A century ago, a Yale-graduate Edward Hicks Hume came to China and founded the Yale Hospital, the College of Yale-in-China in Changsha, and Yali Middle School in Hunan Province.
Hume named the school Ya Li, meaning elegance of expression and propriety of conduct. The future scholars, as foreseen by Hume, would be well-read and broad-minded.
His contribution did not go unnoticed. And Zhang Lei, a former Yale student, believes it’s time to payback: “The relationship has been one-way for too long and I want to help change that.”
Zhang, 37, who graduated from Yale University with a master’s degree in business administration and international relations in 2002, last week gave the Yale School of Management the gift of $8,888,888 (the number eight is considered lucky in China). It is the largest single donation to be made to the university’s management school by a recent alumnus.
“It’s no overstatement to say that the School of Management changed my life. I learned so much there, and not just finance or entrepreneurship. I learned about freedom and the spirit of giving,” Zhang wrote in an alumni profile on the school’s website.
He is currently the founder and managing partner of Beijing-based Hillhouse Capital Management (named after Hillhouse Avenue, the main street running through Yale’s business school).
The donation, says Yale President Richard Levin, will help build the new Yale School of Management (SOM) campus, while a portion will provide scholarship support for the International Relations Programme, as well as fund a variety of China-related activities at the university.
Not everyone is delighted. Such generosity to a foreign university has riled the usual suspects in Chinese cyberspace, reports the Global Times. Poor old Zhang is denounced as a dog, a traitor and a lunatic.
Zhang studied at Renmin University in Beijing before going overseas, and his critics are disturbed that he does not appear to appreciate his mainland education.
“You spent more than 10 years studying in Chinese universities; if it weren’t for the Chinese higher education system, you wouldn’t be anything at all,” wrote one netizen.
Thankfully, not everyone is so critical. “We should look at this news from an international standpoint,” says Chi Fulin, professor and president of China Institute for Development and Reform. Chi also recognised that although Yale is the recipient of the fund, the donation will also benefit China in general.
It is meaningless to discuss Zhang’s case, as it’s purely a personal matter, adds the Nanfang Daily. But the fact that Zhang chose to donate to an overseas institution rather than at home suggests that Chinese universities are struggling to earn the love and trust of their students, the newspaper adds.
But netizens see one positive. At least the funds won’t be embezzled: “[If it were] given in China, it would be a miracle if there were $80,000 left [to be properly used] in the end,” one blogger mocked.
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