For the Chinese the University of Cambridge is known as Jianqiao, which translates as ‘Sword-bridge’ (less flatteringly, Oxford’s name is Niujin, meaning ‘Cow-sweat’). And for many Chinese students, Cambridge has an added allure. One of the country’s most famous poets, Xu Zhimo was a student there, commemorating his time with the verse Saying Farewell to Cambridge. But as the Daily Telegraph reported last week, the Chinese are now increasingly saying ‘hello’ to Cambridge – and in ways that are sparking controversy.
In one case, a new chair of Chinese development has just been created, with a $5.8 million donation from the Chong Hua Educational Foundation. But the British newspaper says that other academics are concerned about whether the new position is appropriate. According to the Telegraph, the speculation is that the funding is coming from the Chinese government, and thus is part of Beijing’s strategy to project ‘soft power’.
A case of a storm in a don’s teacup (or perhaps glass of sherry)? A spokesman for the university told AFP: “It’s a philanthropic gift for advancing education about China. They’re wealthy Chinese individuals and it’s perfectly common that benefactors ask to remain anonymous. There is no influence whatsoever on decisions about what the post should research, teach or anything like that. We retain full integrity and independence.”
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