An Interview with Li Zhong Yu

Features Editor Joyce Wang interviews NYU Shanghai Chancellor Lizhong Yu.


OCA: As the Representative of Municipal People’s Congress, do you focus your work in the educational domain?
Yu: I focus my work on two aspects. One of them is my major, which is resource, environment and sustainable development; the other one is educational aspect. It’s because these are the two fields that I am the most familiar with. Of course I would sometimes step foot in other topics. This is Representative of Municipal People’s Congress– they can directly affect the decision made by the municipal government. About the Representative of District People’s Congress, I haven’t done much about this up to now. But I think they would set foot in more partial problems, for example specific problems in Pudong New District. Because they can’t directly affect the decision of municipal government. Of course, we could give some advice and suggestions through Representative of Municipal People’s Congress, but it’s far more indirect. But why would I agree to participate in the election of Representative of District People’s Congress? It’s because NYU Shanghai is in Pudong New District, and we need a lot of support from the government of Pudong New District. And of course we expect to have more support while we develop and grow. So as a Representative of District People’s Congress, I will have more chance to communicate with political leaders in district government, and I would be able to report any troubles and difficulties we meet in the process of running the school.

OCA: Do you see any new challenge and opportunity from Representative of Municipal People’s Congress to Representative of District People’s Congress?
Yu: Being a Representative of District People’s Congress means that you need to face more specific issues that come from people’s real life. As a representative of people, how do you tell what people think? How do you help people solve their problems? It may be harder. Because as a Representative of Municipal People’s Congress, I mainly propose through suggestions and advices, I don’t need to answer a specific question raised by a specific citizen. (Being a Representative of District People’s Congress,) if they raise the same question to me twice, they would say, “We already talked about this last time, why don’t you have any action?” Then people would think that this representative is inefficient and unhelpful. However, this is not usually the case when I was a Representative of District People’s Congress, because the questions I raised were general, or sometimes political– those are the issues that I see have big influences in Shanghai after my own thinking. Actually in recent years, as a Representative of Municipal People’s Congress, I have been participating in a lot of events and conferences. When the government needs to discuss about a proposed law, for example the recent Food Safety Law and Smoking Control Law–these are results of several rounds of discussion. They [the government] would invite some representatives to participate in the discussion. And if they ask for me, I would go and tell them my opinions and fill in forms. This works is all very time consuming. So it is not an easy job to be a representative. [Laughs]

OCA: Do you think your educational background and the your experiences in working in education industry is helpful for your job of working as a representative?
Yu: Definitely. Basically, my career life is spent in college other than in the suburban areas, so I know relative more about college education including primary education. I have experienced a lot and I know what the problem is. That’s why all of the questions I raised can get to the points. There were representatives that once mentioned that necessity of setting up Shanghainese dialect course in elementary school and junior high school. I didn’t really support the idea because I think if everything that is necessary for us to learn has to be taught as a course, it is too much burden for students. If on the one hand, we are trying to relieve students’ burden, but on the other hand, we are increasing it, then how can we achieve our goals? Language itself is a result of the impact from one’s surroundings, hence we need to build a Shanghainese dialect speaking environment. For example, radios and TV programs can arrange a certain number of shows in Shanghainese; nowadays, the announcements on buses are spoken in both mandarin and Shanghainese. These are the examples of things we should do since it can maintain a local culture. However, it doesn’t necessarily mean everything we should do must be taught in class. I think I know these issues because I have been working in education industry for so many years. In terms of a joint Chinese-foreign cooperatively-run schools, this is what I have experienced myself. I can immediately point out any problem during the process. The other field in which I have expertise, is the environmental sustainable development. The development of Shanghai is facing one problem: how to improve our living environment? In fact, in the past few years, I can tell the government has put a lot of effort in it. The government has spent a lot of money and time in doing so. I have proposed some suggestion to tackle environmental problems based on my professional knowledge background, and I hope the government will attach great importance to problems like this. This is pretty interesting, and it’s also a kind of social responsibility.

OCA: Speaking of political systems, many people are saying that in China the political participation of people is pretty low, what do you think about this?
Yu: I think we should see this problem historically. If we see it from an isolated historical stage, compared to US, UK, India, Korea, Japan and African countries, people may think that Chinese political democracy is very little. It’s very easy to reach this conclusion. However, if we see democracy from a historical perspective– the construction of democracy in any country needs effort and time. Democracy should be constructed accordingly with the condition of our own country. If democratic awareness of people and democratic supervision of the whole system haven’t gone far enough, pushing the development of democracy itself too hard can bring all kinds of troubles. So from my perspective, the system of People’s Congress is not a perfect one, but it is under the consideration of condition of China. To realize democracy in a controllable range can largely avoid problems like bribery in election. So we need to see democracy from the perspective of historical development. Chinese democracy has been making progress. In old times, the election always ended with unanimous vote, but it’s not the case any more. People can choose to abstain and they can also choose to oppose; everyone can express their will now, even though it is just an emotional blow-off. But you can use the right that you are given. So I think our democracy is making progress, even though we still have a long way to go if we want to reach the ideal democracy. And also, if we see it horizontally, the choice of democracy can be multiple due to different cultural background. American democracy doesn’t mean the symbol of democracy. The 2016 election in US and Britain exiting from EU are not what people wanted, and neither are they smart choices. So how to find the most suitable democratic system is what we need to pay attention to.

OCA: Do you think that being a representative of people would have any effect or promotion in NYU Shanghai’s development?
Yu: For me, I have the right to speak, I have the platform to express my thoughts and opinions. These thoughts and opinions may be about the general development of education, and they can also specify in the future development of NYU Shanghai. Though this platform, I can better represent people and use my right as a representative, according to the information that I gathered and the goals we want to achieve, to help our school and education to go further.

This article was written byJingyi Wang. Please send an email to to get in touch.
Photo Credit: ECNU

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