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Professor Rui Mu: Forever young

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Peking University, June 2, 2011: Rui Mu, a renowned Chinese legal expert, educator, and senior professor at Peking University, passed away on March 20. PKU Executive Vice President Wu Zhipan wrote an article in memory of Professor Rui. Full text:


 Portrait of Prof. Rui Mu (File photo) 


Professor Rui Mu’s 103-year life crossed three centuries. Born in a wealthy merchant family in Shanghai, he studied in the most modern "Western-style" school at that time. He was eloquent in English, French, and German, and proficient in Russian and Latin. After getting his Master of Law from the University of Paris and his doctorate from Frankfurt University, he went back to China serving as a law professor at National Southwest Associated University, later as deputy dean of the Peking University Law Department, and founding director of the Institute of Economic Law and the International Economic Law Institute.


Though being marginalized during the "Cultural Revolution" (1966-76), he was immediately filled with energy after the reform and opening up, and laid the basis of two disciplines — economic law and international economic law in New China. During his lifetime, he was always active and energetic. He would drink functional soft drinks in his 90s and eat chocolates and roast ducks even when he reached 100. All those impressive stories are like a legend continuously told on PKU campus and will finally become integrated into PKU's history.


Professor Rui led a long life, but he kept thinking as a young man. 1985 was my last year as a graduate student under the instruction of Professor Rui. When Professor Zhang Lixing with the Law Department suggested building a law database after he returned from a research trip to the US, we students were a little surprised and confused because we never heard of it before. However, 70-year-old Professor Rui was excited at this suggestion and declared at once in a meeting: “We are to establish a law database." When someone asked what the use of it was, Professor Rui told us that many professors at American law schools had digitalized legal provisions and cases, and thus the computer became a storage from which legal materials could be automatically found out. He also explained that there would be more legal provisions, cases as well as classifications, and as time went by, it would be inadequate and inconvenient to search information from printed materials.


Professor Rui was not only a thinker, but also a doer. Soon he applied for a grant from the Economic Law Institute with China's State Council - 50,000 yuan - a large amount of money at that time, and also received donations from abroad. Then we bought computers, renovated computer rooms, and set up "Computer-aided Law Institute” to develop elementary law information retrieval system. Professor Rui would come to supervise the working process every day by himself with a walking-stick.


In the following years, we graduate students helped input legal provisions after class, though I did not yet truly understand why my mentor spent so much money on this database.


However, history has proved the great foresight of Professor Rui. With those efforts and devotions, the first professional law website in China — "Chinalawinfo” came into existence in 1995. The law information retrieval system invented by PKU has a wide and far-reaching impact through internet. Another fruit of academic research achievements was the establishment of the PKU Yinghua Technology Company in 1999. The software of China’s law information retrieval system was named “Beida Fabao” (PKULaw.cn) and became commercially successful all over China. Later, another website — “Lawyee” (Lawyee.net) was launched, aiming to provide the best law information service for all. Thanks to Professor Rui, PKU grasped the opportunity and gained advantage in the field of law informatization.


I used to serve as dean of PKU Law School. During my term of office, I dare not to say that all the subjects at the school are first-class, but I do to say that our law database has been China’s best. The foundation of it was established in 1985, which was impossible for others to possess. Actually, it is because PKU is such a rare, real comprehensive university in the country. The advantage of PKU lies in the perfect coexistence of liberal arts and sciences. In fact, we built the law database exactly by combining the advantages of law and computer science. More importantly, we should owe the success to our mentor Professor Rui, who has kept an open mind, creative consciousness, and deep insights about world trends.


I’ve always been thinking why Professor Rui was still so sensitive and energetic after he passed his 70s. Perhaps the reason was simple - Professor Rui was the one with a universal vision. He lived in Shanghai when he was young, where he learned what an international economic center was like. Later, he studied abroad either in the US or in Europe, which enabled him to understand Western legal systems. After coming back to China, he taught himself Russian. Hence, he could not only read Russian literature but also take over a class for an absent Russian teacher. Even in the Cold War era when China was almost self-isolated from the world, Professor Rui could often visit Soviet Union and Eastern Europe as an interpreter because of his talent of foreign languages. Moreover, Peking University Library kept ordering latest foreign books and journals, and therefore when others were stuck in political mania, Professor Rui could still follow the tracks of international academic frontiers. His international academic prestige (mainly obtained during his early experiences abroad) also enabled him accesses to world affairs with a global vision. Therefore, in the elegiac couplet for Professor Rui, I used four characters - “dangshi tongru” - meaning a general master in the present world, which he absolutely deserves.


Apart from his wide and open eyesight, I came up with another important reason, that is, Professor Rui is a dedicated and pure-minded scholar. Professor Rui barely spouted, even barely wrote books or essays. His writings are small in number but great in quality. He didn’t allow his students to wantonly debate with others or publish such articles, but told us to do our work earnestly. Despite his great talent, he used to be aggrieved and even punished, but he never put that on mind. No matter how difficult his life was, he could sit down, reading and thinking dispassionately. His heart was quiet, so he could see far away. His has liberal mind, so he could accept and enjoy all the new things. Professor Rui is so pure that he can keep his own nature and youth forever.


After his 80th birthday, Professor Rui still tutored doctoral candidates for another 11 years. In the last two decades of his lifetime, he learned to use mobile phone, surf the Internet, and listen to MP3 players, let alone microwave ovens and electronic coffee pots. Professor Rui enjoyed listening to music and reading novels before going to bed, which gave him a sound sleep. I remembered when he was at the age of 99, I visited him once in his house. After hearing that I couldn’t sleep well and had to rely on sleeping pills, Professor Rui asked in surprise, “Why don’t you read novels before sleep?” I burst into a hearty laughter, before I suddenly realized that comparing with me, Professor Rui was actually younger in mind.


Now, Professor Rui left us, but every time I can’t fall asleep or I log in PKU law database to search, I think of him. Now, Professor Rui left us, with a century behind him, but leaves us with permanent youth.



Extended Reading:

Senior law professor passes away



Written by: Wu Zhipan

Translated by: Cao Yixing and Xu Xinyi

Edited by: Jacques and Chen Miaojuan

Source: Peking University Gazette