Cambridge accused of secret links to the Chinese government

Beijing Image credit: Thomas Fischler

A controversial 2012 donation accepted by the University of Cambridge, to the value of £3.7m, has come under fresh criticism from The Telegraph, which has reported claims that university representatives held secret meetings with the daughter of a Chinese Prime Minister to secure the donations.

The Telegraph first reported in 2012 that anonymous donations to the University could be traced back to Wen Ruchun, the daughter of then-Chinese prime minister Wen Jiabao. The University denied any link with the Chinese government.

In 2012, The Cambridge Student reported that all mentions of the donation had been wiped from the internet [http://www.tcs.cam.ac.uk/news/0014489-controversial-chinese-donation-wiped-from-internet.html].

An anonymous source has now reportedly told The Telegraph that representatives from the university met with Ms Wen, suggesting that they were aware of the origins of the money.

According to their source, meetings took place at the Raffles Hotel in Beijing between 2009 and 2011, and these were crucial in securing the donation. The newspaper also quoted a former graduate student, who speculated that the departure of Professor Zhang Wei, a former Chinese government official, two months after the meetings was linked to the donation.

Ms Wen's donations to the University, through her charitable foundation Chong Hua, funded a Chair of Chinese Development Studies. At the time, The Telegraph reported concerns among some academics that the foundation may have had undue influence in the selection of the inaugural chair, Peter Nolan, who taught Ms Wen during her time at Cambridge and who has produced papers with her husband.
 
The University rejects any claims of misconduct, and Professor Nolan is widely acknowledged as a world expert on the Chinese economy. In 2009 he was awarded a CBE "for services supporting China's integration into the world's economy".

The Telegraph’s source is a former government official with ties to the Wen family, and claims Wen Ruchun asked her to donate to Cambridge University, and that there would be “no questions asked”.

When The Cambridge Student contacted the University Press Office, they declined to answer questions but sent us this statement:

“The philanthropic donation from the Chong Hua Education Foundation was fully verified and approved by the University of Cambridge Advisory Committee on Benefactions.  No more details will be released as the donors, as is common practice, have requested complete anonymity.

“It is wholly wrong and indeed invidious to suggest that any such donation could have any influence at all on our admissions policy or our employment practice.”

And former Vice Chancellor from 2003 to 2010, Dame Alison Richard, has defended the donation. Quoted in The Telegraph, she said “All I would say with you about that gift is that it went through a serious process conducted by serious people.”

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