MIT to strengthen ties to China

Group outlines work with China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan

CORRECTION TO THIS ARTICLE: An earlier version of this story misstated the name of the founder of He is Charles Zhang PhD ’93, not Zhu.

The MIT-Greater China Strategy Working Group has released a report setting forth guidelines and recommendations for the future of MIT’s relationship with mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. The Working Group was chaired by Victor Zue, Professor of EECS and Director of CSAIL.

MIT has raised funding for a new chair in study of Chinese culture, as well as provided the Global Seed Fund in conjunction with MISTI to send students abroad. However, for any of this to effectively occur, knowledge of Chinese language and culture is a necessity.

“Language in particular is the basis,” said Associate Provost Philip S. Khoury. “We’re working on making our Chinese program more powerful and providing four full years of the language, as our students can’t afford the time to go take Chinese language courses at Harvard.”

The group was founded in 2007 by Khoury. However, MIT has had a long history with Greater China. MIT’s relationship with China dates back to 1876, when the Chinese government sent students to MIT. The relationship has continued for over a century as students and professors have spent time learning and working in both countries.

“The working group recommendations didn’t create something entirely new; we’re accelerating what that was,” Khoury said. MIT has taken many actions to further its connection with Greater China and increase mutual awareness.

“We think that there’s a certain lack of awareness on both sides,” Zue said. “One of the big things we’ve done so far is to consolidate all of MIT’s China-related activities. We’ve created a portal to highlight them, and it can be accessed on our website.” Through more easily accessible resources like this, people of the MIT community are encouraged to learn different perspectives of China.

Additionally, the Working Group has established the MIT-China Forum, bringing in prominent people to speak to the MIT community four times a year. Last Thursday, Charles Zhang PhD ’93 spoke on campus in an event open to the public. Zhang is the founder, Chairman, and current CEO of, and former speakers in the MIT-China Forum also include Zhou Wenzhong, then the Chinese Ambassador to the United States.

These individuals are a sample of the prominent people MIT hopes to engage in the liaison with Greater China.

In addition to making language resources available to those who want them, studying culture is an essential part of the working group’s goal. MIT’s collaboration with Greater China also extends to companies such as Quanta Computer.

Quanta’s chairman and CEO Barry Lam, electrical engineer and entrepreneur, expresses personal interest in the area of Chinese art and culture and endowed a chair on Chinese culture. He has personally taught a class last November on the beauty of Chinese calligraphy and will soon teach yet another on the beauty of Chinese painting.

Such collaboration is not intended to be limited or narrow.

“I must emphasize that we are not looking for an exclusive relationship with any particular university,” Khoury said. “We want this all to be a collaborative effort and to interact with as many top universities as we can, as well as working with people outside of academia.”

A non-comprehensive list of current collaborators in Greater China include Tsinghua University, Peking University, Hong Kong University for Science and Technology, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Fudan University, Chinese University of Hong Kong, and National Taiwan University.

MIT has signed an agreement to work with Shanghai Jiao Tong University in science education and technology, as well as recently a tripartite agreement with Tsinghua University and Cambridge University to collaborate on low-carbon energy research, according to Khoury.

As for the recommendations of the official report regarding students and education, “We want as many of our young students in meaningful, interesting, challenging experiences abroad, and not to go abroad just to go abroad. Our goal is to have at least 50 percent of MIT students to intern or do service abroad sometime in their four years here.”

“We plan to host three executive seminars for three years, which is a plan supported by Shanghai Jiao Tong University,” Khoury said. These executive seminars will educate and train government officials and people in industry.

However, among all the collaborative efforts, MIT still keeps its devotion to its students front and center.

“MIT’s first obligation is to its students, and we must not stretch ourselves too thin. The purpose of this exchange is not to teach China’s students, but rather to teach their faculty to be better faculty, in essence continuing a trickle-down effect,” Khoury said.

MIT continues to encourage international students for a diverse student body, just as nearly 40% of MIT’s faculty are not originally from the United States.

“We want the best of the global talent, and it just so happens that a large amount of that is concentrated in Greater China. We want a flow of people from these countries to facilitate the collaboration, so we can identify global challenges and work together to address these challenges effectively,” Khoury said. “MIT has no intention of being like an imperial power. This is a two-way street — actually, more than two-way. This collaboration requires mutual respect.”

To encourage mutual respect, it all comes full circle back to the future expansion of MIT’s curriculum, opportunities, and resources in Chinese language and culture, encompassed in the vision put forth by the MIT-Greater China Working Group.

“It was a bunch of very dedicated people working from all five schools of MIT,” Zue said. “We’re very happy with the outcome, and now our job is done, and it’s time for the execution of our recommendations.”