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Zhejiang University president makes new connections, finds family's Badger background


President Yang Wei of Zhejiang University shared statistics about the rapid growth of top universities in China during a talk Monday, Feb. 21, at Grainger Hall. (Photo by Pauline Zhu.)


President Yang Wei of China’s Zhejiang University spent two days in mid-February touring the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  He met with Chancellor Biddy Martin and various campus groups and also gave a public talk on the rapid growth of Chinese research universities like his own, an elite university based in the famously scenic city of Hangzhou, the capital of Zhejiang Province. But President Yang’s visit had another purpose – he was in Madison to learn about the place where his parents met in the late 1940s. 

President Yang’s father, Yang Guanghua, and his mother, Sun Yishi, were from different parts of China but both ended up attending classes in Madison. 

“My mother remembers the Union,” President Yang commented – and he later sampled some Memorial Union ice cream.  “This was a special place of romance for them.”

Yang Guanghua earned his PhD in chemical engineering in 1951 and returned to China with his bride, who finished her education in Beijing.  The senior Yang went on to become a pioneer in China’s oil industry and served as president of the China University of Petroleum.   Yang Guanghua died in 2006, a few months after his son was named the new president of Zhejiang University.

Yang Wei discussed his father’s legacy with current members of the UW-Madison Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, who presented him with a signed copy of the department’s history, published in 2005 to mark its centenary.

President Yang, at left, finished his two-day visit with a stop at UW-Madison Chancellor Biddy Martin’s office in Bascom Hall.

“The chemical engineering department at Zhejiang University is over 90 years old,” President Yang noted.  “It is the oldest in China.”

“Well, you’d better get a book out too,” replied Emeritus Professor Bob Bird, co-author of the UW chemical engineering history book.  Professor Bird finished the history begun by the late Olaf Hougen, who was also Yang Guanghua’s doctoral advisor.

Chancellor Martin showed President Yang his father’s dissertation, which is part of the UW-Madison Libraries collection and has Yang Guanghua’s signature on the title page.  She also presented him with a copy to keep.

Besides his nostalgic campus tour, President Yang also visited the UW Hospital and Clinical Science Center and attended a round-table discussion at the Wisconsin Institutes of Discovery about how to encourage innovation and cross-disciplinary cooperation.

“I’m quite amazed at the easy connections between your school, the hospital and the research area,” he told Pharmacy Dean Jeanette Roberts.

UW-Madison Professor John Kao (second from left) led President Yang and two members of the Zhejiang University staff on a tour of the UW Hospital and the Clinical Science Center.

“It facilitates the collaborative nature of our work,” Dean Roberts replied.

President Yang’s visit returns the favor of Chancellor Martin’s trip to Zhejiang University in March, as part of her spring 2010 tour of China.  That first meeting led to a Memorandum of Understanding signed in October between the UW and Zhejiang biomedical engineering departments to encourage faculty exchanges.  Another connection between the two universities is the UW-Madison College of Engineering eight-week summer session held at Zhejiang University since 2008.  This summer over 20 UW-Madison engineering students are signed up to join the program.

President Yang left campus with photos and anecdotes to share with his mother, and also some ideas for future connections to his father’s alma mater.

As he said to Chancellor Martin, “I hope we can build some genuine collaborations and make them last.”

Click here to see a slideshow from the Zhejiang University delegation visit.



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