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Student Reflection: My Time at the Stanford China Economic Forum

Two men and a women sit in chairs on a stage talking to each other.

Moderator Paul Oyer (right) speaks to Li Fei-fei (center) and Zhang Lei on stage during the Stanford China Economic Forum.  Photo by Zhiheng Xu.

Oct 10 2018

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50th Anniversary, Students

By Zhiheng Xu, East Asian Studies M.A. '19

The inaugural Stanford China Economic Forum was held at Park Hyatt Hotel in Beijing, China on September 8, 2018. The forum speakers featured scholars and leaders from multiple business industries and academic fields, including technology, politics, economics, education, energy, healthcare, and so on. Stanford University President Marc Tessier-Lavigne, Chairman and Co-founder of Ctrip James Liang, and Director of the Stanford Center on Global Poverty and Development Grant Miller opened the Stanford China Economic Forum, encouraging intercultural and cross-field dialogues among attendees of the forum.   

The main sessions of the forum included Education, Finance and Investment, Technology and AI, and US and China. Innovation for Energy and Natural Capital, Technology and Healthcare, and Fintech were also discussed in separate sub-sessions in the afternoon. An inspiring lunch speech about the future of U.S.-China technology collaborations was given by former CEO of Google and Alphabet Inc. Eric Schmidt, followed by a discussion with Jonathan Levin, Dean of the Stanford Graduate School of Business. It is also worth noting that Jean Oi, William Haas Professor of Chinese Politics and Lee Shau Kee Director of the Stanford Center at Peking University, brought her resolute teaching style to moderate the US and China session.

The most interesting scene of the forum occurred in the Technology and AI session. After in-depth discussions about the prospects of artificial intelligence and the importance of commercialization of artificial intellectualization between the speakers came to an end, the session was opened to questions. A delegate took the mic and raised a question to Professor Li Fei-fei, the Director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab and the Stanford Vision Lab and former Chief Scientist of the AI & ML department of Google Cloud Platform. The delegate talked about the fact that students in China are now less likely to choose fundamental science as their majors in college. Fewer and fewer students are determined to devote their time to conducting fundamental research like what Li Fei-fei did in college, but rather, they prefer to swarm into the financial services industry for the handsome salaries offered by venture capital or private equity firms.   

Li Fei-fei tried to smooth things over and talked about the importance of having diversified courses in colleges to inspire students, but the delegate stood still and reiterated his question. The other speaker of this session, Founder and CEO Of Hillhouse Capital Management Zhang Lei, smiled and raised his mic: “Let me rephrase your question: you want to know how to make more Li Fei-fei’s and less Zhang Lei’s?”

The entire conference room was suddenly filled with laughter. Zhang Lei continued with candidness: while it is certainly crucial to foster students who delve deeper into basic research and fundamental science, the supports from financial experts are also significant. They will serve as backups for more intensive research. Collaborations from both sides would double the achievements of both ultimately.


You can view additional information about the Stanford China Economic Forum on their homepage.