Personal ties bring large institutions together


The news reports announce the historic collaborations among institutions, but the deeper story behind the launch of the University of Wisconsin–Madison Shanghai Innovation Office is rooted in individual connections. In this instance, as in so many others, it takes personal relationships to bring large organizations together and enable initiatives to move forward.

The personal linkages that created the foundation for the Innovation Office began in the early 1990s, when a UW–Madison Law School professor mentored a visiting scholar from the People’s Republic of China.

Charles Irish and Sun Chao
Charles Irish and Sun Chao

“Professor Xu Xianghua came to Madison in the early 1990s and I was her advisor,” says Charles Irish, Volkman-Bascom Professor of Law (emeritus) and senior director of the East Asian Legal Studies Center.

After Xu earned her master’s degree at UW–Madison, she returned to teach at East China University of Political Science and Law (ECUPL), where her husband, Sun Chao, also was teaching.

“Soon thereafter she got me involved with ECUPL, doing continuing education programs for Chinese lawyers and academics,” Irish says. “By around 1995, Professor Xu and Sun Chao, with their daughter Sun Chen, came to Madison as visiting scholars for a year. They all spent a lot of time at our house, so the two families got to know each other quite well.”

Over time, Sun Chao moved up the political hierarchy and currently serves as Party Secretary of the Minhang District of Shanghai. His wife is now a senior professor at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, where she was instrumental in getting a sizable grant for SJTU’s new law school.

“At various times over the last 15 years or so, Sun Chao has asked for my help in arranging programs for the Shanghai judges, municipal government officials, and CCP (Chinese Communist Party) members from throughout China,” Irish says.

These programs have been well-received, and even though they are immersed in different political and legal systems, Irish and Sun Chao have remained good friends and professional colleagues.

“But really, it’s pretty much the same around the world,” explains Irish, whose work on international tax, trade and legal matters has taken him to more than 70 countries. “You work with people and develop mutual respect for each other and it is pretty natural for the work and the relationship to deepen.”

UW–Madison’s East Asian Legal Studies Center—of which Irish is the founding director—and the Shanghai High People’s Court have jointly sponsored a judicial skills training seminar for Shanghai judges since 2002. The seminar has enjoyed strong support and active involvement from the Wisconsin and federal judiciaries, as well as from the Law School faculty.

The East Asian Legal Studies Center also sponsors the Shanghai Minhang District Seminar on Municipal Government Administration, in which government officials from the Minhang District learn about U.S. administrative law and regulatory practices. Primary goals are to increase transparency, predictability, legality and fairness in government regulation and in the delivery of services.

Shanghai Office
Heinz Klug, David Ward, Charles Irish and John Ohnesorge

John Ohnesorge, associate professor of law, succeeded Irish as director of the East Asian Legal Studies Center and has continued the close engagement with the Minhang District.

In addition, Ohnesorge chairs the Wisconsin China Initiative, which was created to bring together faculty and staff interested in China from across campus. It was through the China Initiative that the idea of establishing a UW–Madison physical presence in China was raised.

The specific opportunity to develop UW–Madison’s first overseas outpost grew from the ongoing relationships between the East Asian Legal Studies Center and the Minhang District. The center’s programs also pointed the way to providing professional training as an economic foundation for the office.

The UW–Madison Shanghai Innovation Office is located in the Minhang District’s Zizhu Hi-Tech Industrial Development Zone, with substantial support from the Minhang District.

Irish and Ohnesorge were among the key individuals recognized during the inaugural ceremonies for the office.

Sun Chao also acknowledged the importance of Irish’s role during his remarks at the start of the Conference on Innovation, held in conjunction with the launch. He concluded by naming his American colleague as an honorary citizen of the Minhang District.

— by Kerry G. Hill

Ceremony for launch of UW-Madison Shanghai Innovation Office
Ceremony for launch of UW-Madison Shanghai Innovation Office