(China-16) A special brilliant young man from RURAL China…making his mark in USA

hejiangruralchina

SPECIAL NOTE: Having lived and worked in China for 7 years, He Jiang’s story is nothing new to me. There are many Hejiangs now pursuing advanced degrees in Europe and in USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand…Chinese students, like the Indians, are taking over advanced studies in the American campuses. So He Jiang’s story did not impress me, but for many “ignorant” Americans, they think he is God or Einstein, or Stephen Hawkings! Many smart Chinese students did not come from rich families, and they have one thing in common: very smart but poor! like He Jiang. I supported briefly Chen Chao, a Phd student, hoping to pursue Economics at Brown! Both parents are vegetable farmers in China. I supported a Phd student, now pursuing engineering in a Hong Kong university…both parents are poor migrant workers in China, so poor I had to stay in a relative’s house when I visited them somewhere in Chongqing, China! So Je Jiang’s story is nothing new to me. And rural China will not “vanish” or “disappear”…President Xi Jinping wants young college graduates to return home to their villages, small towns, to help build it up…that is an interesting trend in China today…Xi does not want another Shanghai or Shenzhen…he wants wealth distributed all over China…go home, he said, and use your knowledge and experiences to build up China…and interestingly, some places are called “rural” areas in China, but I spent many times in one particular “village” and it looks more like an European resort town…where I am fascinated with mansions here and there…granted many are working away in big cities! But they continue to build villas and mansion…out of nowhere in China! in the so-called Rural China! Steve November 20

Harvard pioneer’s book tells story of a vanishing rural China

By Hong Xiao in New York | China Daily USA | Updated: 2017-10-06

 

When He Jiang started to tell one of his Harvard professors about growing up in rural China, the professor suggested he write down his story.

He, the first Chinese to deliver a Harvard University commencement address, has published that memoir.

The book is in Chinese and titled Walking Out A Way of My Own (translated) with 200,000 characters. It records the different aspects of rural life in China at the end of 20th century. The book’s English version will be published in the US shortly.

What inspired He to write the book were his occasional chats with noted historian Niall Ferguson, a professor at Harvard, about five years ago.

After listening to a lecture by Ferguson, He wanted to share his thoughts on the rise of China’s economy and the changes in Chinese society. He told Ferguson that he was born in a traditional village in China, later relocated to town for middle school, and then went to college in Hefei, the capital of Anhui province, before heading to Harvard in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Ferguson said He’s unique experiences were like “a miniature version of the Industrial Revolution”.

With that support, He began to collect stories about the village he grew up in from his early memories.

“When stitching them together, a panorama of rural life will unfold,” He said.

“This is a story of migration and generosity, of the humanism, which makes life socially valid, and it is a tale of how a family produced a remarkable son whose efforts went on to make effective his vision of scientific truth,” Kevin McGrath, professor of American poetry at Harvard University, wrote in the book’s foreword.

He, now a 29-year-old postdoctoral fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, grew up in a small village with limited educational opportunities.

He graduated in 2009 from the University of Science and Technology of China in Hefei – one of China’s top universities – with a bachelor’s degree, and was accepted into Harvard’s PhD program on a full scholarship the same year.

In January, He made the 2017 Forbes “30 under 30” list of promising entrepreneurs, innovators and “game-changers” in the healthcare category.

Forbes described He “as a farmer in a village with no cars, electricity, or running water. His ramshackle school once collapsed in a rainstorm. As a postdoc at Harvard, he used a new technology called single-virus tracking, super-resolution imaging to understand more about how influenza infects cells, and discovered human genes with strong anti-viral effects. He’s now applying the same techniques to neurons and white blood cells. His other passion: getting science and medicine to places they aren’t reaching, like his own village, where his mother once treated his spider-bite with fire.”

He said the book contains a lot of meaning. “It’s not just a memoir about myself, but about my family and the rural life I lived in the village,” He said.

“With the modernization of China, some traditional lifestyles have fallen by the wayside. People living in the city may have a sense of curiosity and alienation about country life,” He said.

