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Visions for the University: The Presidents of Xiamen University

ICE    Public:ICE    Datetime:2012-5-22
There have been ten Presidents of Xiamen University since its establishment in 1921. They have led the University - with its soubriquet ´The Strength of the South´ - on its long road through the hardships following its first establishment and through the turmoil of war; they have witnessed the splendid development of the University since the beginning of China´s reform and opening-up. They are an eternal important component of the University´s history, and the essence of their thinking and spirit will always be remembered through the generations to come.

Deng Cuiying: prioritising academic research.
Term in office: September 1920 to May 1921
In October 1919, at the first meeting of the organising committee for the establishment of Xiamen University, Deng Cuiying, at that time an Advisor to the Ministry of Education and President of Beijing Normal Univeristy, was appointed as the first President of Xiamen University.
He proposed three fundamental principles for the development of the university at the founding ceremony on April 6th 1921:
Firstly, academic research should be a priority. ´Absence of new knowledge has led to the sluggish industrial development which has left China in poverty despite its abundant natural resources. Therefore, academic research must come as a top priority.´
Secondly, the cultivation of talented experts. ´The shortage of expertise is a contributing factor to China´s vulnerability. A main function of education is the the nurturing of talents, thereby guaranteeing the strength of a nation.´
Finally, the importance of co-operation between educational institutions and society at large. ´Educational institutions and society must work together for mutual support; collaboration benefits for both sides.´
President Deng´s educational beliefs provided a clear path for the development of Xiamen Universtiy and established high expectations for its future. After 90 years, his three principles remain the core concepts guiding the development of the university. Indeed, they are applicable to every university in its development.

Lin Wenqing: proposing ´Strive for perfection´ as the university motto
Term in office: June 1921 to July 1937
Li Wenqing received his undergraduate and graduate degrees in Medicine from the University of Edinburgh. President Lin was well-known for his excellent English and international perspective. Immediately after he took office in the summer of 1921, he set about revising the course syllabuses, changing class arrangements and expanding enrolment.
He was present at the English interviews for prospective students, and he found that their English was so poor they couldn´t even respond to the simplest English questions. As a result, he wrote to both private and public middle schools in Fujian Province, urging the immediate improvement in their teaching of English. He played an active role in promoting the development of foreign language teaching in Fujian Province.
President Lin considered the ultimate purpose of education to be the cultivation of talented people who were both intellectually brilliant and morally upright and therefore proposed that ´Strive for perfection´ should be the university motto. Under his leadership, a number of faculties were set up including the School of Liberal Arts, the Medical College and the School of Engineering. This input was further extended to the establishment of a range of facilities including the stadium and sports field, science laboratories and the library. He directed the organisation of each faculty and course and the recruitment of professors along Western lines. As a result, Xiamen University became a well-known private university in China, and was the first private university registered by the Ministry of Education.
His sixteen years in office could not have all been plain sailing. However, President Lin managed to develop the University from one with a small campus located in a remote area of Xiamen Island into a sizeable higher education institution. In recognition of his contributions, the ´Wenqing Pavilion´ was built in 2006 on the occasion of the 85th Anniversary of the University. two years later on the occasion of the 87th anniversary his statue of him was erected, to commemorate his inspiring achievements in university construction.

Sa Pentong: striving to make Xiamen University the ´Tsinghua University in the South´
Term in office: July 1937 to May 1944
President Sa Pentong was a prestigious physicist and expert in electrical engineering. His term in office coincided with the most difficult time for both the university and for the Chinese nation as a whole. The day after his appointment, the War of Resistance against Japan broke out. President Sa, at 35 years old the youngest president of a Chinese university ever - resolutely took off for Xiamen immediately he received his appointment, knowing it was not a time for someone not to shoulder his responsibilities.
Soon after his arrival in Xiamen, the city came under bombardment from the Japanese, so he promptly decided to move the university to Gulangyu Islet so that its work could continue. As the situation deteriorated, he led the students and staff inland to Changting, in the west of Fujian Province for safety.
Despite difficulties of communication and the hard living conditions in Changting, President Sa pursued his ambitious goal of establishing Xiamen University as the ´Tsinghua University in the South´.
On the occasion of the University´s 17th Anniversary, he wrote an inspiring paper to encourage the students and staff, in which he said, ´We should not complain about deprivations and shortages; rather we should think of the good side, the people we have for company and that we have the necessities for survival.´ ´The only way to behave with an honest person is to be as honest as he or she is.´ The relocation enabled many valuable books and instruments to be preserved, and the university even expanded slightly. At the time, scholars overseas considered Xiamen University ´the best university east of Calcutta´.
In the eyes of his students, President Sa Pentong was truly both a professor and a president. Apart from his executive duties, he taught a fair number of courses; in particular his course on AC circuits was very popular among the students because of his lively and interesting way of teaching. As there were no textbooks available because of the war, he wrote several textbooks himself, including General Physics and Dyadic Circuit Analysis. He once said, ´We cannot abandon training people and cultivating skills till all else has failed.´ At the lowest point in terms of supplies, he even removed the engine from his car to use it as a generator to provide light for the students.
President Sa devoted himself entirely to the development of the university to the point of exhaustion. He died of stomach cancer on January 31st 1949, at the young age of 48.

