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What the Future Holds? (Testimonies from our Graduates)

The following testimonies from our graduates have been collected in the spring of 2017 through a members survey by the officers of the Thomas Wade Society (a society of graduates of the Cambridge Chinese Studies Tripos and supporters). We are particularly pleased by the enthusiastic response from some older graduates, who show us how much their knowledge of Chinese language and Chinese culture has enriched their careers and lives. Where appropriate we have provided links to related sites.

We are in the process of collecting more testimonies, especially from more recent graduates. Please contact Dr Adam Chau at ayc25@cam.ac.uk if you are a former student of the programme and wish to submit a testimony/reminiscence.

 

Geoff Sampson, Oriental Studies, 1965

Current Job: Academic (retired)

It was a different world.  China, then, did not feel like somewhere one might actually go to.  Our tiny undergraduate band were being let in on the secrets of a great civilization that, to almost any Brit, was a blank Terra Incognita.  I started learning Chinese as a schoolboy hobby, expecting to play with it for a few weeks, but soon I was hooked – when it came to university applications, I knew this was the subject for me.  I remember our first history lecture:  “There are three of us to teach you Chinese history, so we are taking a millennium each”.  By graduation I was convinced that every student ought to be required to study Sinology:  what other subject gives such a vivid sense of how unlike ours a successful human society can be?

We were offered a linguistics option, and that hooked me too, so I left for graduate study in the USA which centred on linguistics, though I also took courses about a new kind of machine called computers.  Returning to Britain I climbed the academic ladder, eventually being appointed to a linguistics chair in 1984.  Halfway through my career, though, linguistics came to seem a discipline past its sell-by date.  I seized a chance to move into informatics, with periods of industrial research.  I reached retirement age teaching and writing about electronic business, and I.T. law. 

A nomadic career, then, but I never lost sight of Chinese – in 2006 I published a book of translations from the Book of Odes.

I have been very lucky.  Thank you, Cambridge!

 

John Everard

Current Job: Retired Diplomat

I chose Chinese studies by accident.  I started out studying Part 1 French and German but I got drunk at a party and told all my friends that I was going to switch to Chinese.  By the time I had sobered up the humiliation of backing out of this would have been too great, so I told a rather surprised Oriental faculty that I should be joining them.  I have never regretted the decision.  I was able to spend a year in Beijing University as one of only the third group of foreign students after the Cultural Revolution - a quite different China from that of today.  I was able to serve in the British Embassy in Beijing on two tours and I used my Chinese extensively during frequent breaks in Beijing from Pyongyang, my last FCO posting, and occasionally during my job coordinating the Panel of Experts on North Korea for the United Nations Security Council.  I still comment widely on Asian affairs and follow the ins and outs of Chinese foreign policy. 

 

Hilary Lade, Class of 1976

Studying Chinese gave me an experience different to all of my friends at Cambridge:  I was part of a small team with a huge amount of individual teaching contact, my teachers had amazing ‘back stories’ of experience outside academia and my eyes were opened to a culture that – just like Britain – had always considered itself to be the centre of the world – the ‘Central Kingdom’.  Studying Chinese may have taught me a language, but it introduced me to the world.

I gained a Harkness Fellowship on leaving Cambridge and studied in the United States at Harvard and Berkeley, but academia wasn’t for me and I returned to the UK to join Shell, initially working on a coal project for China.  Shell however had many opportunities wider than China and I spent several very happy years travelling and trading cargoes of oil products – some in and out of China! – and then running a subsidiary company in the UK gas business.

Many of life’s best breaks come about by a chance event and it was seeing an advertisement to run Fountains Abbey for the National Trust that took me out of the business world and into the charitable and public sector.  This then led to appointments as varied as Director of Historic Properties at English Heritage, the selection panel for the UK European Capital of Culture in 2008 and as a Board member at the Heritage Lottery Fund deciding on millions of pounds worth of investment at every meeting.  As the positions became non-executive (part time) rather than full time it has also left time to fulfil a lifelong dream of playing more music on the viola and sailing a small classic yacht (but not both at the same time!)

Was this the career I expected when I interviewed at Cambridge to study Chinese?  No, but I have enough Chinese to travel off the beaten track and talk to local people in China, and Cambridge gave a background to the culture which helps to put China’s current and future position in the world into context.  And the career?  It’s been great fun.

 


Christopher Homfray, Class of 1976

Current Job: Adviser at NHS Scotland

When I came up to Cambridge in October 1976, Mao Zedong had been dead only a few weeks and the Cultural Revolution was just over.  China seemed a strange and mysterious place – well until, that is, my first essay on modern China was marked A- with the single comment “isn’t it all about bicycles?” So started a wonderful intellectual journey of discovery around the obvious truth that China and Chinese people are neither strange, nor mysterious nor inscrutable, but rather just different in all sorts of interesting ways. 

On graduating in 1980, I won a scholarship to study in northern China and had two years in Ji'nan and Beijing. After one year teaching Chinese near London, I was successful at CSSB and was appointed to the Hong Kong Government.

My knowledge of China and of Mandarin, and then also Cantonese, was the foundation for a career in colonial government, followed by six years in consultancy in Hong Kong through the handover years. My China studies and experience also inspired a subsequent decade working in equality in NHS Scotland, and my current work with refugees in the British Red Cross in Glasgow, both of which revolve around cross-cultural experience and understanding.