“So by writing this book, I answered two simple questions: How did country folks live a life? and what is the real rural life?” He said.

“I hope the rural life and people I wrote about in the stories could arouse the nostalgia of those who are rural-to-urban migrants and might be able to record the era that is now closing,” He said.

He atypically wrote the draft in English. “Because translating English into Chinese would be easier,” He said.

After finishing the draft, He translated it into Chinese himself. Editors in China and the US advanced the draft in different directions.

The prose style of the draft has been kept for the Chinese version; for the English version, “the book will be adapted into a novel in consideration of American readers’ preference, which will be published as a co-written novel”, said He.

In May 2016, the biochemistry PhD delivered a speech representing Harvard’s 13 graduate and professional schools at the commencement.

“After only five years, I changed, the people I mentioned in my stories changed, and the rural life in China changed,” He said.

“For those who know only the China of present-day Beijing and Shanghai, He Jiang’s memoir is a vivid introduction to the (almost) lost world of rural China,” wrote Ferguson.

“His own story is an inspiring one of academic ascent, from his father’s farmyard to Harvard Yard. But it is his vivid portrayal of the life he left behind that I most admire. Although a scientist by training, He is a memoirist of great skill, whose light and yet affecting touch put me in mind of the young Chekhov,” Ferguson wrote.

“He Jiang has accomplished a most spectacular and wonderful memoir that will soon become a cultural classic, telling of how it is that education changes lives,” McGrath said.

“The book is a beautifully rendered account of a rural childhood and the mystery of human ambition; it speaks of how a young man became one of the leading research scientists in our postmodern world,” McGrath wrote.

xiaohong@chinadailyusa.com

 

 

He Jiang: Making history at Harvard

By Niu Yue in New York (chinadaily.com.cn)Updated: 2016-05-27 10:25

 
 

He Jiang, the first Chinese graduate to ever speak at Harvard’s commencement ceremony, has become a star on Chinese social media.

“Awesome! Technology and science will change the world. As a graduate from Harvard, he wins honors for our country!” wrote Weibo user Danuannanpanpaner.

On Thursday morning, Harvard commencement addresses, with their centuries-old history, welcomed their first-ever Chinese orator — He Jiang, a 2016 PhD graduate in biochemistry, delivered a speech representing the graduate students at the commencement.

He Jiang began his address with a childhood memory from his small village in central China’s Hunan province. He was bitten on the hand by a poisonous spider and his mother treated it with an old folk cure — setting his hand on fire — rather than going to a doctor, because there were no doctors.

Studying at Harvard, made him see how scientific discovery could help others in simple ways and got him thinking of the uneven distribution of science and technology in the modern world and wondering what scientists could do to change the situation.

“My experience reminds me how important it is for researchers to communicate our knowledge to those who need it. Because using the science we already have, we could probably bring my village and thousands like it into the world you and I take for granted every day. And that’s an impact every one of us can make,” He said in his speech.

“The true value of research is to communicate the outcomes of the research to the world indiscriminately for the benefits of the human race all over the world,” wrote Facebook user Louis Kwong.

He Jiang was among the three graduating representatives to speak at the commencement. By tradition, one of the orations is delivered in Latin by a graduating senior from the college; the second, in English, is also by a graduating college senior; and the third by a student representative of the graduate and professional schools.

Other guest speakers sharing the podium this year included Academy Award-winning director Steven Spielberg.

To win the opportunity to speak, He went through three rounds of fierce competition, including drafts and auditions. The three orators were chosen by a panel of judges to deliver an address — from memory — to an assemblage of approximately 32,000, including members of the governing board, honorary degree recipients, faculty, parents, alumni and graduates.

 

 

 

Asked why he entered the competition, He simply said, “I wanted more voices from China to be heard.”

But ability and hard work are what really led He to the podium.

He grew up in a small village with poor educational opportunities. His father, who didn’t finish high school and was locked out of many work opportunities in big cities because of it, impressed upon He and his younger brother from their boyhood the importance of studying hard, using his own experience as an example.

