Xiaoying Zhou

China’s Internet Users to Schwarzman Scholarship: Meh

(Via Bigstockphoto)

Is this another sign of the coming of the “China Century?”

The Schwarzman Scholars Program, backed by Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman and launched at Tsinghua University in Beijing on April 21, might have the potential to become as prestigious as the Rhodes Scholarship one day.

In 1902, six years after the death of Cecil John Rhodes, British-born South African tycoon, the Rhodes Scholarships were established to invite foreign students to study at the University of Oxford. The scholarships were originally awarded to students from the British colonies, the United States, and Germany, all critical players on the world stage.

More than a hundred years later, Stephen Schwarzman decided that it’s time to add another country on that list. Very similar to the Rhodes Scholarship in structure, the Schwarzman Scholars Program will start in 2016, recruiting students around the world to study in China at a one-year master’s program. According to Schwarzman, his aim is to help bridge the gap between China and the West, reducing tensions between future world leaders as China continues to grow as the world’s leading economic power.

Schwarzman pledged a donation of $300 million dollars, $100 million of which from his personal asset, $100 million raised from other donors, and $100 million to be raised by the end of this year. This is one of the biggest philanthropic donations China has received. To show their support, both Xi Jinping and Barack Obama sent letters of congratulations. China’s Vice Prime Minister Liu Yandong, Australia’s former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, and Canada’s former Prime Minister Mulroney all showed up during the press conference.

Not much of a stir on Sina Weibo

The launching of the Schwarzman Scholars Program made quite a stir with the higher-ups, and sent waves of excitement to Tsinghua students as well as those passionate about higher education in China. But “Su Shiming” (苏世民, the Chinese name of Schwarzman adopted by the program) hasn’t seem to generate much chatter on China’s blogosphere. On Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter, a search of the Schwarzman’s elegant Chinese name rendered about 200 results.

Some users who seem to know more about the China Investment Corporation’s involvement with Blackstone pointed to possible deals under the table. @Yifan一帆 made a snarky comment: “[Tsinghua Professor] Li Daokui once tricked the China Investment Corporation into investing in Blackstone and the CIC lost its shirt. Now Blackstone donated 100 million [dollars] to Tsinghua for this Schwarzman College, and Li Daokui gets to be the Dean.”

Corporate interests aside, Schwarzman’s commitment to China will undoubtedly see its reward, though just how exactly his project will help shape the world’s political future remains an open question.

Foreign scholarship before national disaster?

However, while most posts about the program itself had less than ten comments, it has already become the center of controversy in another context. Zhang Lifen (@张力奋), editor-in-chief of Financial Times’ Chinese channel, posted the following tweet that generated 3,000 likes, more than 25,000 reposts and 10,000 comments within a day:

“CCTV’s 7pm newscast didn’t feature rescue efforts after the Ya’an earthquake as their top news story, but the launching ceremony of some Tsinghua scholarship program! This is beyond me! Is it because Chairman Xi and President Obama wrote letters of congratulations for the scholarship? What should Chinese journalists and editors do? How should journalism be taught? ”

Did the earthquake happen at an inopportune time and trump the attention that the Schwarzman Scholarship should have received? Or did the Chinese government merely push it to the forefront to divert its public’s eye from Ya’an?

@肥牛投资 ’s comment is representative of many angry at CCTV for putting the program before the earthquake: “Top news on TV in Hong Kong was about Ya’an. This is when you see the difference between democracies and non-democracies. In a democratic country, human lives are the most precious; in a non-democratic country, government officials.”

Let’s look to the future

But will Schwarzman’s brainchild really rival the Rhodes one day?

Taisu Zhang, a recent graduate of Yale Law School, shared his own views. In his opinion, Tsinghua, while considered the MIT of the Middle Kingdom, had never enjoyed the same prestige as Oxford, so if Schwarzman is serious about his claim to challenge the Rhodes’ prestige, there is going to be a tough uphill battle.

The actual quality of education at Tsinghua inspires even less confidence in Zhang: “the fact that the fellowship will be offering its own masters degrees, rather than simply following the Rhodes model and allowing students to enroll in usual Tsinghua masters degrees, does suggest that Schwarzman is perhaps a bit skeptical about the general quality of Chinese university education.” But how Chinese will the program really be if the program starts employing its own faculty, which it’s very likely to do?

The program’s location at the heart of China’s capital and technology hub, of course, is a key attraction. However, it remains to be seen how many of the world’s best and brightest would brave Beijing’s terrible air quality for a chance at world leadership.

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Xiaoying Zhou

Xiaoying Zhou is a student at Yale University.
  • Elliott Bernstein

    I also noticed a lack of strong response on weibo to the news. I ended up translating a number of comments, some of which echo the comments noted in this article. I personally like the one about Freemasonry and conspiracy theories: http://ednewschina.com/?p=507

  • BobbyWong

    Why would it make news in Weibo? it’s not like the scholarship is available to Chinese students. #audicence

    • Elliott Bernstein

      According to the piece in the NYT about the scholarship, 20% of the students will come from China.