Why a private equity tycoon is funding a scholarship in China

Students graduate during a ceremony held for 3,768 master and 898 doctorates being given out at the Tsinghua University.

So what can $300 million buy you in China? Perhaps, the Chinese version of the Rhodes Scholarship.

That's what the Chinese and American private equity mogul Stephen Schwarzman are hoping. The Blackstone Group founder is doling out $100 million of his own money and raising another $200 million to set up an international scholarship program at elite Tsinghua University in Beijing. Alumni include business leaders as well asa China's president, Xi Jinping. 

The scholarship will enable 200 students a year to study for a master's degree, and come into close contact with top Chinese students. 

"This scholarship for China is a soft power coup," says Marketplace's China Bureau Chief, Rob Schmitz. "If you're the Chinese communist party, the students you want to reach will now be coming to you." 

And it's not just the Chinese government that wants to make a good impression abroad. Investors in the scholarship want to demonstrate their continued committment to working in China. 

"If you take a look at who's donating money to this scholarship, it's basically a who's who of U.S. companies doing business here," Schmitz says. "You've got Boeing, Caterpillar, J.P. Morgan Chase, Bank of America... all these companies do big business in China."

Money raised for the scholarship will fund 10,000 students over the next 50 years. About half, Schmitz says, will be from the U.S. 

Potential applicants take note, fluency in Mandarin is not required. 

"The emphasis here seems to be more on schmoozing with other elite students in China, getting to know the country a little, but not getting to know the culture or language too deeply." 

About the author

Rob Schmitz is Marketplace’s China correspondent in Shanghai.

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