The whole world will be watching when Lee Teng-hui Ph.D. ’68, former president of Taiwan, visits Cornell on Slope Day, the notorious “blow out” party held annually on the last day of spring classes.
The last time Lee visited campus in 1995, the event drew international media coverage, and 398 accredited members of news organizations prowled the campus, forming a massive press camp at Lynah Rink. Ten satellite trucks were also on hand to add to the commotion.
The University said that it was not worried about the two events coinciding, however, and that the slope celebration would not significantly impact Lee’s visit.
“The activities on the slope have attracted media attention in the past,” said Henrik N. Dullea ’61, vice president for University relations. “We have no plans to change any of the organizational arrangements for Slope Day as a result of President Lee’s visit.”
Dullea emphasized that Lee’s stay, which is scheduled for May 2-4, will be low-profile. His main reasons for coming to campus are to visit his granddaughter and to attend the establishment of the Lee Teng-hui Institute, which will be located in Duffield Hall.
“I think it’s safe to say he will not attend [Slope Day],” said Linda Grace-Kobas, director of Cornell News Service.
Unlike Lee’s 1995 visit, where he attended an alumni reunion and gave a large public speech about international politics, Lee’s only public event will be a short photo session, according to Dullea.
Until yesterday, Cornell refused to comment on whether Lee would make an official visit to campus, although some Taiwanese and Japanese papers last February leaked news hinting that a visit was planned.
Vivienne Shue, the F&R Rhodes Professor of Chinese Government and director of the East Asia Program, said that she is not surprised that the University never informed faculty and students within the East Asian Studies Department about Lee’s plans.
“We take the University and Lee at their word that Lee’s coming here is non-political,” Shue said. “By downplaying the visit and treating it as an alumni affair, the University is taking the role that it needs to keep the issue quiet.”
Expressing some concern about the tensions that may develop between Chinese and Taiwanese students, Shue said that she believed the visit was designed to avoid the controversies that erupted from Lee’s 1995 visit, which created a firestorm in U.S.-Sino relations.
“My hope is that an atmosphere of understanding and tolerance will prevail,” Shue said.
Samson Yao ’02, president of the Cornell Taiwanese American Society (CTAS), doubted that Lee’s short visit would produce international strife.
“Lee’s just a [Taiwanese] citizen now. He may just want to come and leave quietly,” Yao said.
With the mission to plan a welcome for Lee’s visit, the local Taiwanese Association in Ithaca will meet today with graduates and undergraduates from the Cornell groups.
“We will probably arrange to meet with Lee, but we don’t want to intrude with his visit or be too pushy,” said Eva Shen ’01, a Taiwanese-American student, who expressed her enthusiasm about Lee’s visit.
Some student activists, however, continue to view Lee’s visit to his alma mater as a potential irritant in relations between Washington and Beijing, according to Ci Li grad, president of the Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA).
“I’m very disappointed about Cornell’s decision to invite him here. We’ll be waiting for more information from the University, but we reserve the right to take action,” Li said.
The CSSA began to initiate protests on March 11, responding to what were then rumors of a campus visit by Lee, when the group submitted an open letter to President Hunter R. Rawlings III and the Board of Trustees.
The letter demanded cancellation of any proposed visit by Lee, claiming that it would be “a disaster to the U.S.-China-Taiwan relations.”
“It will also be perceived as an insult to the Chinese people … We are emotionally attached to our national integrity to a tremendous extent and fully support the ‘One China Policy.’ Taiwan is a part of China,” the letter read, explaining that the University’s decision to invite Lee could be considered by the international community as support for his efforts to promote Taiwan’s independence.
Reacting to the Chinese students’ protests, the University has repeatedly emphasized that Lee, as a distinguished alumnus, is welcome to visit his alma mater at any time.
“Lee is a wonderful scholar. His coming is an honor to the University,” said Tsu-Lin Mei, the Hu Shih Professor of Asian Studies, agreeing with the University’s stance.
Lee’s visit in 1995 occurred during an alumni reunion in June, a time when most undergraduates were away. This time, however, the full campus will be in session.
Anticipating protest groups, Dullea said, “We dealt with all of them [in 1995], and they all had the opportunity to make their views known across the campus — and to the media.” He said that a similar opportunity would be available in May, as Lynah would again be a housing spot for the media.
Several Cornell community members have expressed concerns about how Lee’s expected visit coincides with Slope Day.
While admitting that campus reactions to Lee’s visit “may make Slope Day harder to handle,” Claire Ackerman ’01, treasurer of Slope Fest, said that she was not significantly worried. “We’re working with the University and the Cornell Police this year to make the event safer and more positive for everybody,” she said.
Shue noted that May 4, Slope Day, was an ironic date for Lee to leave, because it is the anniversary of the beginning of modern politics and the consummation of Chinese nationalism.
Archived article by Jennifer Roberts