Professor Shu-Sheng Jiang

Doctor of Science

2003 - Orator: Professor Sir John Beringer

I very much regret that our honorary graduand, Professor Shu-Sheng Jiang is unable to be with us today because Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) is still a problem in Nanjing, China, and he is unable to leave his post as President of Nanjing University. He is represented here today by Mr Wang Yongda, from the Chinese embassy.

Shu-Sheng Jiang was born in the Jiangsu Province of China on the 2nd of April 1940. The country was in turmoil and would continue to be for many years. The reasons why China was so unstable are many and complex. European interference contributed to the fall of a nation whose first recorded dynasty, the Shang, emerged about 40 centuries ago, and the formation of the Republic of China in 1912. The re-emerging giant that is modern China has been shaped by many years of internal conflict, as have the lives of the 1,200,000,000 people living in China today.

Unfortunately for the Chinese, the Republic formed in 1912 was unable to unite people and the country entered a period of almost 37 years of internal warfare. In 1931 Japan annexed Manchuria and in 1937 invaded China itself, leading to a period of intense turmoil as pro and anti communist forces harassed each other and the Japanese invaders. With the end of the Second World War and defeat of the Japanese in 1945, civil strife in China entered its final phase with the open confrontation between communist forces and Chiang Kaishek’s American-supported Kuomintang armies. This ended with the flight of Chiang Kaishek to Taiwan in 1949 and the proclamation of the Republic of China by Mao Zedong. It was during these chaotic times that Shu-Sheng Jiang spent the first nine years of his life.

For those of us born in the affluent West, to whom warfare and the collapse of society are things that happen to other people far away, it is salutary to recognise the challenges faced by people whose countries have emerged from years of turmoil. Not the least of these difficulties, which still faces China, is constant pressure to embrace Western technology, political procedures, and ways of thinking. I will not dwell on why I am unhappy about this, but would stress the importance of a nation’s history in determining its identity and hence its future. The legacy of many centuries of civilisation has been of enormous importance to the Chinese Communist Party, which has struggled to produce a society that is unique. Whether or not that struggle has always been conducted wisely is open to doubt. What is not in doubt is the importance of their goal to provide a stable and lasting form of government for almost a quarter of the world’s population.

Mr Chancellor, let us move from philosophy and back to the China in which the young Shu-Sheng Jiang grew up. After the formation of the Republic of China in 1949, internal warfare ceased and the Communist party set about the reconstruction of industry and the social fabric of the nation. Great strides were made until 1958 when the Great Leap Forward was initiated by Mao Zedong. The plan was that China would become a developed nation almost overnight through massive increases in the output of food and industrial products. Unfortunately for the Chinese people, who made superhuman efforts, the targets were unachievable. To add insult to injury the country was subjected to catastrophic floods and droughts in 1959 and 1960 leading to severe food shortages, whose impact was exacerbated by the removal of all aid by the Soviet Union in 1960. It was during this time that Shu-Sheng Jiang first entered Nanjing University as a student in 1958, graduating with an honours degree in 1963. I wonder how many of you in the Great Hall here today have thought during your undergraduate years how hard life was for you? I wonder how many of us really know what hardship is? Shu-Sheng Jiang stayed-on in the university, which has been his spiritual home ever since, and was appointed as a Research Assistant and Lecturer in 1963.

In 1966 perhaps the worst catastrophe ever to befall the Chinese, the Cultural Revolution, was initiated as an attempt to revitalise Chinese society and remind people of the need for constant revolution. Red Guards were empowered to wipe out Chinese history, which they tackled with an inhuman disregard to the fate of their fellow citizens, ancient artefacts, and the overwhelming importance of knowledge and learning. Even 16 years later academics I met in China could still not come to terms with what had effectively been the planned destruction of thousands of years of culture, respect for tradition, and the importance of education. The country is only now recovering from the almost complete disruption to the school and university system. I do not wish to dwell on the three years of the Cultural Revolution, or the next dark decade. I have an overwhelming respect for the hundreds of Chinese people I have met over the last twenty years who have not only survived the period, but have come out of it as caring and thoughtful individuals with a deep love for their country.