Wang Deyao: cultivating an academic atmosphere of freedom and progress
Term in office: September 1945 to October 1949
President Wang was the renowned cell biologist who established the field in China. He took part in the May4th Movement in 1919 and was present as a student representative in the negotiations with the northern warlord authority. In 1921, he was sent to France to continue his education, where he met Romain Rolland and Mohandas Gandhi. His acquaintance with two of the great minds of the time exposed him to the ideas of liberty, democracy and patriotism.
After the victory in the War of Resistance against Japan, Wang Deyao was appointed President of Xiamen University as it moved back from Chengting and was recovering from the damage inflicted during the war. He used his influence to invited a number of well-known scholars to teach at the University, including Prof. Wang Ya´nan and Prof. Guo Dali, the translators of Das Kapital, and Prof. Lin Liru and Prof. Hong Chen, who were dismissed from the Ministry of Education for their radical ideas on democracy. This was a prime time for the university in terms of its academic staff. During his term in office, President Wang set up a number of departments including in Marine Sciences, Mechanical Engineering, International Trade and Southeast Asian Economic Studies, which made major contributions to China´s post-war recovery and the future development of both the University and the nation.
President Wang was a profound admirer of Cai Yuanpei, the renowned educator and President of Peking University at the time, and followed the latter´s democratic ideas on education, namely to absorb and integrate every valuable idea. Under his open-minded leadership, Xiamen University became an academically-tolerant institution which accepted different theories and ideologies. Speaking at the 25th Anniversary celebrations, President Wang said, ´A university should promote a sincere, liberal and advanced academic atmosphere, an atmosphere tailored to the construction of a new, democratic China.´
On the eve of the founding of New China, President Wang continued to administer the university calmly, resisting secret instructions from the Kuomintang to relocate to Taiwan. President Wang Deyao led Xiamen University to its rebirth following the liberation of the nation.

Wang Ya´nan: creating a liberal atmosphere for scientific research
Term in office: May 1950 to November 1969
Wang Ya´nan is known in Economics in China and around the world as the first translator of Das Kapital. The scientific spirit epitomised by President Wang and Professor Chen Jingrun, the famous mathematician, is one of the four ´spirits´ of Xiamen University.
President Wang was highly respected both as a person as well as as an educator. Every time he went anywhere with members of his staff, it was he who arranged and paid for meals. He also generous in his care for his students, paying for their books and study materials with his royalties from his books and publications, and buying them mosquito nets, warm clothes and shoes if necessary. He regularly assisted poor students financially, while preferring to remain in the background. Most of the students never realised that the money they received came from the President himself.
President Wang is equally well-known for discovering the talent of Chen Jingrun, one of the best mathematicians of the time, and supporting him. Following his graduation from Xiamen University in 1953, Chen Jingrun was struggling to adapt to life as a middle-school maths teacher in Beijing. When President Wang heard of Chen Jingrun´s plight, he invited him back to the university so that he would be able to concentrate on his research in mathematics. Chen Jingrun continued to receive President Wang´s support even when he had made his scientific breakthrough and left Xiamen University to join the Academy of Mathematics and Systems Science of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Chen Jingrun lived up to his expectations and became one of the most successful mathematicians. President Wang was described by the Chinese writer Yu Chi as an ´economist who knows the real value of a person´ in view of his unconventional courage in appointing and fostering the development of talented individuals.
President Wang is renowned in China as an economist and educator. His university career spanned three decades, from which he accumulated great experience in teaching and university administration. He understood the fundamental nature and purpose of scientific research, and so promoted concentration on research, the integration of teaching and research, and a liberal atmosphere in academic. He also supported equally a balance of attention to both the social and natural sciences as essential to the needs of the time. On taking up office, he led the proposal for the establishment of an Institute of Economics and was tireless in working to bring it about. He also launched several journals, including the Journal of Xiamen University and Economic Issues in China. President Wang´s vision of Xiamen University was that it should be both ´a centre of teaching and a centre of research´.

