DAVID GREENE, HOST:
OK. Let's say you're interested in studying in China. Well, there is a scholarship program that's being set up that you might want to have a look at. It's called the Schwarzman Scholars and it's modeled on Britain's prestigious Rhodes scholarships. It was announced recently by financier Stephen Schwarzman. He is cofounder of one of the world's biggest private-equity firms, Blackstone Group.
Schwarzman is donating $100 million of his own money to fund the program, which will bring students from around the world to study at Beijing's Tsinghua University.
We spoke to Schwarzman soon after he returned from a trip to China. And he told us part of the reason he's funding the scholarship is a fear that China's growing economic might is fueling tension and mistrust in the West.
STEPHEN SCHWARZMAN: And my sense is that if this continued - which it might, that there be increasing amount of unhappiness from the developed world to China, and we needed a mechanism to stop that kind of unhappiness, because if you allow it to grow it'll interfere with normal trade relations, economic relations, perhaps create military tensions, and we're already seeing some of those things.
GREENE: Well let me just drill down a bit into this idea of unhappiness because some people, as they look at China as a superpower, have criticism about the way it runs its government and runs its economy and treats its people. But you're saying that as people understand the country better and learn more about it, some of the tensions, some of the fears about China might go away.
SCHWARZMAN: I think that's the case. It is a completely different system than the one we have in the West. And each one of those two systems has some benefits and has some fall-shorts. And it's important to understand how something else works rather than just assume it works a certain way.
GREENE: Just so we have full disclosure, your company, Blackstone, does a lot of business in China. Could having this scholarship in place help your company?
SCHWARZMAN: You know. I didn't look at it that way, but I've made sure that everybody understands that this is a personal gift. It's not intended to be a Blackstone project, nor is it. But like any good work, it does have a, you know, a positive benefit for probably everyone associated with it. In that sense, it's not much different than doing something good in the United States.
GREENE: See you just returned from China, and we're talking about that China remains in many ways a mystery to many people. I wonder what struck you? Is there something that Americans, you know, who go there as part of this program will find surprising?
SCHWARZMAN: Well, sure. It's really quite different. The governmental emphasis on certain types of decisions is very important. There's significant pollution which we wouldn't have here because of our policies in the West. On the other hand, they have young people like ours who are very anxious to learn and progress. And, you know, there are a lot of similarities, but it really is a different system.
GREENE: Do you worry at all that, you know, given this is a country that still has limits on free expression, limits on academic freedom issues and questions of censorship, will people in this program be able to get a full picture? I mean things that are critical of the Chinese government, criticism from Western countries about the economy and how the country treats people, will that be part of the studies?
SCHWARZMAN: Well, in our program there won't be limitations. Of course curriculum is being developed jointly with a group of outstanding academics that we've assembled. And they'll be complete freedom of expression, discussion. To the extent that the Schwarzman Scholar attendees encounter some of these limitations elsewhere, that's part of dealing with China and understanding it. And so in that sense I'm not as concerned about that; I view that as more something that is experiential.
GREENE: But you're confident that in the classroom when it's actually the learning that's part of the program, I mean you'll be able to keep things very free, total academic freedom?
SCHWARZMAN: Yes. Absolutely. Because without that it's not going to be able to attract the kind of high-quality students and we've made that clear to our friends at Tsinghua and they agree completely.
GREENE: You already have made that clear to them.
SCHWARZMAN: Yeah. Sure.
GREENE: And we should say, I mean, I imagine this is going to be pretty competitive. I know that you sort of know that from experience. You applied for a Rhodes when you're in college, right?
SCHWARZMAN: Well, I applied and failed. I don't know what that says about me, probably nothing wonderful. But this'll be highly competitive like the Rhodes is. And we're looking for students with terrific academic criteria who've also, are creative and most importantly are identified as future thought leaders.
GREENE: Mr. Schwarzman, thanks so much for talking to us about this. We appreciate it.
SCHWARZMAN: Thanks a lot.
GREENE: Stephen Schwarzman is cofounder of the Blackstone Group, and he is establishing a scholarship fund for young people to study in China.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.