Open for business

Surrounded by friends old and new, the University throws open the doors of its Center in Beijing.

“I’m constitutionally drawn to problems that can never be solved,” said Dipesh Chakrabarty, the Lawrence A. Kimpton distinguished service professor of history and South Asian languages and civilizations. He's in good company. At the five faculty panel discussions that heralded Wednesday’s opening of the University of Chicago Center in Beijing, complexity was invoked early, often, and with obvious relish. Whether the topic was China’s rapid economic development, the state of the research university, or cultural expression in a globalized world, “it’s not simple” quickly emerged as a leitmotif.

Even a simple celebration was complex—it was hard to get into the room. During the remarks that prefaced the 4:08 p.m. ribbon-cutting at the center, located in Beijing’s university district, eager guests filled every seat, lined the walls, and spilled out into the hallway. They applauded when nine representatives from the University and from China, wielding nine pairs of golden scissors, cut the ribbon and made the opening official.

By then the diverse crowd—alumni and friends of the University as well as scholars and dignitaries from Chinese institutions—was interacting like old friends. During the previous 24 hours they’d traversed Beijing in motor coaches together, taken in the ideas of more than 20 faculty panelists, and toasted the center at Tuesday’s gala dinner in the Great Hall of the People. Only a few days earlier, they’d been as far-flung as Chicago, Boston, Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Singapore.

Many of the alumni in attendance had personal or professional ties to Asia, but others came simply because they wanted to share an important moment in the life of their university. Such was the case for Danette (Dani) Kauffman, AM’69, who flew to Beijing from Washington, DC. “It’s the University,” she said. “Whatever the University does, I want to be there.” Following the opening events, she was heading off to see other parts of China on an alumni study trip.

For Paul Weidang Wang, LLM’94, JSD’99, a native of Beijing, attending Chicago was “unforgettable,” and so was Wednesday's opening. Wang, president of the Alumni Club of Beijing, had looked forward to the occasion for a long time. Speaking for his fellow Beijing-based alumni, he said, “Before we felt Chicago was so far away. Now that it’s here, we feel more at home.”

Laura Demanski, AM'94

President Zimmer at the ribbon cutting; Chief economist of the World Bank Justin Yifu Lin, PhD'86, speaks at the forum “China: Economic Development and the Rule of Law” at the Shangri-la Beijing Hotel; Paul Sereno talks about his work with Chinese scientists and the Raptorex model displayed at the Center in Beijing.

Photos courtesy of the News Office. View our Flickr group pool for more pictures from the opening of the Center in Beijing.

September 15, 2010