Man from Hunan farming village gets doctorate, speaks at Harvard commencement

Hunan native He Jiang speaks at Harvard commencement

Hunan native He Jiang speaks at Harvard commencement

JISHOU, HUNAN — A man from a small village near Changsha has become the first Chinese person to address a Harvard commencement ceremony.

Hé Jiāng 何江 is the older son of a farming couple in Ningxiang county. Though the family barely had two coins to rub together, Hé did very well at school and his college entrance examination (gāokǎo 高考) scores gained him admission to the University of Science and Technology in Hefei, Anhui province.

On May 26, he graduated with a doctorate in molecular and cellular biology from Harvard, and was selected to be the graduate school speaker at the graduation ceremony.

In his speech (text in Chinese and English), Hé said he is concerned that modern medicine is unevenly distributed, so that poor people, like his own family and their neighbors, don’t have access to adequate care. He related a dramatic incident from his childhood, when his mother wrapped his hand in cloth soaked in liquor and set the cloth on fire after he was bit by a spider.

 You see, the part of China I grew up in was a rural village, and at that time pre-industrial. When I was born, my village had no cars, no telephones, no electricity, not even running water. And we certainly didn’t have access to modern medical resources. There was no doctor my mother could bring me to see about my spider bite.

  For those who study biology, you may have grasped the science behind my mom’s cure: heat deactivates proteins, and a spider’s venom is simply a form of protein. It’s cool how that folk remedy actually incorporates basic biochemistry, isn’t it? But I am a PhD student in biochemistry at Harvard, I now know that better, less painful and less risky treatments existed. So I can’t help but ask myself, why I didn’t receive one at the time?

Hé is now a postdoc at MIT, pursuing research at the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research.

As Harvard’s first Chinese commencement speaker and as an example of how the controversial gāokǎo system can help rural students pull themselves out of poverty, Hé has given many interviews. Here are links to a few of them.

The Sixth Tone
The Harvard Gazette

Here’s his address, on KuWo

and YouTube

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