Two Chinese businessmen donate $1M to the University of Montreal and the Trudeau Foundation

Zhang Bin and Niu Gensheng with the UdeM rector, Guy Breton.

Zhang Bin and Niu Gensheng with the UdeM rector, Guy Breton.

Credit: Andrew Dobrowolskyj

In 5 seconds

Zhang Bin and Niu Gensheng's donation aims to strengthen China-Canada ties, developed by former Prime Minister PIerre Elliott Trudeau and the University of Montreal's Faculty of Law.

The University of Montreal Faculty of Law is holding a ceremony today in recognition of the donation by Zhang Bin and Niu Gensheng to create the “China-Canada Fund for Bin Zhang-Niu Gensheng Scholarships » and the « Bin Zhang-Niu Gensheng Fund for the Trudeau Foundation », commemorating the recognition of the People’s Republic of China in 1970. The generous donators will be greeted at the University of Montreal at 5 p.m. by the Rector, Guy Breton, in the presence of Peng Jingtao, Chinese Consul General in Montreal, and Alexandre Trudeau, Director and Member of the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation.

In 2013, a young Chinese student studying at the University of Montreal’s Faculty of Law expressed his enthusiasm about his experience. His parents were the first to notice how their son not only had acquired many skills but was now open to the world. His father knew a wealthy businessman, who new a wealthy businessman. Together, they have just donated a million dollars to the Faculty of Law and the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation.

The amount will mostly be turned into grants, primarily for Quebec students wishing to study in China. The students will become familiarized with Chinese culture, which is very different from Western culture and for which community is more important than the individual. Knowledge of the Chinese legal system is a great asset for students wishing to work in the area of trade relations between Western countries and China.

Honouring the memory of Pierre Elliott Trudeau: statue to be erected

The donation aims is to honour the memory and leadership of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, who was one of the first leaders to recognize the People’s Republic of China in 1970. “The history of Mr. Trudeau is well known in China,” said Guy Lefebvre, Vice-Rector for International Relations and the Francophonie. Lefebvre was previously Vice-Dean and then Dean of the Faculty of Law, and it is largely to him that we owe the close ties that Chinese universities have established with the University of Montreal.

“Relations between the University of Montreal and China go back to 1998, said the UdeM rector, Guy Breton. Since then, we have had dozens of student and faculty exchanges with China. The event that brings us together today is quite extraordinary: There is history, of course… this bold, courageous hand that Pierre Elliott Trudeau held out to China in 1970. But history would have stayed in the books if hadn’t been for this series of meetings.”

In recognition of Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s influence, the donation provides for the installation of a statue of him in front of the Faculty of Law.

Improving governance in China

“The donation also highlights the contribution of the University of Montreal to improve governance in China,” said the Vice-Rector. The first links between the Faculty of Law and China were established in 1998 when the government of Jean Chrétien asked the Canadian International Development Agency to organize a competition to train Chinese judges. The University of Montreal won the prize, and since then, a true friendship has developed between researchers from the University of Montreal and those from major Chinese universities ‒ in law first, but in other disciplines as well, including medicine, chemistry, literature, and industrial relations.

How a great gift came about

The two businessmen are Zhang Bin and Niu Gensheng. Zhang is the one who knew the father of the UdeM student and to whom Lefebvre presented his project. The Chinese businessman then invited Niu to meet Lefebvre. Zhang is the president of the China Cultural Industry Association, which supports major cultural projects. In this context, the idea of fostering greater understanding between Quebec and Chinese students was immensely appealing to the two donors.

However, one thing the Vice-Rector insists on today is that this agreement would have never seen the light of day without the long collaboration between the UdeM and Chinese universities. Indeed, since 1998, there have been many projects, including summer schools for Chinese and Quebec students (more than 1,000 student have participated), master’s programs in law for Chinese students, and joint master’s programs.

“Chinese academics and judges want to know our laws and opinions. They are curious and want to innovate,” noted Lefebvre, recalling that our “bijuralism” ‒ a civil law system coexisting with a common law system ‒ is attractive to the Chinese, who have a civil law system, but for economic reasons, are greatly influenced by common law. Furthermore, for the Vice-Rector, the French character of the University of Montreal is not a problem. Because a number of Chinese ‒ 30 million ‒ speak French or want to learn it, and because exchanges can take place in English. Not to mention that some Quebec students have begun to speak Mandarin.

* The University of Montreal is officially known as Université de Montréal.

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