Zeng Ming: fostering links and collaboration between alumni and the university
Term in office: April 1978 to February 1982
President Zeng was born in Guangdong Province in 1916, and joined the revolution to work for the liberation of the nation in the early 1930s. Before the foundation of the New China, he served in the army and took up the work of Party education. Before his appointment as President and Party Secretary of Xiamen University, he held the posts of Vice-President and Party Secretary of the Fujian Provincial Party School of the CPC followed by that Party Secretary of Fujian Normal University and Deputy Director of the General Office of the Supreme People´s Procuratorate. His extensive experience of political, judicial and Party work enabled him to lay the foundation for the reform and opening up of Xiamen University, in line with the national reform and opening up.
President Zeng placed a high value on the University´s relations with its alumni. The inside cover of the first issue of the Newsletter published by the General Alumni Association of Xiamen University carried an inscription by him saying ´To enhance close association with our alumni and collaboration with the university for the development of the alma mater´. On the eve of the 60th Anniversary of the University he set up an organising committee for the celebrations, which he chaired himself. He invited Ding Ling, a famous woman writer to participate give a lecture as part of the celebrations. She also accepted his invitation to become an Adjunct Professor of the University, and spent her last few years at Xiamen University. She used her connections and influence to bring a number of well-known writers to the University to give lectures. They included Wei Wei, Ma Feng and Xi Rong, the joint authors of Lüliang Heroes, Cheng Dengke, the author of Wind and Thunder, and Lou Shiyi, the Deputy Editor-in-Chief of the People´s Literature Publishing House.
President Zeng Ming´s term in office saw the excavation of Furong Lake, now one of the most iconic scenes of Xiamen University campus.

Tian Zhaowu: serving the nation, the people and society
Term in office: February 1982 to September 1989
In summer 1945, Tian Zhaowu passed the examinations with exceptional marks to be given a place in the Xiamen University Department of Chemistry. He was taught by a number of renowned scientists, including Lu Jiaxi, Qian Renyuan and Cai Qirui, as a result of which he was not only successful in his chemistry course, but acquired a full understanding of the fundamental requirements of scientific research, which laid the foundations for his later eminence as one of the founders of the field of electrochemistry in China. In 1980, President Tian was elected an Academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in 1980, the youngest academician at the time. Two years later, he was appointed President of Xiamen University by the State Council. He was the first scholar to be appointed President of a Chinese universities after the end of the Cultural Revolution.
During his term in office, a number of important faculties and university institutions were set up, including the Graduate School, the State Key Laboratory of the Physical Chemistry of Solid Surfaces, Xiamen University Press, the School of Political Science and Law, the School of Economics, the School of Science and Technology, the College of Arts and the International Education Centre. The teaching of foreign languages and of computer science were strengthened, traditional departments and disciplines were overhauled, and a range of new disciplines were launched. President Tian put great emphasis on foreign exchanges, and during his time in office co-operation was established between Xiamen University and 26 foreign universities, and over 720 students and members of academic staff were sent overseas.
On stepping down from his office as President, he became the first director of the State Key Laboratory of the Physical Chemistry of Solid Surfaces, and founded the national journal Electrochemistry. Using his connections in international academic organisations, he fought for opportunities to host international conferences in China, helping to expand the nation´s international academic exchanges and provide more opportunities for young researchers to take part in high-level international conferences. Thanks to his work, the 46th Annual Meeting of the International Society of Electrochemistry was held in Xiamen in 1995, attracting over 2000 participants.
Now in his 80s, Tian Zhaowu, remains a scientist devoted to his nation and society, and is still very active in the frontline of research. In 2009, he proposed the setting up of the Tian Zhaowu Cross-disciplinary Research Foundation to reward Xiamen University students and faculty members who contribute significantly to cross-disciplinary research, to which he and his project group donated 800,000 RMB.

