University of Richmond Chancellor E. Bruce Heilman described in a speech on Monday how he became intrigued by a letter from a Chinese student sent from a prison in China who wanted to enroll in at Richmond.
Before an audience of about 75 students and professors in the Robin’s School of Business Ukrop Auditorium, he said the letter from John Wu, though in broken English, caught his attention when Wu mentioned he was the grandson of the first Chinese student at Richmond in 1909.
Wu, who accompanied Heilman, spoke about his youth in China, his journey to becoming a Spider and his successes thereafter.
Heilman, who served as President of UR from 1971-1988, began the talk by explaining his role in Wu’s acceptance into Richmond. Wu briefly discussed his experience at Richmond and how he got a high-level job in China.
After he read Wu’s letter, Heilman knew there was something special about him. “Perhaps that’s one of the best judgments and decisions of my presidency,” Heilman said.
“Judgment is everything, intelligence is limited,” Heilman said about his decision to look into Wu’s letter and application. “If you do not have sound judgment during day-to-day life, nothing else matters. A true leader uses judgment, knowledge and experience, mixing it all together with wisdom.”
Wu was born in Mainland China in 1952 and in 1968, his father was beaten to death by his journalism students who had joined the Red Guard, Heilman said. Wu worked in a factory for ten years and was unable to immediately attend college.
In 1971, Wu was sent to prison after someone reported him speaking against the government with friends. Once a week Wu was given a shower, a piece of meat and permission to go outside, he said. Wu went to prison weighing 130 pounds and left weighing 85 pounds.
After a year of imprisonment, Wu began teaching himself English and later attended Fudan University in Shanghai. His classmates laughed at him when he applied to Richmond, Heilman said.
Wu applied to Richmond and was admitted into the class of 1985. He graduated at age 30 with a 3.8 GPA and honors. “Looking back I feel like I’ve been on a million mile journey,” Wu said, “but it all traces back to the University of Richmond.”
He later went on to become the CFO of a $50 billion pharmaceutical conglomerate in Harbin, China.
Dean Nancy Bagranoff thought it was a wonderful story but most importantly that Heilman’s action is a real lesson to follow, she said.
Wu is grateful for his four years at Richmond because he learned English and feels more comfortable communicating than some of his Chinese colleagues, he said.
Being 10 years older than most students at Richmond, Wu appreciated his time here and spent most of his time in the library, he said.
Later, Wu discussed the changing culture in China and how the Chinese have become more accepting of Western influence.
“Because of the cultural difference and 2,000 years of feudalism, the Chinese have always been more reserved and do not voice their opinions as strongly as Westerners,” Wu said. “But if they believe in your practices, they want to listen and learn.”
The Chinese mentality has changed and now they’re profit motivated, Wu said. Wu believes the Chinese do not care about one another anymore…the culture has changed, he said.
“It was definitely helpful to hear a Chinese perspective on the flaws in the Chinese business model,” Senior McKenzie Keller said, “and the how he thought China would respond to impending challenges.”
Contact reporter Katie Davidson at email@example.com