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Canadian Scientist Following in Su Dongpo's Footsteps

This year in Zhejiang Province, ten foreign experts were awarded the Certificate of Hangzhou Qianjiang Friendship Ambassador in appreciation of their enthusiastic support for Hangzhou’s construction and their friendly cooperation. And todays interviewee Francois Ouellette was one of them.

I met Francois, a scientist, in his well appointed offices and workshops at the Zhejiang National University Science Park. Francois is a Canadian and a Quebecois who has been living in China since 2015. However, he is quick to tell me that his love affair with China started in 2011 with an interest in Tai chi. The story he tells us is about the time during his PhD studies and Canadian university life when he would watch Chinese students practice the martial art in the departmental corridors. But it wasn’t until 2011 that he could find the time to make his first visit to China.

Arriving as a tourist he made his way to Yangshuo where he was able to take Tai chi lessons for three weeks. His Chinese classmates in graduate school in the early 80’s had also kick-started his interest in Chinese culture, art and science. He read Science and Civilization in China by Joseph Needham and wanted to read more history and literature of China. He admits to liking Dream of Red Chambers and the poetry of Su Dongpo (Su Shi 1037 –1101) the once governor of Hangzhou who was born in Meishan, Sichuan, which for this story is a pertinent fact which we will come to shortly. Such was Francois’s liking of the Chinese bard that he named his company “Hangzhou Guanglian Technology Co Ltd” after Su Dongpo’s poetry.

Returning to China in 2015 Francois headed over to Chengdu, near Su Shi’s birthplace, drawn by the melodies of the Sichuan folk songs he had grown to love. He was also attracted to the good lifestyle and wanted to live there. It suited him so well that as well as becoming a Professor at Chengdu University, a post he still holds, he also met his wife. But as Su Dongpo had to leave Chengdu for Hangzhou, so too did Francois have to follow in his footsteps.

Although relatively new to Hangzhou his company and research have been supported financially by Jianggan district, which has recently merged with Shangchen district here in Zhejiang Province. Professor Ouellette is a photonics and fibre optics specialist, inventor and entrepreneur. He has created and patented a number of inventions and here in Hangzhou is working on new fibre optic and laser technology. Having just finished the development stages they are in the process of providing customers with their new technology.

When we consider the backstory he told me of arriving in China on a three-month visa, with no job, just coming to see what’s what, then this is some success story. Francois found work teaching physics in a high school and then a university. Even then, he knew he wanted to start a business and fate seemed to put the right connections in front of him. That ‘things’ could happen in China was the key to his drive, and, as he told me, it was four to five years before his business took off.

Although life for Francois is work, work, work, at the moment, he still enjoys his time around West Lake and biking to work. Due to Covid restrictions his wife is back in Chengdu where she works as an agricultural journalist.

And on that bombshell let’s enjoy the poetry of Su Dongpo that Francois named his company after:

Shui guang lian yan qing fang hao

Shan se kong meng yu yi qi.

Yu ba xi hu bi xi zi

Dan zhuang nong mo zong xiang yi.

Bright ripples on the clear and excellent water

Mountain colours and rain strange and surprising.

Observing West Lake compares well with the beauty of Xizi

When dress and make-up are simple and elegant, appearances are more appealing.


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