 

Stephen Jones, Class of 1976

Current Job: Author, Ethnographer, Ethnomusicologist, Blogger

In lieu of a reminiscence,  Stephen Jones, ethnographer of rural Chinese ritual and music, invites you to visit his blog: https://stephenjones.blog ("Daoism—lives—language—performance. And jokes") with rich material on ethnographic fieldwork, his lifelong experience as orchestral violinist, Stella Gibbons, Bach, Amy Winehouse,  the GDR, and so on. Among Steve's posts on his former mentors at Cambridge are
https://stephenjones.blog/2016/12/19/paul-kratochvil/ (one of several), and
https://stephenjones.blog/2017/02/10/laurence-picken/
as well as a jocular series on Tang music with contributions from Denis Twitchett:
https://stephenjones.blog/2017/01/22/more-french-letters-2/
https://stephenjones.blog/2017/02/05/faqu-tu/

You can also type "Cambridge" etc. into the search box!

 

Adrian Harley

Current Job: Chief Representative of John Swire & Sons, China

I joined John Swire & Sons immediately after leaving Cambridge and have worked for them ever since (nearly thirty years!). My most recent China job was Chief Representative of John Swire and Sons in China. Also that previously I had postings to Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Philippines, India, Sri Lanka and Germany with Cathay Pacific Airways. Swire has been a fantastic company to work for. They have a strong emphasis on training and development, and it is guaranteed that you will have interesting and challenging assignments from day one. Speaking Chinese, it is guaranteed that you will receive postings in China in one of the many divisions. 

 

Guy Chambers, Class of 1993

Current Job: Group Managing Director, James Finley Ltd

I graduated in 1993 and joined John Swire & Sons to start a career in business in Greater China. Have had a variety of jobs across China, Hong Kong and Taiwan - all of which beverage-related. From 1993-2012, I worked in Swire Beverages, setting up Coca-Cola JVs in China, followed by building bottling plants then setting up distribution networks to cover the country. Since 2012, I have been selling tea globally, including in China (!), in a Swire-owned business called Finlays (founded in 1750). There has not been a day that I have regretted studying Chinese. I continue to build my knowledge of Chinese history and treat Mandarin as a valuable second language.

 

Clare Wijeratne, Class of 2000

Current job: Global policy analyst, BHP Billiton

My career has taken a few twists and turns since graduating from Cambridge, but at each step, the fact that I hold a degree in Chinese studies has been a positive factor in helping me win the position I have been seeking.

Immediately after graduating I went into strategy consulting with Bain & Company. This provided an invaluable grounding in many basic business skills. But spreadsheets weren’t for me and so after two years I moved to join the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as a diplomat. I was quickly posted overseas to Hong Kong for three years, then spent three years in London before another posting overseas, this time to New Delhi. In each of these roles, and understanding of China and its aspirations and role in the world was important. At the end of my time in Delhi, my husband and I were keen to remain in Asia, so we relocated to Singapore where I joined a niche consulting firm in the business intelligence sector. From there, in early 2017, I moved to BHP Billiton, the Anglo-Australian mining company, still based in Singapore. I am global policy analyst, helping the company to track and understand government policy decision making, and the impact that it can have on our business and on demand for our commodities. China remains the largest market for most of our commodities, and so understanding government policy on everything from energy use to electric cars to urbanisation to population management is really vital. And even though I’m not speaking Chinese regularly, in one way or another, I use the skills I developed at Cambridge every day.

 

Greg McMillan, Class of 2016

Current job: Astrup Fearnley AS - Shipbroker (the testimony below was written when Greg was with the Hut Group, an e-commerce company)

The highlight of my time at Cambridge was the second half of my degree - studying abroad at Peking University and doing Part II back at Cambridge. After two hard years of learning characters and getting the basics, I learnt how to put the language into practice and became more comfortable applying it to academic and professional pursuits. As our language improved, we had the freedom to pursue our interests, in my case modern history and politics. In my final year, with the assistance of faculty staff, I was able to publish two papers.

After graduation I started work at a large e-commerce company in Manchester. I manage business development and manage a small team responsible for trading strategy. We improve the channels through which we sell cross border, and I help the company grow and understand  the opportunities and challenges in this diverse, complex market. I represent the company in China, leading negotiations with Chinese tech companies such as Alibaba, Tencent and Baidu and project-managing infrastructure development (i.e. customer service centres and warehousing).

You leave AMES a generalist with an understanding of a region. This has its advantages, but also its challenges. I work as a bridge between two groups of specialists, but had to make mistakes and learn very fast to add value to this process, and now am trusted to solve the problems that that arise between these groups of people. Since you add genuine value and understanding, people seek you out to help them ‘do China’ in all kinds of industries. Studying at Cambridge puts you at an advantage against many others in this position. Firstly, because the AMES course gives you a thorough linguistic and cultural grounding, which joint degrees at other universities simply cannot. Secondly, because your final two years teach you to think, which is at the requirement at the core of managing the complex, multi-party, trans-cultural, fast-paced problems you encounter in commerce.

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