LL.M.’99, Harvard Law School
I can’t recall exactly when I first met Professor Alford at HLS. It must be in one of the many events organized by East Asia Legal Study when I was studying for the LL.M. in the late 1990s. At that time, I was too timid to talk much with him as he was always surrounded by many students and scholars who loved and admired him deeply.
I had more opportunity to interact with him when I took his International Trade and WTO class. The rules and textbook about the subject are pretty boring. However, with his insightful guidance, tolerance and humor, the class never was boring. Unlike many professors in Chinese universities, he seldom gave long speeches about his own view of the legal issues at hand. Instead, he always encouraged students to give the issues serious thought and express their own points of view without hesitation. He was extremely tolerant to different views no matter how naïve or absurd they may sound and only politely reminded you that there are other, at least equally convincing, arguments you need to take into consideration. The class took place in the late mornings and we often became quite hungry towards the end of the class. He often brought cookies to the class and we could eat cookies while enjoying his teaching. It was a wonderful experience I never had before. I do not remember much what I learned, but I will never forget the warm, light and intellectually stimulating atmosphere of our class.
I really came to know him only after I graduated from the law school. Every time I came back to HLS, I always tried to meet him and when he traveled to China, he also found opportunities to meet me. As time went by, we found that we have one more thing in common: we are both fathers of an autistic child and we are constantly facing unique challenges in life that ordinary people will not come across. Again, he became another role model for me within the area of disabilities. He taught me by his personal example how to turn a personal misfortunate into broader love and compassion for people at large. Last year in the heat of the US-China trade war, I invited him to give a lecture to our law school alumni in Beijing. As the graduates of Harvard Law School, we have all benefited greatly from the four-decade good relationships between China and the United States, but now the good times seem to come to an end. Prof. Alford reminded us that things may get worse before they get better and that we should not have unrealistic expectations that the old good times will come back soon. However, he also reminded us to keep confidence in the relationship in the long run and make our own effort to improve it. All the alumni took much courage, confidence and comfort from his lecture.
It seems to me that though he may not be the most brilliant professor of the law school, he is certainly the most beloved one among international students. Like Confucius and Socrates, he is first and foremost a great teacher who loves teaching and loves students with all his heart. I do wish that his life-long teaching and academic career will continue to flourish.