Issue Date: May 2, 2005
Impressions Of Shanghai
Shanghai is to New York City as Beijing is to Washington, D.C. In many ways, the analogy is wildly inaccurate because, while Shanghai really does physically resemble New York City in many ways, Beijing and Washington don't look much alike at all. However, the ethos of Shanghai and New York, on the one hand, and Beijing and Washington, on the other, do resemble each other. As one Chinese chemical executive said to me in Shanghai, "Up north, all they care about is politics; down here, money is what matters."
I am writing this from Shanghai, where the American Chemical Society delegation to China that I wrote about in last week's Editor's Page is wrapping up its business. In addition to the delegation's visits to universities and businesses in Shanghai, ACS, C&EN, and the Synthetic Organic Chemical Manufacturers Association sponsored a highly successful reception in Shanghai that drew more than 200 representatives of Chinese chemical companies and multinational chemical companies such as Lanxess and Hovione that are doing business in China. The networking firm Pacific Genuity was invaluable in helping arrange the reception.
Shanghai is China's largest city, with 18 million residents. Whereas Beijing gives the sense of a place becoming a city, Shanghai's endless skyscrapers lend it an air of permanence. This sense is somewhat misleading, though, as Pudong, the region southeast of the Huangpu River that boasts Shanghai's tallest buildings, rose out of rice paddies over the past two decades. The Huangpu is a busy thoroughfare, crowded with freighters, cruise ships, barges, tugboats, and sightseeing boats.
Walking along the Nanjing Road pedestrian mall in Shanghai on a Sunday afternoon, one gets a sense of China's vibrant middle class. The street is lined with every kind of store and thronged with fashionably dressed young people and families, almost entirely Chinese, out to stroll and shop and enjoy lunch. At one point, the street opens into a broad, block-long plaza, and the sense you get is nothing other than of being in an Asian Times Square.
Sitting on a bench waiting for my colleagues to complete some purchases, I was approached by a young couple who wanted to talk to me to practice their English, not an uncommon experience for a Westerner in Shanghai. His English is quite good. He is an acupuncturist working in a state-owned clinic, and he's about to depart for Melbourne on a three-month exchange program. When he returns, he says, he plans to open his own clinic.
The entrepreneurial spirit is strong in Shanghai, and it extends to academe in a way not apparent in Beijing. On Monday morning, we visited the Shanghai Institute of Organic Chemistry (SIOC), another one of China's premier research institutes. We met with SIOC Executive Director Biao (Bill) Jiang, three former executive directors of the institute, and a number of faculty members, and we toured the SIOC facilities. About half of SIOC's faculty are housed in a brand new, state-of-the-art building with modern equipment and more than 300 hoods.
A striking difference between the SIOC faculty and the chemistry faculties of the universities we visited in Beijing was their attitude toward collaborations with industry. When we asked about academic/industry relationships in Beijing, we got what amounted to blank stares. At SIOC, a portion of the annual budget comes from contract research for pharmaceutical companies in China and abroad.
When asked about these contacts, professor Zhu-Jun Yao said: "More than other institutes, a lot of SIOC graduates work in the U.S. and Europe in the pharmaceutical and biotech industries. They are familiar with pharmaceutical research." Professor Kuiling Ding said: "Many companies use SIOC as a bridge to China." And professor Guo-Qiang Lin said: "A unique feature of SIOC is that, many years ago, we started sending graduates to work in industry in the U.S. and Europe so that, when they returned to China, they had a better idea of working with industry. It enables us to collaborate with industry to work on interesting compounds."
Jiang told us that the building that houses the other half of the chemistry faculty at SIOC, which was built in the 1950s, would be demolished soon and replaced with a new building slightly larger than the building that opened late last year. To raise funds to pay for the new building, SIOC recently sold a company founded by the institute. Somehow, that source of funding doesn't seem surprising for a Shanghai-based institute.
Thanks for reading.
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