04 April 2018

Shanghai is home to several of world’s most highly ranked universities, one of them led by LiU alumnus Professor Zhihua Zhong. Tongji University is ranked number one in the world in the field of urban planning.

Professor Zhihua ZhongProfessor Zhihua Zhong Photo credit: Monica WestmanZhihua Zhong explains Tongji’s success in this field as follows: “Ever since it was founded, Tongji has delivered excellent results in bridge construction and urban planning, and has attracted the best researchers in this field. Our operations have grown as China’s economy has grown, and we embody a deep commitment to continuously improve our education and invest in innovation, in both education and research”.

A delegation from Linköping University, led by Vice-Chancellor Helen Dannetun, has come to visit, and receives a warm reception. The positive image that President Zhihua Zhong has of Linköping University has spread to the employees. There is a huge interest in increasing collaboration, not only in the field of design but also within medicine and technology.

PhD studies in solid mechanics

After 15 years in Sweden, ten of them in Linköping, Zhihua Zhong speaks excellent Swedish, and admits that he left a piece of his heart in Linköping.

Zhihua Zhong and Helen DannetunZhihua Zhong and Helen Dannetun Photo credit: Monica WestmanZhihua Zhong came to Sweden at the age of 22, on a scholarship to carry out PhD studies in solid mechanics. He started his studies under the supervision of Larsgunnar Nilsson at the Luleå University of Technology, working with calculations and simulations of vehicle collisions.

Larsgunnar Nilsson moved from Luleå to Linköping and Saab, and was soon after appointed professor in solid mechanics at Linköping University. He took with him his research students from Luleå, among them Zhihua Zhong, when he moved to Linköping.

“He was one of the best research student I’ve ever had, and a skilled mathematician. He left nothing to chance,” says Larsgunnar Nilsson, now retired, and still close friends with Zhihua Zhong.

Sweden´s first supercomputer

A large part of Zhihua Zhong’s PhD project dealt with developing programs for finite element calculations, which he ran on one of Sweden’s first supercomputers, a Cray-1, installed at Saab, and later a Cray XMP. Today these computers are museum pieces, but at the time it was the best that money could buy. The research of Larsgunnar Nilsson and Zhihua Zhong paved the way for Sweden’s world-leading position in collision safety.

Zhihua Zhong took his doctorate in 1988 and returned to Hunan to develop a rice-harvesting machine.

“I don’t think Larsgunnar understood why I had to return to China, but there was such a huge contrast between the supercomputer I was working on in Linköping and the farmers at home, who harvested the rice manually. I wanted to develop a cheap, reliable and robust machine for harvesting rice,” he tells us.

After a few years, however, a position at LiU tempted him back, and from 1992, Zhihua Zhong spent some years working as senior lecturer and teacher in solid mechanics. He became the youngest person to be appointed docent at LiU.

What does he remember in particular?
“Blueberries and mushrooms,” comes the immediate reply. “Rambling and jogging in the forest, and having picnics on the lawns in summer.”

He tries to keep his Swedish language skills up to scratch:
“My wife could also speak Swedish, so we used it when we didn’t want our daughter to understand,” he jokes.

Rapid advancements

Professor Zhihua ZhongProfessor Zhihua Zhong Photo credit: Monica WestmanDuty called, however, and after he returned to China the second time, Zhihua Zhong’s professional advancement has been rapid. Initially as scientist and professor at Hunan University, where he served as president from 2005 until 2011. He was elected to the Chinese Academy of Sciences in 2005, and became chief secretary of the Chinese Academy of Engineering in 2014.
At the beginning of September 2016, Zhihua Zhong was appointed president of Tongji University in Shanghai.

“It’s a wonderful university full of talented people. The potential for contributing to developing Chinese society is enormous,” he says.

But he acknowledges that the university is facing challenges: the programmes are being restructured and modernised, new course literature must be adopted, the postgraduate education must be improved, and the quality must become even higher.
“We want our students to take more industrial placements and have better opportunities for exchange study abroad. We are hoping that the collaboration with Linköping University, and several other universities, can be expanded. We have to create more bridges between manufacturing industry in China and in Sweden,” he says.Fablab in TongjiFablab in Tongji Photo credit: Monica Westman

Welcomes more students

LiU and Tongji University already have an agreement about exchange students. In 2017, 18 LiU students participated in short project-based courses at the College of Design and Innovation at Tongji, while one Tongji student participated in the LiU Summer Academy.

Zhihua Zhong welcomes more students from LiU.

“We have many foreign students here at Tongji, and course packages are offered in English in most subjects. A study plan must be set up in advance, and visiting students must realise that accommodation is more cramped here – it’s not unusual that students share rooms. But the culture here is similar, and it’s warm and welcoming.”

Helen Dannetun is also eager to see the number of exchanges increased, in both directions.
“I wish more of our students would realise the opportunities that study in China opens for them, and LiU’s Summer Academy should be suitable for more students from Tongji. Not forgetting the many popular master’s programmes given in English that we offer,” she says.

President Zhihua Zhong agrees. “Indeed. Our students have the opportunity to visit an innovative country with highly advanced technology. Learning English is essential for them, and the Swedes are kind and friendly. The cultures of our two countries are very similar.”

Tongji UniversityTongji University Photo credit: Monica WestmanTongji University, Shanghai

Tongji University has approximately 40,000 students spread over four campuses, and, just as LiU, places a heavy emphasis on working across disciplinary boundaries. The research situation is similar to that at LiU, 40% of funding is from government grants while 60% is from collaboration with industry and other sources. A business park is located close to the university with around 2000 companies and Tongji is a major owner of two companies working in the construction industry, allowing researchers and students to come into close contact with practical operations. Tongji was founded in 1907, was granted university status in 1923, and is one of China’s oldest universities.


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