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Sherman Cochran, the Hu Shih Professor of Chinese History Emeritus, presented the Cornell Contemporary China Initiative's inaugural lecture Nov. 20, 2015, making the case for Hu Shih, Class of 1914, as the 'greatest Cornellian.' Cochran framed his lecture as a comparison between Shih and other Cornell graduates: Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg '54, novelist Thomas Pynchon '59, and professional football player and actor Ed Marinaro '72.

Born in 1891, Hu Shih pursued a Westernized education in China and won a Boxer scholarship that brought him to Cornell to study agriculture, although he later changed to philosophy. Shih held several important positions in Chinese academia, serving as a professor, dean and eventually president of Peking University, but he was also prominent in Chinese politics and an accomplished writer.

The Cornell Contemporary China Initiative, established by the East Asia Program, is a forum for scholars, researchers and students with interests in contemporary Chinese economy, politics and society.