“My father was always strict with us so we’d avoid repeating his experience,” He said.

Unlike his father, He’s mother was more like a friend, who always encouraged him through the challenges of learning and life. “One of the biggest problems for rural students is that the available educational resources are limited and students lack motivation,” He said. “So thanks go to my dad for pushing me to study in that environment and to my mom, whose encouragement helped keep me focused on my studies.”

He graduated from the University of Science and Technology of China — one of China’s top universities — with a bachelor’s degree in 2009 and was accepted into Harvard’s PhD program on full scholarship the same year. All he knew about America was from books and films and he was in for some culture shock.

“Studying at Harvard, everybody around me was outstanding and my English was not as fluent as it is now. I lost confidence. I even began to wonder how I ever got accepted to Harvard,” he said.

But with time he found his footing.

“The thing I like about American campus culture is that it’s diversified and encourages diversity,” he said. “As long as you are willing to discover, you can find a variety of resources you are interested in, to communicate with professionals and to make friends.”

He took a job as resident tutor for undergraduates and through that he learned about the commencement orations competition.

Apart from working and studying, He took part in activities both on and off campus, including start-up and innovation sharing sessions, activities held by Chinese student associations and reading clubs.

“I’ve always had a great interest in literature,” He said.

One of his favorite authors is Peter Hessler. “His books River Town, Oracle Bones and Country Driving are all my favorites,” he said.

 

 

 

 

 

Asked why he entered the competition, He simply said, “I wanted more voices from China to be heard.”

But ability and hard work are what really led He to the podium.

He grew up in a small village with poor educational opportunities. His father, who didn’t finish high school and was locked out of many work opportunities in big cities because of it, impressed upon He and his younger brother from their boyhood the importance of studying hard, using his own experience as an example.

“My father was always strict with us so we’d avoid repeating his experience,” He said.

Unlike his father, He’s mother was more like a friend, who always encouraged him through the challenges of learning and life. “One of the biggest problems for rural students is that the available educational resources are limited and students lack motivation,” He said. “So thanks go to my dad for pushing me to study in that environment and to my mom, whose encouragement helped keep me focused on my studies.”

He graduated from the University of Science and Technology of China — one of China’s top universities — with a bachelor’s degree in 2009 and was accepted into Harvard’s PhD program on full scholarship the same year. All he knew about America was from books and films and he was in for some culture shock.

“Studying at Harvard, everybody around me was outstanding and my English was not as fluent as it is now. I lost confidence. I even began to wonder how I ever got accepted to Harvard,” he said.

But with time he found his footing.

“The thing I like about American campus culture is that it’s diversified and encourages diversity,” he said. “As long as you are willing to discover, you can find a variety of resources you are interested in, to communicate with professionals and to make friends.”

He took a job as resident tutor for undergraduates and through that he learned about the commencement orations competition.

Apart from working and studying, He took part in activities both on and off campus, including start-up and innovation sharing sessions, activities held by Chinese student associations and reading clubs.

“I’ve always had a great interest in literature,” He said.

One of his favorite authors is Peter Hessler. “His books River Town, Oracle Bones and Country Driving are all my favorites,” he said.

Encouraged by a history professor, He took up a pen and started writing about rural China in English.

“China has been undergoing such rapid development in recent years and China’s villages have developed rapidly as well. Foreigners have more knowledge of China’s mega cities, but with a limited number of channels, their impressions of China’s rural life may still be lacking,” said He, who has deep feelings for his hometown and still goes back to visit.

“I hope more of China’s voices will be heard in the West, since what we have done so far is far from enough,” He said

Taking advantage of weekends and spare time, He finished up his book and just signed with one of Europe’s biggest publishers.

He has already begun work as a postdoctoral fellow at MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, where he will study malaria and hepatitis virus infection, and ultrasensitive early cancer diagnostics.

It hasn’t been an easy road, but that’s okay. “Perhaps it’s because I suffered a lot growing up, so many frustrations to me are things I can definitely bear,” He said.

 

 

 

 

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