Chinese Premier To Speak At Harvard

Almost 1,000 students and faculty with hopes of witnessing history lotteried for tickets to an address next week by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao.

Wen, the third highest ranking Chinese official, will speak at Harvard next Wednesday as part of his first trip to the United States since he was appointed in March.

Wen’s address, to be delivered at Harvard Business School’s Burden Hall, will come as part of a packed schedule that includes a luncheon with top Massachusetts officials, a visit to New York City and a meeting with President Bush.

The 921 Harvard affiliates, who logged on to the Asia Center website between noon Tuesday and midnight Wednesday, vied for approximately 500 tickets.

Wen is expected to speak on current Chinese policies, including relations with the United States, but his address could also touch on several sensitive topics.

“I would not be surprised if Wen’s speech also included a discussion on Tibet and Taiwan,” said Wilt Idema, director of the Fairbank Center for East Asian Research.


In addition to issues of global politics, Wen’s visit to the University will likely center on themes of education, including opportunities for academic cooperation between Chinese universities and Harvard, Idema said.

This would build on Harvard-China ties forged in recent years.

Wen’s visit, arranged by the Office of the President in conjunction with the Asia Center and the Fairbank Center, comes six years after the last major Chinese official spoke at Harvard.

In November 1997, 1,000 people requested tickets to attend a speech by Chinese President Jiang Zemin.

Nearly 4,000 supporters and protesters rallied outside the event, including members of the Tibetan Association of Boston and The Coalition for Freedom and Human Rights in Asia who protested China’s policies and criticized its president.

In 1998 then-University President Neil L. Rudenstine visited China, meeting with Jiang and officials at Peking University to talk about academic exchange between Harvard and Chinese universities.

Summers followed up that trip with a Summer 2002 visit to Chinese universities, where he discussed advancement in education.

It was unclear yesterday if Wen’s speech would draw protesters.

But at least one group of Harvard affiliates plans to use the opportunity to put pressure on the Chinese government.

Christina Fu, a Harvard Medical School researcher and the wife of a Harvard alum who has been detained in China for more than a year and a half, wrote to Harvard-based supporters urging them to sign a letter to Wen asking for her husband’s release.

Yang Jianli, a former Kennedy School graduate student and pro-democracy activist, was arrested for entering China under false documents in April 2002. He was tried this past August but has not been sentenced.

University spokesperson Joe Wrinn said that the Secret Service would work with local and Harvard University police to ensure the security of Wen’s visit.

“Security measures will be in place to make sure the prime minister can give his speech,” said Idema.

Initial plans slated Wen to speak in Sanders Theatre, the site of Jiang’s speech, but a scheduling conflict with morning classes forced the event to be moved across the River.