May 28th, 2007 | Uncategorized

Day Nine: A belated accounting

It turns out that getting on the Internet was more difficult in suburban New Jersey than anywhere we traveled in China. Thirty hours of travel and jet lag, combined with the failure of my family’s DSL connection, explain the serious delay of this post.

On our last day in China, Xu Zheng, a vice president of Fudan University in Shanghai — the day’s primary destination — commended our whirlwind itinerary.

“If you want to know China as it was 5,000 years ago, come to Xi’an. If you want to know China as it was 500 years ago, come to Beijing, and if you want to know China after the reforms and opening up, and its future, come to Shanghai,” she said.

I’m not sure that we were really able to imbibe 5,000 years of history in the 10 days we were there, but Shanghai certainly offered us a vision of the future.

For example, the Shanghai Stock Exchange floor was silent, but Web-based trading allowed the exchange to hit a record high the day before our visit. This mode of trading was unimaginable when the exchange was built — 10 years ago.

When we visited Fudan on Thursday, we saw the possible future of Chinese education. Enormous growth was obvious, as we were shown a gigantic new campus currently under construction. The new facilities — including a library whose reading room will fit 2,000 students at once — will allow Fudan to add 10,000 students.

Fudan administrators emphasized the ways in which the university was borrowing from American models. Fudan College, for example, was established two years ago and is China’s only undergraduate model based on a residential college system.

But American institutions — and Yale in particular — are also calling on China’s educational and research facilities. The Fudan-Yale Biomedical Research Center, founded in 2003, is working on mapping gene functions using research on mice. It is under the direction of Professor Tian Xu, who holds joint appointments at Yale and Fudan. The work requires enormous manpower — the center plans to hire 100 additional technicians next year — which would be prohibitively expensive in the United States. Accordingly, much of the work is done on Fudan’s campus, where there are plans to build a 100,000 square foot facility.

A visit to the Fudan-Yale research center was a popular choice on Thursday morning, when we were given the chance to tour a number of different schools. We were rewarded with an explanation of how the research is done (as I understood it, an individual gene is disrupted with the insertion of genetic gobbledygook and then any phenotypic changes are observed) — and photos of the various mutants that have been observed. In one particularly memorable example, we got to watch mice in a (failed) sexual encounter.

Perhaps in acknowledgement of the center’s hybrid American-Chinese nature — or perhaps to prepare us for the impending return to the U.S. — Professor Xu then offered us pizza for lunch. Earlier that morning, at the unveiling of a stone commemorating our visit to Fudan, he had promised to name a gene after each person in the delegation. (We’ve got our fingers crossed that none of us give a name to the gene for some horrible disease.)

After lunch, we headed to the Oriental Pearl Tower, where we were welcomed with a brass band. The third-tallest tower in the world, and the tallest in Asia, it is 1,535 feet high. After an elevator took us up the tower at a rate of 7 meters per second, we were rewarded with a… dismal view. It was a foggy day in Shanghai, so we couldn’t see much of the fabled skyline.

We were then released for a couple of hours of shopping before our evening cruise along the river, which turned into a truly hilarious faculty-student karaoke session and roast. Seeing a certain professor (who shall remain nameless) sing “Barbie Girl” was a highlight of the trip.

At least for me, the next day’s travel from Shanghai to Beijing, and from Beijing back to Newark, came far too soon.