Jerry Peng speaking at the 2009 Beijing new student send-off party. James Hu

The same culture that built a great wall is now building a great bridge.

A collaborative effort spanning several years is strengthening Chinese connections among UVA alumni, students and officials, and the network has affected everything from admissions to fundraising.

“China will be a strategically important market for UVA as a leading global institution,” says Zhiyuan “Jerry” Peng (GSBA ’03).

A moving force in the UVaClub of Beijing, Peng has helped coordinate events ranging from a send-off for Chinese students headed for UVA to a recent visit by President John T. Casteen III to China.

The Beijing group is only one card in the deck. Others include the UVaClub of Shanghai, active student groups on Grounds, outreach by admission officers and energetic involvement by UVA’s Office of Engagement.

For Parke Muth (Col ’79), director of international admission at UVA, the efforts are already bearing fruit. The number of Chinese students applying to UVA has skyrocketed from 17 a decade ago to 800 this year.

“We have more people attending send-off parties in Beijing and Shanghai than in most places in the United States,” says Muth, who credits Darci Spuck, assistant director of regional engagement, with creating energy among the groups.

More than 100 people—new students, parents, alumni and others—attended the send-off in Beijing this year; in Shanghai, which held its first such event, more than 80 participated. “It was a huge success in terms of turnout,” says Xiaowei Li (Engr ’07).

“It was exciting to see such participation, having been here for so long now and not realizing there was such a UVA presence in this city,” adds John Cox (Engr ’02).

The burgeoning Chinese presence on Grounds is reflected in the growth of groups like the Chinese Students and Scholars Society and the Mainland Student Network (MSN). The latter, begun in 2006, has 200 student members and sponsors job fairs, karaoke contests, seminars and a China Day in March.

“The main objective of MSN when it was founded was to ease mainland Chinese students’ transition to UVA and help them adjust to American culture,” says president Wenhao “Gary” Chen (Com ’11). “Now I have another goal. That is, we bridge the connection between China and UVA and help raise awareness of UVA in China,” Chen says.

Max Quillen (Col ’00), a co-founder of the UVaClub of Beijing, agrees that raising awareness is critical. “In recent years, some key high schools in Beijing and Shanghai have become aware of UVA, but in general unless someone actually knows an alum there is little chance they have heard of us.”

Alumni in China are equally eager to build academic ties in that country. Li helped arrange a recent UVA faculty visit to Shanghai Jiao Tong University, where he does research.

Cox anticipates a bright future for UVA in Shanghai and beyond. “I think all of us are looking forward to the success and growth of the Shanghai club as China continues to take on a greater role on the global stage.”