Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Wan Li – Friend of The Hopkins Nanjing Center

The Hopkins-Nanjing Center notes with regret the passing of Wan Li (万里 ), former chairman of the National People's Congress, pioneering reformer in China’s top leadership, and a friend and supporter  of the Hopkins-Nanjing Center from its earliest days.  Wan Li passed away on July 15 at the age of 98 in Beijing.  

Wan Li is well known for the agricultural reform policies he implemented in the 1970s, when he was party chief for the eastern province of Anhui. These reforms helped to launch the household-responsibility system that would gradually replace the commune system. 
Wan Li in 1981

Less well known is the role Wan Li played in the establishment of Hopkins-Nanjing Center. In 1979, on a visit to the United States, Wan had met with Johns Hopkins University Professor Professor Chih-Yung Chien (钱致榕). Professor Chien was at that time working closely with then-Hopkins President Steven Muller to help realize their vision of creating a joint Sino-American educational enterprise that would help ground US-China relations in mutual understanding. "Steve and I wanted Americans to learn about the real China and the Chinese to learn about the real United States," Chien says.  Chien shared this vision with an enthusiastic Wan Li in 1979, shortly before Wan Li was promoted to the central leadership in Beijing. Meanwhile, President Muller had begun discussions with then-Nanjing University President Kuang Yaming, and the outline of the Hopkins-Nanjing Center for Chinese and American Studies began to take shape. On a visit to China in September 1981, President Muller was invited to Nanjing to work on the details of a formal agreement. He was also invited by Wan Li to the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, where the historic agreement to establish the Hopkins-Nanjing Center was signed. 

After five years of preparation, The Hopkins-Nanjing Center was ready to open in 1986. Wan Li’s contributions to its founding were not forgotten.  In October, 1994, Johns Hopkins University held a special ceremony at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center to award an honorary degree to Wan Li, who had recently retired as Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress. William Richardson, who had succeeded Steven Muller as President of Johns Hopkins University, presented the commendation to Wan and praised his important contributions to education, to US-China relations, and to the Hopkins-Nanjing Center. 

Written by Jill Huang, SAIS Student