June 1st, 2012
in Op Ed
by Frank Li
On April 13-14, 2012, I attended a class reunion: the 30-year college graduation reunion of Class 77 - Industrial Automation, Electrical Engineering, Zhejiang University, China (note: “Class 77” in China equates to “Class 81” in the U.S.). It was an exciting event for me for three main reasons:
- It was the first time ever for me to attend a reunion of this class.
- It was by far the biggest reunion for this class: 43 out of the 48 people showed up.
- It was the first time for me to meet with more than half of the former classmates over the past 30 years!
1. Class 77
This class was unique in two ways, at least:
- We were admitted, in 1977, as the "first class" of “real” college students since 1966! Why the "first class"? Because the colleges were closed from 1966 to 1975 (thanks to Chairman Mao and the Cultural Revolution). Why “real”? Because although some colleges were re-opened in 1975, the students were admitted only by the recommendations of the working class (i.e. workers, peasants, and soldiers), with neither academic qualifications nor formal entrance exams. In contrast, we were admitted via a national exam, just like those before 1966 and after 1977.
- Because of this 10-year gap in China’s culture, my classmates varied hugely in age, from born in 1950 to born in 1961, an 11-year gap! It was quite an interesting class of people, with some dedicating themselves to chasing girls (or boys), while others barely reaching puberty …
All 48 of us (42 men and 6 women) managed to graduate in January 1982. (Note: we did not start until March 1978, when the university was “ready” for the 1st time in more than a decade to accept about 2,500 students as the entire class of 1977.) Shown on the left is the author’s graduation photo in 1981.
We then moved on in different directions, with some of the “better” students heading overseas (e.g. Japan, Germany, the U.K., and the U.S.). Today, we reside in two countries only: 37 in China and 11 in the U.S.
2. The U.S. vs. China
Here is my assessment:
- Education: Most of us living in the U.S. have Ph.D. degrees in engineering (from MIT to the University of Toledo), while the folks in China “wasted” less time as students. Edge: the U.S.
- Career: Most of us living in the U.S. are engineers, while the folks in China may be doing better professionally: They are professors, high-ranking government officials, company owners, or high-level managers. Edge: China.
- Family: Most of us living in the U.S. have more than one child, while the folks in China have only one (some do have two, but that is the result of two marriages). Edge: the U.S.
- Retirement: Most of us living in the U.S. must work for a long time before being eligible for Social Security at age 65 (or possibly even later), while most of the folks in China are looking forward to retirement now (men at age 60 and women 55), if not retired already. Edge: China.
- Standards of living: This is a no-brainer. Edge: the U.S.
Overall, the folks in the U.S. are better off. So think I, at least. This becomes even more apparent when we ask our next generation in America: they are very happy to be Americans, today (Parenting in America: 25 Years Back and 25 Years Ahead)! Here is what I learned recently from a second generation Chinese-American (not my children): “There is only one reason you don’t like America - you are not very good!” Can it be expressed any better?
3. Class 77, again
Overall, we are perhaps the luckiest generation in Chinese history for two main reasons:
- We were lucky to have made it into Class 77, right place and right time!
- We have witnessed the spectacular changes in China over the past three decades (and counting), which is totally unprecedented in human history! For example, thirty years ago, a Chinese was lucky to have a new bicycle. Today, many of them have new cars! More importantly, the Chinese are now standing tall internationally, from the lowest thirty years ago!
We will have the next reunion in 10 years ...
About the Author
Frank Li is the Founder and President of W.E.I. (West-East International), a Chicago-based import & export company. Frank received his B.E. from Zhejiang University (China) in 1982, M.E. from the University of Tokyo in 1985, and Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University in 1988, all in Electrical Engineering. He worked for several companies until 2004, when he founded his own company W.E.I. Today, W.E.I. is a leader in the weighing industry not only in products & services, but also in thought and action.