COVID-19: Views of an Italian Scholar in Wuhan

As the fight against the coronavirus continues, EURAXESS China decided to interview Ivan Cardillo, Professor of Law at Zhongnan University of Economics and Law in Wuhan, the centre of the outbreak, to share his views on the impact on Chinese universities, and how to turn the epidemic into an opportunity to strengthen ties between Chinese and European researchers.

Dear Ivan, can you introduce yourself and tell us about your position in Wuhan?

I’m Assistant Professor in Law at Zhongnan University of Economics and Law, where I teach, in Chinese Language, courses on Comparative Law, Chinese-Western Comparative Legal Cultures, History of Foreign Law, Law and Cinema, Ethics of Legal Profession. My main research areas include: comparative law, comparative legal cultures, history of Western and Chinese law, legal theory, law and language.

What do you hear from your university and colleagues in Wuhan about the situation created by the coronavirus?

The university is very concerned about the health and security of its students, professors and member of staff. A comprehensive and strategic plan has been settled in order to monitor the health conditions of all the people in the campus, and to guarantee access to food and basic services. Guidelines with instructions, masks and additional services are offered by a special committee created to handle the emergency. My colleagues are in good spirit, they keep sharing relevant updates about the virus and report false news. They’ve been very concerned about my conditions, and the competent office told me to do not go back until I receive its green light.

Can you tell us how you think the outbreak will impact local universities and researchers, and their relations with European partners?

The outbreak will impact local universities in several ways. Students cannot be back to school on time for the new semester. The Ministry of Education postponed the beginning of the teaching activities. In a competitive and active society like the Chinese one, to lose a semester of study and activities is a big damage for the students. That’s why the Chinese government didn’t stop the learning activities (in Chinese 停课不停学 ting ke bu ting xue, which means to stop classes, but not to stop to learn), by promoting digital education, not only for university students but also and particularly for primary and middle schools in the province of Hubei.

The People’s Education Press will provide Hubei students and teachers with free-of-charge three-month digital resources and application services. The National Center for Educational Technology will deliver online courses. A new platform will be launched soon, the National Online Cloud Classroom. We are required to submit the teaching programme and materials and upload them on the online learning system of the school.

February is a key month for research and funding. Many Chinese national funds application’s deadline is in February. Many universities in Wuhan created a special agenda for the research activities in order to meet the national standards in the required time. Many projects and related activities have been postponed until the formal beginning of the new semester.

The international relations are already suffering because of the epidemic, they are basically in stand-by. The Chinese colleague I was waiting for in Italy, in my Alma mater - the University of Trento - where I teach Chinese law during the holidays of the Chinese spring festival, was not allowed to leave China. At present, all Chinese professors cannot obtain the public passport necessary to leave China and attend academic activities abroad. At the same time, foreign partners are invited by Chinese universities to wait for a better time before visit them.

Is there anything that European universities can do, in your opinion, to support China in this difficult moment?

European universities can do a lot to support China. First of all, they should try to prevent any phobia about security and safety in China. They should not cease cooperation with Chinese partners, and keep supporting and promoting it. Offering online courses for Chinese students which intended to spend the new semester abroad would be a good way to show support, help students to study, and be there in the time of need.

The coronavirus epidemic can be a good opportunity to strengthen friendship, mutual trust, spirit of cooperation between Chinese and European worlds of science and research.