Sunday, February 8, 2009

Talking about Shi Yigong's Salary

There is a usual routine in Chinese media in praising patriotic scholars returning from abroad to serve the motherland. Inevitably, they are described as giving up privileged academic positions, luxury houses, and fancy cars for a presumably much lesser environment in China. The description might have had some truth in it in the past couple of decades but it has gradually lost its base as China is more and more willing to spend big money luring oversea talents.

The most recent media star Professor Shi Yigong is being described in the same manner. Before returning to China, Shi Yigong was the Warner-Lambert/Parke-Davis Professor of molecular biology at Princeton University. So it is true that he had given up a lot in returning. He was made a professor and associated dean at Tsinghua University, one of the most privileged school in China. As the media campaign on his sacrifice continued, his salary at Tsinghua University became the talk of town.

A professor at the same college as Shi Yigong at Tshinghua University disclosed that Shi Yigong's salary is about 1.7 million RMB, which is roughly more than 200,000 in USD. If this figure is true, his salary will be at least compatible with what he earned at Princeton and more than ten times of other professors in the same Chinese school. So much for the sacrifice.

The issue received world-wide attention. A news report by Nature initially quoted the 1.7 million figure in describing how China is attracting top talents. The story drew a firestorm in its online comments and the magazine was forced to apologize and revise its content to exclude the exact figure.

Shi Yigong's colleague at Peking University, Professor Rao Yi, claimed that his salary is actually less than one million in RMB. Shi Yigong and Tsinghua University chose to remain silent. Fang Zhouzi is advocating for an open policy regarding salaries in public schools. He used examples of public schools in America disclosing professor salaries to illustrate that concerns of privacy do not apply in such a situation. Tsinghua University, like pretty much every other school in China, is a public and national institute.

Lately, Fang Zhouzi had been invited to present his case in a radio talk show.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Salary at the private universities in the US is confidential. So I don't think there is a need to disclose the salary in the Chinese universities in making the job more competitive.

Eddie Cheng said...

Chinese universities are not private. Just as public universities in the US, the taxpayers who are funding them have the right to know the salaries of their employees.

Mung Chiang said...

There is a key difference between private universities and public ones. Public universities are part of the government civil servant system, in both US and China. Their accountability is much higher than private ones. In China there're a few private universities like the United International College, but the overwhelming majority are public ones including Tsinghua University. Public university employee's salaries should be made available to public. Striving for reform in China's education system, people like Shi Yigong and Rao Yi would most likely support such a measure of transparency and accountability themselves too.