Soochow University: Twelve Decades of Glory and Beyond Speech at Soochow University’s 120 Anniversary Celebration

Sidong Xiong

President, Soochow University 

Distinguished guests, Dear colleagues, students, and alumni,

Good morning!

It is my great pleasure to welcome you to this anniversary convocation at this beautiful Dushu Lake campus of ours. we gather here to celebrate the 120th birthday of Soochow University. It is a festive day never to be forgotten for the entire Soochow University community and its patrons of various kinds. Those who are not physically present can join us at the online convocation; we are closely connected though far apart. On behalf of the university, I hereby extend my sincere greetings to ‘Suda’-ers all over the world, my warm welcome to all guests, and my heartfelt thanks to friends from all walks of life who are concerned with and facilitate the university’s development. 

From the period of national crisis to an age of national rejuvenation, Soochow University, over its growth spanning three centuries, bears witness to the development of higher education in China. Its history resonates with that of the country, a history full of rises and falls, sufferings and splendors, undeterred efforts against all odds.


Let’s look back in order to look forward. 120 years ago, Soochow University was founded in the twilight years of the Late Qing dynasty. Some intellectuals of vision and ideals, led by Young John Allen, David L. Anderson and Cao Zishi, founded Dongwu Daxue as it was then called, the country’s very first Western-style university. Since then, this inclusive modern university, a beneficiary of the best of two worlds, has been marching along with the country towards modernization.


100 years ago, a new chapter was opened for localization after the May Fourth Movement. The university’s first Chinese president, Professor Yang Yongqing, who promoted the education of traditional Chinese culture, prescribed the Chinese version of the university motto “Unto a full grown man”, facilitating mutually illuminating communication between Chinese and Western cultures.


80 years ago, our faculty and students had to move across the country during the 8-year-long war against Japanese Aggression.  Our predecessors strived to have classes wherever they stopped—Shanghai, Zhejiang, Anhui, Fujian, Guangdong, Sichuan, Chongqing and other provinces and cities. Their will of steel and perseverance helped to preserve the legacy of the university and pass it down.

60 years ago, a new phase of development was ushered in after the People’s Republic of China was founded. In response to the countrys call for personnel preparation, the university reoriented its commitment to teacher training, thus empowering regional elementary and high education.

40 years ago, following the country’s economic reform and opening-up, the university accelerated its pace towards a comprehensive university renamed Suzhou Daxue as it is now called. Its active role in addressing social needs and boosting economic growth was highly recognized in the local context and beyond.


20 years ago, the university continued its growth by pooling strengths from local institutions. With the merging of Suzhou College of Sericulture, Suzhou Institute of Silk Textile Technology and Suzhou Medical College, the university saw an unprecedented leap as a leader in institutional management reform nationwide.


Today, an active player in the vibrant competition in the country’s globalizing higher education enterprise, the university aims high and try to build itself into a widely recognized and respected research university of international visibility, and to become part of the leading tier of the country’s first-class university program.


As history rolls on, the university has never abandoned its original ambition and responsibility to serve national rejuvenation. We have never lost the courage to be independent and innovative, and to guard the essence of the university despite any situation arising.

Over the changing decades, our commitment to moral integrity and justice has never changed. Our predecessors who engaged themselves in the 1919 May Fourth Movement telegraphed the wavering Beiyang government on behalf of all the students, forcefully proposing against the signing of unequal treaties. Later in the 1946 Tokyo Trial, Xiang Zhejun, Ni Zhengyu, Gao Wenbin and seven other members from the university, with great courage and wisdom, helped to bring the Japanese war criminals to justice and safeguarded the nation’s as well as humanity’s legitimate rights and dignity. Sadly, the bravest of our warriors, 23 Party members including He Weisheng, Ding Xiang, and Wang Xiaojun, sacrificed their lives in fighting wars for national liberation and independence or in their service for national modernization and development. They died at an average age of 28, the youngest being 22, and their heroism and legacy shall be remembered. It is proudly this good faith in moral integrity and justice, already part of our collective consciousness, that raises us up and empowers our forging ahead.

Over the changing decades, our pursuit of knowledge and truth has never changed. Our most distinguished alumni have set inspirational examples in this regard. Tan Jiazhen (C. C. Tan), the father of genetics of China, devoted his entire self to promoting the country’s life sciences, never yielding to non-academic pressures and interferences. Pan Handian, Sheng Zhenwei and some other early graduates from the university’s Department of Law, already in their eighties or nineties then, spent nine years compiling The English-Chinese Dictionary of Anglo-American Law, the first of its kind in history. Their achievement, made possible only by lifetime dedication, is proof to their being a scholarly acme.


Into the Reform and Opening-up era, stunning breakthroughs have been made by the university’s aspiring academics in various fields. These include building the country’s first laboratory for thrombosis and hemostasis, composing the country’s first group of anti-human platelets, and independently developing the country’s first fully magnetically suspended artificial heart. Moreover, internationally competitive technological innovations have been applied in some key national projects, including astronomical and laser devices, e.g., Shenzhou, Shenguang, Tianwen, and Tianxun. Meanwhile, an industry-oriented national laboratory for silk research and a key national laboratory for medical radiology have been established, the only ones of the kind in the country. It is this unyielding devotion to scholarly inquiries and relentless pursuit of perfection, already deep-rooted in our mind, heart, and soul, that shape the personality of the Soochow University community.

