BEIJING -- Former U.S. President George H.W. Bush saluted Cornell University and President Hunter R. Rawlings today before a large international audience at the 2005 Beijing Forum, held in China's parliament, the Great Hall of the People, Tiananmen Square.
"I also want to salute one of our great universities in the United States -- Cornell University," Bush said, also acknowledging Rawlings. His remarks were met by loud cheers and applause from the Ithaca delegation of alumni, faculty and staff in attendance. "You can see that President Rawlings brought six people with him, and they're all clapping for him out there," Bush joked. "We salute you, sir, and we're just delighted you're participating in this forum."
Bush's remarks preceded the keynote address delivered by Rawlings to the forum, an academic summit on Chinese and Asian cultural and economic issues, organized by Peking University. Rawlings discussed the role that higher education is playing in China's aspirations for the future.
In 1974 Bush was sent to China as chief of the U.S. Liaison Office in Beijing. "Thirty years ago, China was isolated, regimented, there was little light at night and the body language of the Chinese people was guarded," he said. "Now China is swept up in diversity, more confident, more prosperous, it's a happier place. So much has changed."
Bush also acknowledged the presence of Robert M. Gates, president of Texas A&M University and former director of the Central Intelligence Agency. "In the wake of the bloodiest century in history, there is greater freedom in the world. Tens of millions of people now breathe free air. Tell these kids at Texas A&M and at Cornell, or whatever school, that [for the future of China] I'm an optimist," he said.
In his keynote speech to the forum on "The Modern Research University: Intellectual Innovator and Cultural Bridge," Rawlings evoked the memory of Hu Shih, Cornell Class of 1914, the great Chinese philosopher who brought literary reform to China in the 1920s. Hu made it easier to speak and write Chinese, which improved literacy in China.
Similarly, today, Rawlings said, China is experiencing a reawakening that is spawning economic, educational, scientific and technologic expansion. "Here in Beijing, which is gearing up for the 2008 Olympics, and throughout China, the signs of development are hard to miss. By some estimates, China is likely to be the world's largest economy, surpassing that of the U.S. by 2050."
Rawlings continued: "Today, as in Hu Shih's day, higher education is playing a significant role in China's aspirations for the future, and the scale of the endeavor has expanded exponentially. In 1910, Hu Shih was one of 70 Chinese students to come to the United States on a scholarship. Today, approximately 20,000 Chinese students enter American colleges and universities each year."
China is investing heavily in education. In the 1980s, only two to three percent of Chinese secondary students went on to a university. In 2003, the figure was 17 percent. In 1999, university enrollments jumped by half. The number of new doctoral students jumped to 48,700 from 14,500 between 1998 and 2003. "This great expansion of higher education in China is ushering in a second Chinese renaissance," he said.
"I believe that China, as it moves forward to claim its place in the knowledge economy, can benefit from the experiences of other nations and that it can also provide perspectives that will be valuable elsewhere, including at universities in the United States," Rawlings said.
China can learn from the approaches and experiences in higher education around the world. "But knowledge exchange is a two-way street, and I believe there is much that other nations can learn from China."
Rawlings concluded: "I believe that a pattern of two-way exchange of information and people is in the best interests of Chinese universities and American universities. And in a larger sense, it is also in the interests of promoting peace, prosperity and harmony in an increasingly interconnected world."