Northern Lights: Our future needs Chinese as well as British characteristics to thrive

In the shadow of St Mary’s Church and a stone’s throw from Bramall Lane, a new era is developing. The longstanding dream of local businessman Jerry Cheung, the New Era Development will be a home to Chinese students and business start ups.


By Sir Keith Burnett

Jerry Cheung sees a future in which people from the Steel City build connections with talented young people and entrepreneurs from Beijing and Shanghai. Jerry has teamed up with the Chamber of Commerce’s Richard Wright as well as my own university, the city council and Sheffield Hallam to make a new Chinese Business Incubator. We sign the papers this week.

Sheffield is right to think about how it can work with China – the greatest emerging power in the world, home to over 1.3 billion people. It isn’t just the Chinese students who bring so much to our local economy and who volunteer in large numbers to support local schools, festivals and charities. It is that our societies have interests and problems in common, and if we work together to find solutions, everyone benefits.

It’s easy of course to think of China in terms of stereotypes. Fashionable urban teenagers with their phones and WeChat contrast in our minds with images of dragons, rice fields, Confucius and Jackie Chan. It is the same in reverse. If you watch TV in China, you could be forgiven for thinking that all Brits are extras in either Downton Abbey or Sherlock! But life isn’t like that in either country and Sheffield has something particular to offer to China.

China is a country struggling to build a modern economy and society for the good of its people. We’ve been there. Sheffield knows what it is to face the challenge of improving industry and healthcare to make a difference to the lives of local people. There are plenty of Steel Cities in China, and many of them are facing significant job losses as old manufacturing gives way to losses to cheaper economies. This city has had its own smoggy skies and understands the sacrifices of working people who want something better for their children.

Like us, China is serious about new technologies and the use of data. Could Sheffield possibly have a role to play? The Chinese think so, which is why this week the University of Sheffield is hosting a number of visitors from Beijing. We will be signing an agreement with its leading Tsignhua University to work together on Artificial Intelligence in everything from manufacturing to health. Tsinghua has the best computer science department in Asia. If we solve problems together, we could do wonderful things for our countries.

There will be business leaders with the delegation too, keen to learn. China has a deep respect for education and research, and it knows it needs to innovate if it is to support the growing prosperity of its people. The links we make with these hard-working people should create opportunities and jobs here and in China.

And perhaps most important of all, China has 1.3 billion people it must feed, although many have now migrated from the rural areas to cities. Who will help bring life to abandoned fields or help crops spring from the dusty brown fields I saw from the train window on my way north from Beijing? Again, we can help. Underneath the car park in front of the Arts Tower is one of the most advanced Plant Sciences labs in the world, modelling growing conditions which may be impacted by climate change.

We have one more special visitor this week – the Chief Scientist of Google AI and Machine Learning, Professor Fei Fei Li. This remarkable young woman arrived in the US as a 16 year old Chinese immigrant where she set up a laundry so her parents would have reliable work. Today she is shaping the future of AI in one of the most influential companies in the world, constantly concerned about how knowledge can be used for human good.

Why would Fei Fei Li come to Sheffield? Because she knows we care about the same things. She wants to see how we are applying technologies to solve practical challenges and to help companies become more productive. She wants to meet students, apprentices.

Too often people think of the future of a city in very local terms. But the future of our city, country and world will not be best served by preserving boundaries. Our interests lie in finding common ground and working together to solve challenges. We will only be able to look after the children of Sheffield and Rotherham, Doncaster and Barnsley if we also care about the children of Shanghai and Shenzhen, Beijing and Nanjing. Our future needs Chinese as well as British characteristics.



在圣玛丽教堂(St Mary’s Church)和布拉莫巷(Bramall Lane)不远之处,一个“新时代”正悄然来临。对谢菲本地企业家张运来(Jerry Cheung)来说,他的夙愿就是将他的“新时代广场”建成中国学生和初创业公司的新家。

张运来先生看到的是这样的未来:谢菲尔德这座钢铁之城的人们和来自北京、上海才华横溢的年轻人能够建立联系。为了一个新的中国商业孵化中心,张运来先生汇集了谢菲尔德商会的理查德·怀特(Richard Wright)先生、谢菲尔德大学、谢菲尔德市政府和谢菲尔德哈莱姆大学共建团队,协定本周签约。





尽管许多中国人从农村地区搬到了城市生活,但中国仍然需要养活13亿人,或许这才是中国的头等大事。我在离开北京的火车上透过窗户看到了无人耕种的土地,以及生长在尘土飞扬的土地上的庄稼,谁能够帮助中国给这些土地带去生机呢?我想再强调一遍,我们可以。在谢菲尔德大学艺术塔(Arts Tower)大楼前的停车场下面,有着世界上最先进的植物科学实验室,能够模拟气候变化对植物生长条件的各种影响。

此外,本周谢菲尔德大学还来了一位特别嘉宾——谷歌人工智能和机器学习实验室(Google AI and Machine Learning)首席科学家李飞飞教授。这位杰出的年轻女士16岁时移民美国,在那里开了一家洗衣店,以便父母能够获得稳定的收入。今天,她在世界上最有影响力的公司之一的谷歌公司里塑造着人工智能的未来,关心着如何将知识应用于人类。



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