Prof. Sang Yop Kang: STL Builds Intellectual Bridges of the East and the West

STL Professor of Law Sang Yop Kang

Professor Sang Yop Kang (姜尙烨) is Professor of Law at Peking University School of Transnational Law (STL). He teaches and does research in the areas of corporate governance, corporate law, law and economics (of corporate law and securities regulations), capital markets, financial market regulations, and East Asian economies and legal systems. At Yonsei University in Korea, Professor Kang studied Economics and Law. Also, he holds an LL.M. (Master of Law) degree and a J.S.D. (Doctor of the Science of Law) degree from Columbia University School of Law. He is also a Research Member of the European Corporate Governance Institute (ECGI), a distinguished global academic society that pursues interdisciplinary scholarship of corporate law, finance, and economics. 

Professor Kang has been invited to conduct research at distinguished academic institutions such as Columbia Law School, Stanford Law School, and Harvard Law School. In August 2019, Professor Kang is teaching corporate governance at the University of Tokyo (Law School) with other leading scholars in the world. Since Professor Kang started teaching at Peking University School of Transnational Law in 2011, he has received the Excellent Teaching Award from the Peking University twice. The Excellent Teaching Award is the best teaching prize that is awarded to a single professor at STL. In 2017, based on his research and article on the independent director system in China, Professor Kang won Tsinghua University’s Tsinghua China Law Review Award for Excellence in Research. Professor Kang is a lawyer. Before he studied law, he worked as an analyst and a fund manager. Professor Kang is also a CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) charter holder.

1. In 2011 you joined STL and so you have been here for 8 years. It can be said that you witnessed the growth of STL. What do you think are the most prominent changes throughout these years?

The most apparent change must be the new STL building (although I still miss the old building where I stayed for almost 6 years). Regarding other changes, STL has continuously been developing. Although the quality of students was already strong from the beginning of STL, recently, it seems that the quality of students has become more adamant.

Prof Kang teaching class in new STL Building

2. Your bachelor degree is in economics and your master’s degree is in international relations, and also you were once a fund manager. Why did you decide to learn law and finally became a Professor of Law?

It is a long story, but I will try to make the story very short. When I worked as a fund manager, corporate law and capital market regulations in Korea were not well developed. I started to be curious about law, policies, and transactions in the capital market and decided to study law. I thought that if I would study law (corporate law and capital market regulations), I can achieve synergy effects based on my previous study in economics and finance as well as my experience in the capital market. I wanted to make a contribution to corporate governance scholarship based on law, finance, and economics. 

3. Did you confront some difficulties when transferring to studying law?

When I quit my job and started to study law, my family fully supported me, and I am still grateful to my family for their support, encouragement, and love. On the other hand, I was under enormous peer-pressure from my colleagues and school friends. Of course, some cheered for me and appreciated my decision. But, some of them were very skeptical of my decision to quit my job and study law. Indeed, I was very much
discouraged. However, I firmly believed that my outcome several years later would prove my efforts and dedication. After I quit my job, one friend (actually an acquaintance), a very successful businessman, continuously humiliated me, for my jobless situation, in public for fun. I was depressed by the public humiliation, but, fortunately, I quickly overcame it. Now, honestly, I am grateful to him since I have learned a few valuable lessons from him. First, although I might disagree with other people on various matters, I do my best to “constructively” criticize them. More directly, I do not humiliate people for fun when I should criticize them. Second, whenever I confront difficulties, I remind myself of his words and public mockery of me. Thanks to him, I am motivated to go through tough situations and problems. In these regards, he is indeed a very “good” friend of mine, who taught me valuable life lessons. 

4. How could you summarize STL’s experience in its first decade? And what might be the developing direction for STL in another decade? 

I think STL has already achieved significant progress, training talented students who have thoroughly understood both the essence of Chinese law and the U.S. law. However, we have also had limits. For instance, it seems that the education system at STL has been divided into two large isolated islands, namely, Chinese law education and U.S. law education and classes do not often cross over. For the next decade, I hope that we will make a bridge that can connect these two islands. Also, I believe that we can learn a lot from old Chinese stories such as “Yan Zi’s Visit to the State of Chu.” While tangerines in the South are excellent, tangerines in the North are not. Although a specific system works in the U.S., it is possible that the system might not work in China. Thus, we need to analyze comparative law issues after we fully understand the distinctive features of China’s law, economy, social value, politics, and even culture (or people’s mindset). I firmly believe that in-depth comparative legal analysis will be a breakthrough for STL in the next decade. 

“I firmly believe that in-depth comparative legal analysis will be a breakthrough for STL in the next decade.”

Prof. Kang

5. Some Chinese parents are quite demanding and critical about their children’s grades.  How about the general Korean model of teaching?

Chinese parents play a very active role in their children’s education. This tendency is very much the same in Korea. Two countries share a strong Confucian tradition which emphasizes the value of education.

6. Could you share the differences and similarities between Korean students and Chinese students?

Basically, they are both smart and polite. Since I have not experienced teaching Korean students in recent years, I will focus on my answer to the question on my experience of teaching at STL. In general, smart students are not polite, and polite students are not smart. However, it seems that this perception does not apply to STL since STL students are usually smart “and” polite. Of course, they are also very critical. When it comes to “politeness,” I do not mean that students should obey tradition and senior people. Instead, in my opinion, even when you disagree with other people (not only your seniors but also your colleagues and juniors), your clear voice based on politeness can be more powerful, effective, and convincing. Even when students are successful in two or three decades, courtesy and modesty can make their success brighter.

“Even when students are successful in two or three decades, courtesy and modesty can make their success brighter. ”

Prof. Kang

7. About STL’s 10th anniversary, what would you like to say? 

Due to continuous efforts from students, faculty, and administrators, STL has become more established. Despite many challenges in front of us, we will overcome and figure out our way to develop STL further.

Interview by Rosy Wu  


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