Johns Hopkins center for China studies announced

A Chinese-American entrepreneur whose company recently unveiled plans to build a hybrid auto plant in Alabama has made a $10 million gift to The Johns Hopkins University to promote innovative new approaches to the study of China.

The gift from Benjamin Yeung and his wife, Rhea, will establish the Benjamin and Rhea Yeung Center for Collaborative China Studies.

The center’s role is to deepen the understanding between the United States and China through a unique collaboration among the various Johns Hopkins schools and academic programs. In the near term, Johns Hopkins envisions new academic and research initiatives funded through Yeung Center grants for collaborative projects across the institution; the proposal process is expected to begin next month. The Hopkins-Nanjing Center for Chinese and American Studies, run jointly in China by Johns Hopkins and Nanjing University, will be a natural host for some of this activity.

“Johns Hopkins has had many different centers of entrepreneurship doing work in or with China,” said David M. Lampton, the George and Sadie Hyman Professor of China Studies, director of the China Studies Program and dean of faculty at the School of Advanced International Studies. “This gift will enable us to draw the various threads together into a coherent tapestry of China studies at a university that has a long and close association with that country.”

The Yeung Center for Collaborative China Studies will have three co-directors: Lampton; Kellee Tsai, vice dean for humanities, social sciences and graduate programs in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences; and, when appointed, the new American co-director of the Hopkins-Nanjing Center. The center will be managed from the Homewood campus and fall under the auspices of the Provost’s Office.

“The key word here is ‘collaborative,’” said Ronald J. Daniels, the university’s president. “The Yeungs’ magnificent gift will enable us to rethink the way we study and relate to China by fostering new opportunities for specialists in widely different disciplines to work closely together. By bringing extraordinary talent from across the university together in this way, we expect to make great strides in the scope and scale of our work in and with China. This is an area of particular interest to us, with a history at Johns Hopkins almost as old as the university itself.”

China’s most prestigious medical school, Peking Union Medical College, and its affiliated hospital were modeled on the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine when it was founded in the early 20th century, and the first dean of the Johns Hopkins medical school, William Welch, made trips to China to help establish the school. His partner in this endeavor was Anna Wolf, who led the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing.

After the Cultural Revolution, Johns Hopkins was the first Western university to establish a permanent campus presence in China with the opening of the Hopkins-Nanjing Center in 1986. That program has become a pre-eminent institution for the training of young, mid-career professionals from China and the West, with more than 2,000 center graduates working in diplomacy, business, academia, journalism, government, finance and nonprofit organizations in China, the United States and other countries. In 2007, Johns Hopkins and Nanjing University jointly celebrated the 20th anniversary of the center’s founding and the completion of a $21 million campus expansion that created one of the most advanced university-level academic facilities in China.

“Rhea and I are very happy to support the world-famous Johns Hopkins University in advancing better understanding and cooperation between China and the West,” Benjamin Yeung said. “We look with confidence to the outstanding faculty and students who will help advance new knowledge and find new solutions to the most critical issues currently facing our nations.”

Yeung (pronounced “young”) is a pioneering automotive industrialist who founded the first Chinese company to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange and who introduced the Zhonghua sedan, widely considered the first truly Chinese car. In 2002, Yeung and his family immigrated to the United States. As chairman of the automotive start-up Hybrid Kinetic Motors, Yeung announced plans to build a $1.5 billion hybrid car manufacturing facility in Baldwin County, Ala., with the intent to begin production in 2013. Benjamin and Rhea’s son, Jack Yeung, earned his undergraduate degree from the university’s Krieger School of Arts and Sciences in 2005 and a certificate of graduate studies from the SAIS center in Bologna, Italy, in 2006.

The creation of the Yeung Center will provide Johns Hopkins faculty and students with the opportunity to develop new programs and initiatives, enhance multidisciplinary scholarship and nurture collaboration between research institutions in China and the United States.

Tsai, who is also a professor of political science and former director of the East Asian Studies Program at KSAS, said that the new center could help expand academic partnerships with Nanjing University, create new course offerings on China, support conferences on emergent areas of intellectual or applied interest and enhance study and research opportunities for students and faculty in China. Tsai said she can imagine historians conducting archival research in Nanjing, Whiting School engineers visiting laboratories in China or Johns Hopkins undergraduates studying abroad in a new program at Nanjing University.

“By encouraging creative initiatives in China studies, the Yeung Center has the potential to have pioneering effects in advancing research and understanding in all areas of society, from higher education to health care, information technology to global stability and environmental sustainability,” Tsai said. “Ultimately, the Yeung Center will not only provide novel opportunities for our students to learn about China, but it will also encourage conversations and cooperation across the various divisions of Johns Hopkins in program-building efforts relating to China, which befits the entrepreneurial spirit of its benefactors.”

Tsai added that the center will be “an exceptional recruitment tool” for the university. “The center will help us attract top graduate students and faculty with interests in China,” she said. “We are truly energized by the establishment of the Yeung Center.”

Details about the grants process will be announced in early January.

Mike Field contributed to this article.