This Man Just Became the First Chinese Citizen to Give a Harvard Graduation Speech

In front of an audience of around 32,000 on Wednesday, He Jiang, a doctoral student in biochemistry, talked about how his being bitten by a poisonous spider as a child and the rural remedy that followed changed the course of his life.

He recalled being bitten by the spider 15 years ago while he was growing up in a poor, pre-industrial village in central China’s Hunan province. With no local doctor, his mother wrapped his hand in wine-soaked cotton, put a chopstick in his mouth for him to bite down on, and then set the cotton alight. The heat denatures the proteins that make up spider venom, rendering it less harmful.

“All I could do was watch my hand burn — one minute, then two minutes — until mom put out the fire,” He said.

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The experience, which left him “troubled by the unequal distribution of scientific knowledge throughout the world,” spurred him on to graduating from the University of Science and Technology of China before receiving a full scholarship from Harvard. He is the first member of his family to graduate from college.

“Changing the world doesn’t mean that everyone has to find the next big thing,” He said. “It can be as simple as becoming better communicators, and finding more creative ways to pass on the knowledge we have to people like my mom and the farmers in their local community.”

He continued: “And if we do that, then perhaps a teenager in rural China who is bitten by a spider will not have to burn his hand, but will know to seek a doctor instead.”

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