So I think that it’s quite important that these two universities are educating leaders in the world who will become much better versed in each other’s cultures,” Rawlings said.
At the end of the day, Rawlings invited the Peking administration to a banquet celebrating the CAPS major.
Xu took the opportunity to speak on what the banquet signified for the future. He said that several decades ago, learning a foreign language was extremely difficult because there were few opportunities to speak and to listen, but that in China today, this situation has changed dramatically.
“Most students can speak very good English because it’s easier to find good English programs,” Xu said at the banquet. “There are many foreign students on campus, and this shows China has become more open. The world’s future depends on the younger generations to understand each other.”
Rawlings also spent two hours yesterday afternoon in an interview at CCTV, the Chinese national television station, discussing the logistics of higher education with Tsinghua University president Binglin Gu. Rawlings and Gu were questioned by Tsinghua University students on topics such as education about love and marriage, foreign exchange programs and admissions policies.
One of the questions asked by the CCTV host included what Rawlings was most proud of about Cornell graduates.
“The thing that makes me proud of our graduates is how much they love Cornell,” Rawlings said. “They form a very close bond with the University that remains for their entire career. Many of our graduates are here today in Beijing because they have so much love for Cornell University. I don’t know exactly what causes all of this. Maybe it’s something in the water in Ithaca.”
Both Gu and Rawlings agreed that their schools’ graduates should be more modest and willing to understand each other.
Gu also spoke about the admissions policy in China, which primarily consists of a nationwide entrance examination. Students are then ranked based on their score, and top universities such as Peking and Tsinghua Universities accept students based on their rank. Tsinghua accepts 80 percent of their students in this manner.
“The method of using several criteria like U.S. schools’ admissions policy may present some problems at Tsinghua,” Gu said. “Parents of candidates will come up to us and demand why their child did not get in over another student. … But several years ago we accepted over 95 percent of students using only the nationwide entrance examination, and we are gradually increasing the percentage of students who are evaluated in other ways, from 5 percent to 10 percent to 15 percent, and so on.”
Rawlings will be speaking at the Beijing Forum today, delivering one of three keynote addresses on the topic of “The Modern Research University: Intellectual Innovator and Cultural Bridge,” which will emphasize what Rawlings calls a “two-way street,” a mutual exchange between both sides of the U.S.-China relationship.
The Sun’s coverage of President Rawlings’ trip to China has been co-sponsored by Cornell University.