Lin Zugeng: giving your best to Xiamen University
Term in office: July 1990 to April 1999
President Lin Zugeng once said ´When you become a member of Xiamen University, give your best here; the memory of those years will remain with you even when you have left the university.´ Lin Zugeng became a student of Xiamen University in 1952, and continued as a post-graduate here. He stayed on as a lecturer, finally reaching the position of President of Xiamen University. On stepping down from the Presidency, he was appointed Chairman of the Board of the General Alumni Association of Xiamen University.
President Lin is well-known in the field of electrochemistry, having spent most of his life teaching and carrying out research in physical chemistry and electrochemistry. In 1988, he was awarded recognition as a ´Young-or-middle-aged expert who had made outstanding contributions at national level´, together with a State Council subsidy. When he was appointed President, many were concerned that the heavy executive workload might disrupt his academic career; President Lin himself admitted to hesitating to take up the appointment and found it a struggle at the beginning. In the end, he made the administration of the University his priority. ´The development of a university is a gradual, cumulative process. Having taken up the torch from my predecessor, I must understand my position and responsibilities and do all I can to live up to my inherited mission.´
President Lin considered relations between the university and the local government of prime importance. On the one hand, he enhanced the services provided by the University towards local social and economic development; and on the other hand he promoted initially with the Xiamen Municipal and Fujian Provincial governments, and subsequently the Ministry of Education, the signing of an agreement on the joint-construction of Xiamen University. President Lin did everything he could to speed up the reform of the educational system of the university, expanded the university, promoted both domestic and international academic exchanges, and reinforced the construction of the ´211 project´ under the Ministry of Education. During his time in office Xiamen University was one of the universities in China offering programmes across the most complete range of disciplines, including the social sciences, management, the natural sciences, engineering and technology and medical sciences, each of them presenting the latest knowledge in their respective fields.

Chen Chuanhong: advocating egalitarianism and care
Term in officve: April 1999 to May 2003
As a physical scientist, President Chen was a man of principle who viewed everything from the neutral perspective of natural sciences. Zheng Qiwu, an Associate Professor Xiamen University in the Institute of Population Studies, recalls Chen Chuanhong, shortly after his appointment as Party Secretary of the University, helping Zheng´s father, who had been labelled a ´leftist´ ever since the Cultural Revolution. In Zheng Qiwu´s words, ´President Chen has both the conscience and integrity of an intellectual, and the deep concern of a humanitarian.´
Even while being caring and friends, President Chen´s vision of education of ambitious. It was President Chen who wrote ´building Xiamen University as a high-level university well-known both at home and abroad, laying a solid foundation for the development of a research university´ as the University´s goal under the 10th Five-year Plan and the 2010 Long-term Plan. For President Chen discipline construction and improvement of teaching quality were the priorities for the University´s reform and development and the foundation for building an internationally prestigious university. During his term in office, he laid the plans for the construction of the Zhangzhou Campus.
President Chen died on May 4th 2010 at the age of 72. Following his death, Prof. Yi Zhongtian recalled two meetings he had with the President, in one of his articles. The first was in 1997 when President Chen called to persuade him to accept the invitation of the University´s Committee for the Evaluation of Professional Titles in the Liberal Arts to become a member. The second was in 2001, when President Chen gave him a personal loan to cover help him buy his house. Speaking of those two typical encounters, Prof. Yi wrote, ´He was a good President, and a good Party Secretary as he cared about the staff of the University.´

Zhu Chongshi: fostering the highest talents
Term in office: May 2003 to date
President Zhu has been connected with Xiamen University for 33 years, ever since he became a student at Xiamen University School of Economics in 1978. He hit the headlines in 2005, when a huge debate followed his decision to introduce golf, an expensive, middle-class sport onto the university curriculum. It seemed however that many ignored his emphasis that the purpose of a university should be to foster the highest talents; as he said ´Fostering talents is a matter to which institutions of higher education should pay special attention, particularly in their role as public educators.´
President Zhu believes that ´elite´ is not a synonym for ´upper class´. In his words ´The elite, as a group, must have ambitious dreams and be willing to devote themselves fully to the noble cause of social advancement and national development. They are experts in their own fields, who can influence and unite people around them. They are the leaders of the next generation. Just as the top universities overseas, there must be at least 1% of, or in other words 40 to 50, universities here in China for which elite education is a primary goal.´
President Zhu has implemented a recruitment system which values outstanding experts in all academic fields both home and abroad and gives complete freedom in recruitment to individual faculties, as an effective way of achieving this goal of fostering talents and enhancing intellectual creativity and the vitality of the university. He has also instituted a number of reforms in student admission policies, which demonstrate a more elite-oriented educational model for the university.
The People´s Daily has reported on several actions taken by President Zhu including providing free rice in all the student canteens, spending university funds on renovating the toilet facilites and setting up coffee houses on campus to broadening the coffee culture among students. He is also known to visit the University BBS frequently, which has become the most popular forum for students to express their opinions concerning university issues as a result. ´A meeting with the President: to listen and trust´ has been held every month since its launch on April 3rd, 2010. Students register online for the meeting, and those selected have breakfast with the President and other senior members of the administration, at which they can raise and discuss ideas and any complaints they may have.
´A university president is not some high-ranking officer, nor should he or she not be. Being a university president means responsibility, responsibility for the comprehensive development of the university, for its executive management, and for the academic development and cultural heritage of the university.´
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