Two Chinese businessmen donate $800,000 to the Faculty of Law

November 26, 2014

In 2013, so enthusiastic was a young Chinese student at the Faculty of Law at Université de Montréal that his parents were quick to appreciate the extent to which their son had not only acquired an enormous amount of knowledge but had also opened his mind to the world. The student’s father knows a wealthy businessman who knows another wealthy businessman, and together both have just donated $800,000 to the Faculty of Law.

The money will go to scholarships, the majority earmarked for Quebec students who wish to study in China. They’ll have the chance to learn about Chinese culture, one so different from that in the West and where, for example, the community is much more important than the individual. Knowledge of the Chinese legal system will also be a significant advantage for students aspiring to work in trade relations between the West and China.

The donation has in part been made as a tribute to the leadership of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, who was one of the first world leaders to recognize the People’s Republic of China in 1970. “The history made by Mr. Trudeau is well known in China,” explains Guy Lefebvre, Vice-Rector, International Affairs and Francophonie. Mr. Lefebvre was previously Associate Dean, then Dean of the Faculty of Law, and it is due largely to his efforts that for some 15 years, Université de Montréal has enjoyed close ties with a number of Chinese universities.

“The donation also underscores the role that Université de Montréal has played in improving governance in China,” he continues. The first links between the Faculty of Law and China were established in 1998, when the federal government under Jean Chrétien asked the Canadian International Development Agency to hold a competition for the training of Chinese judges. Université de Montréal emerged the winner, and since then a true friendship has developed between researchers at Université de Montréal and those in China’s major universities. And while law remains the cornerstone of the relationship, other disciplines have also benefited, notably medicine, chemistry, literature and industrial relations.

“Our contribution is to say ‘Here is how we work in a given sector. You are free to integrate our knowledge and processes,’” says Mr. Lefebvre, who negotiated the agreement that led to the donation following three meetings conducted through an interpreter. “I speak a little Mandarin, but it’s not nearly enough to carry on a conversation,” he adds. More important, he says, was the climate of mutual trust that was established.

The two businessmen are Bin Zhang and Niu Gensheng. Mr. Bin is the donor who knows the father of the UdeM student, and it was to him that Mr. Lefebvre presented his project. The businessman then introduced Mr. Niu to Mr. Lefebvre. Bin Zhang is President of the China Cultural Industry Association, whose mission is to support key cultural projects. Within this context, the two donors were enthusiastic about the idea to promote greater understanding between Quebec and Chinese students.

Mr. Lefebvre emphasizes that the agreement would not have been possible without the long-standing collaboration between UdeM and China’s universities. In fact, since 1998, many projects have been undertaken: summer schools for Chinese and Quebec students (more than 1,000 students have taken part), a Master of Laws program for Chinese students, shared master’s programs, and more.

Recently, the Faculty of Law and the China Political University of Science and Law created a Sino-Canadian Centre, which has produced the first publication in Mandarin on Quebec business law. In May 2014, some 30 researchers from the two countries held their first conference on the laws involving natural resources. Other issues are also being studied, including laws for people with disabilities in China.

“Chinese universities and lawyers are interested in learning our laws and opinions. They are curious and want to innovate,” says Mr. Lefebvre, adding that our “bijuralism” – a civil law system that coexists with a common law system – is attractive to the Chinese, who have a civil law system, but who for economic reasons are much more influenced by common law. In addition, the Vice-Rector states that the French-language character of Université de Montréal poses no problem. Some 30 million Chinese speak French and many more wish to learn it, and conversations can also be conducted in English, not to mention the many Quebec students who are learning Mandarin.

Of all of the departments at Université de Montréal, the Faculty of Law enjoys the most extensive links with mainland China. Mr. Lefebvre explains that the key is to maintain this relationship. Chinese students who have attended UdeM become enthusiastic ambassadors of the university, with a good number now holding positions of responsibility. Lei Lu, for example, is senior legal counsel for payment settlements at the Shanghai Stock Exchange, and Wang Xiaofang is a professor and director of international cooperation with China’s National College of Supreme Court Judges.

Source: Paule des Rivières, JOURNAL FORUM

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