After the reform and opening-up, China witnessed widespread traffic congestion in the development of urban roads in foreign countries and realized the importance of urban construction and the urgent need of training senior talents in this field. Many visionary people also pointed out that we could not rely solely on foreign countries to introduce such talents. Instead, we should also establish our own specialized colleges and universities to train professionals. Therefore, they put forward reasonable suggestions to the State Administration for Urban Construction. The government paid great importance, soon adopted these suggestions and formally approved the construction of Wuhan Urban Construction Institute in Ma’an Hill, Wuchang in 1981.
The first step was the basic construction of the Institute. In the beginning, the construction progressed slowly and was hindered by a lot of difficulties. At that time, Vice President Yang of Wuhan Water Supply and Drainage Design Institute was transferred to the school to be responsible for the construction project. After he took office, he felt that he lacked related experience, and it was too difficult to build a new school from scratch, so the ministry decided to transfer me from the Hubei Provincial Bureau of Urban Construction to be especially responsible for building the new Institute. But before that, I had received a transfer order to return to Beijing to take up a post at the Bureau of Urban Construction. The then Minister of the Ministry of Urban and Rural Environmental Protection begged me to stay in Wuhan, and offered two conditions: first, he promised me the opportunity to return to the Ministry of Construction in Beijing after retirement; second, a house in Beijing would be offered. I did not care about these conditions at that time, and I was only thinking about the construction of the new Institute, so I was transferred to Wuhan Urban Construction Institute in June 1983 as Vice President, in charge of infrastructure construction.
When I took office, the whole design of the college was not even ready, so I went to the Central-South Architectural Design Institute and set up a special task force for this purpose. At that time, the construction was planned to start in August with only three months left, which was very difficult in the era without computers. In order to enable the design team to complete the task on time, I rented a house by the East Lake, so that they could work together, and the design drawings were finally completed on time.
In August 1983, the construction of the school began, and the enrollment was planned to start in the autumn of 1984. Many people thought that we couldn’t make it, but I firmly believed that as long as we followed the three-step strategy, this plan could be realized: first, build easy parts, for example, a teaching building would first be built to facilitate students to have classes; second, teachers’ dormitories would then be built, so as to attract a large number of teachers; third, students’ dormitories would also be built to attract and retain students.
I fought in the revolutionary guerrilla war in the Ta-pieh Mountains during my early years, and my lower limbs were disabled because of the difficult environment. At that time, I only wanted to build the Institute’s infrastructure as soon as possible so despite my own disability. I often trudged to and fro on the construction site with painful legs, so that I could find and solve problems on time. At some critical moments, I had to go to the construction unit to get steel, timber, and cement. As the site was located on the outskirts of the city, more than 10 km away from where I lived, it was very inconvenient to go back and forth. I couldn’t go home at noon. For lunch, I lived on the wonton of the snack stand. During the busy construction, I lived in a seven-square-meter construction site office as my bedroom.
Facts have proved that our original plan became a reality. Wuhan Urban Construction Institute restarted enrollment as scheduled, thanks to the strong support of the state. At that time, the government invested 8 million yuan a year (which was already a large sum of money at that time), but the funds were still not enough. So the Institute decided to borrow money from Construction Banks in Wuhan. Solving this problem accelerated the construction progress, and the Wuhan Urban Construction Institute also completed the miracle of recruiting students in the following year.
Some people said, “Wu Jiang is good at leading infrastructure construction, as he is far-sighted, thoughtful, and careful.”
In fact, my own abilities were not that important. Instead, the key was to take the lead. At that time, all engaged in the construction made concerted efforts, worked hard without complaining, gave up their rest time for the winter and summer vacations, and persisted in working on the construction site. After the expansion of enrollment in the autumn of 1984, the Institute has a total of three departments and five majors, forming a scale of 2,900 students. At the same time, it also implemented the construction policy of “building while greening” by paying close attention to the green areas in the Institute. So it basically met the relevant requirements and created a green environment. By 1986, the Institute already had teaching and living areas, which was rare in the Ministry of Urban and Rural Environmental Protection’s system, so we were praised by the leaders and by the brother colleges and universities under the ministry. Some people said: “In China, Shenzhen speed is remarkable and in Wuhan, the speed of building Wuhan Urban Construction Institute is impressive.” Moreover, we were praised by foreign friends. For example, when Parkinson and Bauer, former Chairman and Development Consultant of the Royal Urban Planning Commission, visited the college, they were shocked by the scale and speed of the infrastructure development and highly praised: “the leader who has spent just more than two years in charge of building a number of high-rise teaching buildings in a field is an outstanding president.”
With a good environment and facilities, the Wuhan Urban Construction Institute introduced a large number of teachers from many famous universities such as Chongqing Institute of Architectural Engineering and Harbin Institute of Architectural Engineering to concentrate on urban construction. These talents boosted the Institute’s development. In addition to the three major majors of urban planning, industrial and civil construction, water supply and drainage, we added engineering management, roads and bridges, and other related majors.
The establishment and rise of Wuhan Urban Construction Institute in Ma’an Hill, Wuchang coincided with the early stage of rapidly developing urban construction in China. Its success benefits from the close attention of our government, including huge investment, fast infrastructure construction, and strong building capabilities. Wuhan Urban Construction Institute has lived up to the expectations of society and has provided and reserved a large number of talents for the great development of national urban construction. From the resumption of enrollment in 1984 to the school merger in 1999, outstanding students have worked all over the country, and many of them have taken up leading positions, playing an important role in the construction of new cities in China. For example, the head of the structural design of the United Nations Headquarters, and the chief designers of the first four-story overpass in Guangzhou, and the steel structure of the Guangzhou TV Tower are all our excellent alumni.
Now China advocates green architecture, and landscape architecture is particularly important. In the past, Wuhan Urban Construction Institute set up a special Department of Landscape Design, which was also second to none in the country. It trained a lot of landscape design talents. Up to now, it is still making its own contribution to the greening construction of many cities. The landscape design of Silver Bay in Beijing is a shining example. Unfortunately, the department was later removed and we lost a number of talents. Nowadays, with the rapid development of urban construction and the increasingly serious problem of traffic congestion, we must pay attention to addressing these problems. I personally think that we have to rely on the knowledge and talent system of urban construction.
Narrator: Wu Jiang
Edited by: Tang Shiqing, Peng Yumeng