Chinese in French Guiana
Donate to the West Lake University
By Chen Yuhao
At a press conference at the annual session of the National People’s Congress on March 3, Mr. Shi Yigong, president of West Lake University founded on October 2018, expressed his gratitude to donors from across the world for generous donations to the private, research-oriented higher education institute in Hangzhou. In particular, he mentioned a group of Chinese donors in French Guiana. When mentioning a Mr. Zhou, a native of Wenzhou in Zhejiang Province, flew around the world in a 33-hour trip from French Guiana and brought the donation to Hangzhou, Mr. Shi was almost choked with tears.
A few days ago I contacted Zhou in French Guiana and talked with him on phone. Mr. Zhou is Zhou Xuebing. He was born in Pingyang, a county in Wenzhou in southeastern Zhejiang. After graduation from Ocean University of China in 1985 he worked in Hangzhou for two years before he went to France in 1987. In 1990 he went to French Guiana for a job and eventually put his roots down there. He has been in business for 30 years.
It was in April 2018 that he first learned online that the Ministry of Education had given green lights to the founding of the West Lake University in Hangzhou (the official approval was granted in February that year). He soon informed his circle of friends on WeChat, a Chinese social media, in French Guiana about the approval and the QR code for donation. In French Guiana, there are about 3,000 natives of Zhejiang and they use WeChat to talk to each other just as their counterparts do back home in Zhejiang. He reached out to these fellow Zhejiang natives in five WeChat groups and called them for supporting the new institution in the home province. “After all, Zhejiang is my home province and I have been aware of Professor Shi’s achievement for a long time,” says Zhou. His friends responded quickly and enthusiastically.
First donations came in on the day the call was made on WeChat. Some seniors visited Zhou personally asking him to teach them how to use the QR code to donate. Zhou asked them to send him red envelopes on WeChat and he then transferred the amounts to the university through his account. Zhou’s friends donated generously and they were recognized by the university as the first group of donators.
In October 2018, Zhou flew 33 hours to reach Hangzhou. Flying from South America to Hangzhou is one of the longest air trips in the world. Normally it takes three days and three nights to fly a round trip. Zhou has long since got used to the long flight. In French Guiana, Zhou operates a bookstore and a wholesale business. He visits Yiwu, the world’s biggest marketplace for household commodities in central Zhejiang, twice a year to do buying from his suppliers. He attended the opening ceremony of the West Lake University. Shi Yigong met Zhou and said thank you personally. In the next few hours, many people sought Zhou out to shake hands and take photos with him. The VIP treatment made Zhou a little bit nervous, dizzy, and tremendously proud.
After the founding ceremony of the West Lake University in October 2018, the West Lake Education Foundation made 80 donation certificates for the overseas Chinese in French Guiana. As his suitcase wasn’t big enough for all the certificates, Zhou packed them into one of the containers to be shipped from Yiwu to French Guiana. It took about 2 months for the containers to reach French Guiana.
At one of the Spring Festival events in French Guiana in February 2019, a special ceremony was held to distribute the certificates to the donors. Among the donors attending the ceremony were a woman who operates a grocery store, a restaurant chef, and some schoolchildren. It turns out that some families donated money to the West Lake University in the name of their children. “Wouldn’t it be cool if one day some of our children can go back home and study at the West Lake University?” enthuses Zhou Xuebing wistfully.
Zhou concerns himself with the university in the capital of his home province. He browses news about it online. He does some researches about the professors in its employment. He studies its guideline and, after comparing it with its counterparts in China, concludes that West Lake University will definitely make a difference in the future.