Mr. Chen Shengli (far right), a 2009 alumnus of Duke University’s public policy and management program for Chinese officials through the State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs (SAFEA), met Duke President Richard H. Brodhead for a second time at an alumni reception in Beijing last Wednesday, Jan. 13. In the article below, he reflects on his time at Duke and expresses his hope that the SAFEA program and Duke Kunshan University (DKU) continue to foster mutual understanding between China and the U.S. Read an article about the reception on DKU’s website. 

At the end of last November, when Ms. Feng Cheng, Development Director of Duke Kunshan University, visited Beijing, she brought me a piece of good news: Dr. Richard H. Brodhead, President of Duke University, would visit China at the beginning of this year and meet with leaders of Chinese government agencies and the students in the SAFEA program in Beijing. Dr. Brodhead’s face rose in my mind immediately.

I was taken back to December 17, 2009. The 7th class of the training program we attended was drawing to a close, and Dr. Brodhead met all of the trainees at the administration building of Duke University. He shook hands with each of us, gave out school badges to each of us, and made a short speech. Wearing a scarlet tie, he left an indelible impression of a mild, silver-haired gentleman.

Six years passed in the blink of an eye. On the evening of Jan. 13, I arrived at the Ritz Carlton Hotel. The ballroom was already packed when I entered, but I spotted Dr. Brodhead instantly. His hair seemed to be greyer, but he was still sporting a scarlet tie. After a while, he went to the rostrum and then introduced his itinerary for this trip to Beijing. He also spoke of the stories of Duke alumni he met in many places. For example, at the National Natural Science Foundation of China, a Duke alumnus mentioned to him the beautiful Duke Gardens. He emphasized the SAFEA program in particular, reaffirming that the ten-year program would continue, and that the 400 Chinese officials who participated in this program were ambassadors of Duke University.

Duke Kunshan University (DKU) is a Sino-American partnership between Duke University and Wuhan University. Prof. Liu Jingnan, president of DKU, member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, and the former president of Wuhan University, also made a speech. He briefed the audience on the progress of Duke Kunshan University. He also expressed the hope that Wuhan University could absorb the institutional wisdom of Duke which is reflected in internationally recognized disciplines such as medicine and management, and one day become a world-class university.

While people were chatting, students of the 7th training class invited Dr. Brodhead for a group photo. After the photo was taken, he asked suddenly, “Are all of the students in your class guys?” We looked at each other and burst into laughter, as indeed, all six present were male. One classmate explained, “There were seven ladies in our class as well, but they couldn’t make it tonight.”

Another classmate pointed at me and informed Dr. Brodhead, “He wrote a book about Duke University,” to which I added, “Mr. President, a photo of you is in the book.” Dr. Brodhead asked immediately, “Really? Did I have a beard?” and made an exaggerated gesture under his nose. My book, American Scenery and Customs: Notes about Duke University, was published by China Intercontinental Press in 2012. I presented a copy to Dr. Brodhead as a gift and opened the book to the page of his photo. He said he really appreciated this gift.

In the foreword of this book, I wrote, “It is natural, for people, that misunderstandings arise from estrangement, but communication can promote mutual understanding. The same applies to countries… Chinese and Americans will surely get along by strengthening communication and mutual understanding, and seeking common ground while at the same time preserving the differences derived from our respective heritage.” The SAFEA program and DKU are important achievements in the exchange and cooperation between the United States and China. There is no doubt that Dr. Brodhead, as president of Duke University, has played a vital role in their success. It seems that the spirit of Sino-U.S. friendship and cooperation is part of the soul of Duke University.

I look forward to seeing Dr. Brodhead in Beijing again.

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