Over the changing decades, our universal care for the underprivileged and our patriotism have not changed a bit. Among the early attempts was the building of Huihan (poverty-alleviation) Primary School in 1911, offering free schooling to children of impoverished families. Over a century or so, 26 Huihan schools have been built across the country, benefiting tens of thousands of children in rural areas. Fei Xiaotong, a distinguished alumnus, one of the foremost Chinese social anthropologists, devoted much of his career to helping peasants. He took 27 field study trips to his hometown Suzhou and, subsequently, finished his seminal book Jiangcun Economy in 1936. In one famous anecdote, he was challenged by his British supervisor Malinowski with the hard question: whether China would choose to westernize itself or to perish. He came up with an answer that inspired all: China would neither yield to westernization nor perish, but turn to “cultural consciousness” as a solution. Equally inspiringly, the 1977 alumni Guo Shiyu, with the help from Se Deng, have been conducting research in desert management in Inner Mongolia for 14 years, all at their own expense, and all for their dream of “turning the desert into an oasis”. Their effort created an oasis of 50,000 acres for the local herdsmen, who can sustain their livelihood by working on the land. A more recent example is our fight against the COVID-19 epidemic, in which 204 medical practitioners from the university’s affiliated hospitals risked their own lives in risky areas to save the lives of others. It is this universal care and unwavering patriotism, now built into our genes, molds our spirit.

Over the changing decades, our courage to take initiatives has not changed. Our pioneering efforts include developing the country’s first degree-granting postgraduate program, initiating the training of legal personnel, and launching the first university-based academic journal. The university’s more recent adventures in the Reform and Opening-up era have led to its accredited doctoral programs, an early entry into the “211 Project”, and an active, leading role in some educational reform initiatives including the “National Pilot College” and the “2011 Plan”. We are never afraid of trying out new ideas. We have built the first overseas campus of a mainland-based university, Soochow University in Laos, the worlds first International Academy of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, and the first “cloud-based” university. We keep exploring new ways to be connected to the world and the future. It is such adventurous courage and aspiration, now part of our personality, that nourish our dispositions and demeanor.


In the turbulent years of yore, it is our moral courage, quest of truth, care for the underprivileged, aspiration to the better, and patriotism that defined the legacy and spirit of Soochow University. Those committed to nurturing and enriching this legacy and spirit shall be remembered, honored, and modelled after. It is their commitment to their own fields of inquiries that has made the history of the university, a history of glory and brilliance, one that renews and develops with vitality in this era and beyond.

Today, we are at yet another starting point, one towards the realization of the Chinese dream of rejuvenation. We look back and take stock; we also look ahead to blueprint the future. We feel deeply the profound changes generated by new technologies and new concepts, as we are acutely aware of the challenges and opportunities. The university today is an interesting interaction between history and the future, tradition and modernity, the constant and the changing, the confusing and the promising. When we are to write the history of the university, what should be our mission, and what new glories should we achieve? Proceeding from the fundamental realities of the times, the nation and the university, our mission is to have a university of potency, aspiration, and accountability.

Soochow University shall serve as an incubator for professionals of top caliber. With a most favorable learning environment and excellent learning experience to offer, the university will attract aspiring students and professionals from home and abroad. Easy access to knowledge and dialogues with brilliant intellectuals here will equip students with a vision for the future. This helps to develop patriotic, socially responsible students armed with innovative spirit and practical skills, thus enabling them to become eminent leaders of the present and pace-setters of the future. At Soochow University, every student can have the best possible learning experience.


Soochow University shall serve as a laboratory for science and technology. Following President Xi Jinping’s proposed guideline at the national symposium of scientists, we will build a major platform for innovative collaboration among leading experts. We will spare no effort to facilitate breakthroughs in science and technology; we cherish every original idea, discovery, and invention no matter whether it will pan out.


The university shall serve as a powerhouse for innovative ideas. Now better aware and more confident of our own culture, we value critical thinking, free subject consciousness, equality, pluralism, and the pursuit of moral good in order to enkindle ideas and wisdom that help to shape the times. With open dialogue and communication among active thinkers, we will make contribution in our own way to world civilization with a more dynamic culture of ours.


The university shall serve as a hub for cross-cultural communication. In an internationalizing context, it will develop a more open and inclusive attitude, benchmark our performance against international standards, and vie for excellence with our international peers. It will implement a system of communication through exchange programs, research projects, and strategic cooperation on major scientific issues and social governance, thus rising to become a truly global university.


The university shall be a major pioneer in reshaping universities. With the “cloud-based” university project well under way, we will strive to lead the digitalization of higher education, and to innovate a lifelong learning system that offers more accessible, engaging, and enjoyable learning experiences. We hope our alternative virtual campus will help establish standards for promoting and assessing online education in the country.

Distinguished guests, dear colleagues, students, and alumni, on the occasion of the 120th anniversary of Soochow University, we hereby acknowledge the contribution of the previous generations of our faculty and staff because it is them who have helped to mold our legacy and spirit. Our gratitude also goes to our alumni from all walks of life for their loyalty and attachment to alma mater; to all our friends for their constant support; and to this generous land, a land of promise, that nurtures local culture which in turn energizes our development.


Time per se elapses and leaves no trace, but we do and make a huge difference. You can somehow hear our confessions, whispers, and declarations of love for the university. Looking back, we feel proud of the university’s twelve decades of glory, and looking forward, we will surely have a greater Soochow University as we learn from history and make history.


I wish to extend my very best wishes to Soochow University and to all members of the Soochow University community. 


Thank you!