Donation to Yale sparks debate

By Ai Yang (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-01-11 07:51
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A Chinese graduate's record-setting $8,888,888 donation to his school at Yale University has stirred wide debate at home. While some say it's up to Zhang Lei to do as he likes, others question why he didn't donate to his alma mater in Beijing.

Yale President Richard Levin and School of Management (SOM) Dean Sharon M. Oster were in Beijing last week with Zhang when he announced his donation. They were taking part in a panel discussion called "Investing in the Middle Kingdom".

Donation to Yale sparks debate

Levin said: "This truly extraordinary and auspicious gift reflects the deep commitment to Yale that Lei Zhang shares with so many fellow graduates of the School of Management. Lei's generosity also represents a significant step toward the realization of the SOM's new campus."

The donation will primarily help build the new SOM campus, while a portion will provide scholarship support for the International Relations Program at Yale's new Jackson Institute of Global Affairs, as well as fund a variety of China-related activities at the university.

Opinions at home have been split in online forums since the story broke a few days ago. On, a forum run by Renmin University of China where Zhang was enrolled as a student of International Finance in 1989, netizens including alumni of the university have taken sides.

Some asked why Zhang, who graduated from Yale less than 10 years ago, chose an overseas institution rather than his Chinese university for the donation. But a larger group of online users voiced support for Zhang's move and said there is still room for improvement regarding management of universities in China.

A prominent analyst urged people to be more tolerant toward the donation.

"We should look at this news from an international standpoint," said Chi Fulin, professor and president of China Institute for Development and Reform. Chi said although Yale is the recipient of the fund, the donation will also benefit China.

Donation to Yale sparks debate

"It will promote more Sino-US exchange programs, and more Chinese will be involved in these exchanges." He said that China also has received a lot of support and funding from overseas donors, and Zhang's move should be regarded with "respect, understanding and encouragement".

In terms of cultural and educational exchanges between China and the United States, financial aid provided by the US government is rather limited, and a larger part of it comes from non-government organizations. "China should also try to attract more donations through such channels in the future," he said.

According to Yale's website, the SOM graduate was born in Central China in 1972. At the age of 17 he scored the highest in the university entrance exam out of about 100,000 students in his province before being enrolled by Renmin University.

Zhang said Yale changed his life and taught him the spirit of giving. In his profile he wrote: "Yale has been helping China for more than 100 years. Many Chinese leaders were educated at Yale. But the relationship has been one-way for too long and I want to help change that."

Su Jing, who graduated from Yale with a master's degree in environmental law and policy in 2008, shares the view.

"I would consider donating to Yale too once I'm more financially successful. It taught me so much such as networking and world values," Su told China Daily, adding that Chinese universities should improve their alumni network to let the graduates know that they are not forgotten.

Zhang, who graduated from the Yale School of Management in 2002, worked for the Yale Investments Office under Chief Investment Officer David Swensen. In 2005, Zhang founded Hillhouse Capital Management Ltd, a Beijing-based investment fund that manages $2.5 billion.

The Yale SOM seeks to raise $300 million by 2011 to ensure its "leadership in 21st century management education", according to the official website. One of the 11 other donors listed on the site is Laura Cha from Hong Kong, former vice-chairman of the China Securities Regulation Commission.