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Rao Yi pledges to improve Chinese science, the FT reports

Peking University, Jan. 16, 2014: Former dean of the School of Life Sciences at Peking University (PKU) recently took the rare step to disclose his “four-bedroom house” in Beijing during a transcultural interview, while reaffirming his consistent critical view to the scientific and educational circles in his motherland.




Clarissa Sebag-Montefiore at the Financial Times (FT) reported that science, Rao Yi believes, is there either to push the frontier of human knowledge or to help a nation develop; and, “for either of those, Chinese science is not up to the task”.


In 2007, giving up his position — the first Steiner Elsa A. Swanson Research Professor in Northwestern University (in 2006)and life in the US, Rao returned to China, which was regarded by public opinion as a sign of the homecoming wave in the new era of the oriental country. Soon afterwards, he renounced his US citizenship.


Now both Rao’s career and family have settled down almost fully in Beijing’s Haidian District “of intelligence and high-tech”except for his daughter, who stayed in the US for further education.


As a neurobiologist, Rao is “marching from victory to victory.” Despite his failure in the 2011 academician selection of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the academic influence of Rao (who, as a full PKU professor, published papers on Nature and Nature Neuroscience as late as 2011) has never been stained. In 2012, he was invited to address the Friday Lecture Series at Rockefeller University, an arena for world-class scientists.


Rao also proved his value as an “imported administrator” to PKU. Since his inauguration in 2007, Rao had dominated the reform process of the School of Life Sciences: the tenure track system has been set up and maintained; individualized education among undergraduates is under construction and being perfected step by step…He even copied the Friday Lecture Series, in order to feed the faculty and students with frontier achievements across the globe.


Last September, the flaming torch was passed to Wu Hong, another overseas returnee from the US. Meanwhile, as chair professor, Rao is still in charge of a crucial part of the State Key Laboratory of Membrane Biology. And he has devoted more to the National Institute of Biological Sciences, Beijing, where the founding investigator created an advanced laboratory with the first batch of his local students.


Everything runs well here in Beijing, generally earthing up the validity basis of Rao’s original “returning home.” On behalf of the new generation of overseas Chinese scholars “with high profile and outspoken views,” he sees and promotes the ongoing reversion of the world’s power topography — at least from the perspective of academics, which used to be called “Xixuedongjian,” the spread of the western knowledge to the east.


On the comment board of the FT’s article, a netizen “Veblen” agreed to the rationality of Rao’s life choice in 2007, "Northwestern (University) cannot compare in prestige to Beida (the transliteration of PKU’s abbreviation in Chinese)."



Extended Readings:


Rao Yi: Dean, but more than a dean


Why not choose LIFE SCIENCES?


The science of life




Edited by: Arthars