Mao died in 1976 and China entered a period in which relationships with other countries started to improve, and massive strides were made to recover from the chaos of the Cultural Revolution. When one considers that in China there are about 1,000,000 schools and 1,000 universities, recovery in terms of improving education and research continues to be a massive task. As an indication of what can be achieved when a nation sets its mind to a task we should realise that in 1970 the great Chinese Universities, such as the Peking and Nanjing Universities, were essentially barren intellectually and almost devoid of materials for conducting research. They are now players on the world stage and the University of Bristol is proud to have close links with Nanjing University. A major step in the intellectual recovery of the universities was taken in the 1970s, when top academics were allowed to obtain passports to enable them to study abroad and catch-up with nearly two decades of isolation. Shu-Sheng Jiang was one such scholar. In 1979 he received support from the British Council to come and study with Professor Andrew Lang, who is with us today, in the Department of Physics in this University.

Mr Chancellor, imagine what it must have been like for Shu-Sheng Jiang on arrival in England. His university, Nanjing, was slowly recovering, but access to the most recent literature and equipment for research was extremely limited. All scientists will recognise the thrill of obtaining access to equipment that will allow you to do the experiments that you have always wished to do. How much greater must it have been for someone so starved of resources? Shu-Sheng Jiang spent his first few weeks in Cambridge on a British Council-funded language course. I am not sure what they taught him, or indeed what he needed to learn, but what is certain is that when he arrived in Bristol the University gained a friend for life. Shu-Sheng Jiang came to Bristol to work on X-ray diffraction with single crystals to study lattice defects. For the non-scientists among us, the study is about flaws in crystals, which help to determine the value of the diamonds some of you are wearing.

Naturally, when preparing to talk about an individual’s past one interviews the person’s friends and fossicks around for “interesting snippets”. Shu-Sheng Jiang appears to have left no hostages to fortune; an admirable trait. Probing via students and other contacts within China has elicited only high praise for the way in which he has run the University, and consistently warm words about him. I had the privilege to join in the 100th year celebrations of the University of Nanjing last year. Charm, efficiency and enthusiasm are the words that best sum up my impression of President Jiang. “I don’t really enjoy my job as President of the university; I would much rather be back in the laboratory”. I wonder how many people have heard Shu-Sheng Jiang say this? Despite his desire not to remain an administrator, he has recently agreed to accept his colleagues’ request that he serves a second term as President.

Of course I would like to believe that it was his education in the University of Bristol that prepared Shu-Sheng Jiang for his role as leader of a great university, but recognise that it is only part of the reason. As well as having a natural fluency with language, Shu-Sheng Jiang also had that invaluable knack of getting other people to do things for him. This did not happen through coercion, but through the formation of friendships arising from his natural warmth as a person. In those days to make rapid progress in X-ray crystallography it was extremely important to have a skilled photographer working with you. I have a feeling from a recent conversation that Professor Lang is still somewhat envious of Shu-Sheng Jiang’s ability effectively to take-over the departmental photographer for his research. His time in Bristol was very productive academically and his pleasure in having worked here is very quickly expressed whenever someone mentions Bristol to him.

It is, of course, required that one lists the achievements of honorary graduands, rather as our regiments list their battle honours, to encourage others. However, such lists have a tendency to enthuse and bore one in almost equal measure. I shall, therefore, be selective. After all, being president of one of the top five universities in the world’s most populous country, which has a history of four thousand years of civilisation and learning, is perhaps proof in itself of outstanding ability. Shu-Sheng Jiang left Bristol in 1982 and returned to Nanjing University as a Lecturer. In 1987, following a year at Durham University he returned again to Nanjing as an Associate Professor. In 1990 he became a full Professor. President Jiang’s scientific abilities have been recognised both through visiting professorships in the University of Sydney and the CNR in Italy, and in the receipt of six National and Provincial prizes in Science and Technology. He has also served two four-year terms as a Member of the Standing Committee of the People’s Congress of China.

President Jiang’s longstanding relationship with the Physics department of this University was strengthened this March by the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding to enhance both research and the exchange of students and academics between the Physics Departments of our universities. It gives me great pleasure that this outstanding academic and friend of the University of Bristol should see his dream of close formal links between our great universities being fulfilled in this manner.

Mr Chancellor, it gives me even greater pleasure that we are strengthening our links further in this ceremony. I present to you Shu-Sheng Jiang, represented by proxy by Wang Yongda, as eminently worthy of the degree of Doctor of Science, honoris causa.

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