Dr Qiang Cai, Lecturer in Commercial Law at the University of Aberdeen, sat down for a chat with us about his research and teaching.
Q: What drew you to the discipline of law and how did you become interested in your area of research?
QC: I probably owe my “law instinct” to my father. He’s not a lawyer; but as long as I could remember, he’s always been fond of talking to me, sharing his views and encouraging me to express mine. He was a salesman in a company and later-on ran his own business. Naturally my childhood had more exposure to business and “human affairs” than to science and technologies. Today, I also enjoy discussing my research ideas with him, and he often offers great and practical insights to my work. This background also partly shapes my main topics of research, although honestly, I have curiosities in most areas of law and social science. I see different areas as complementary.
Q: Who do you admire in your field of research? (Could be Law more widely)
QC: The academic whom I admire the most is late Professor Betty Ho at the University of Toronto (she also taught in Tsinghua University and the University of Hong Kong ). Her treatises on Hong Kong company law and Hong Kong agency law have had long-standing influences in both academic and policy circles. She played an active and important role in the reform and refinement of Hong Kong corporate and financial regimes. She was also a great role model for her students, reminding me of what Confucius said about a great teacher: the one who imparts professional skills, resolve doubts, and spread great spirits.
Q: Would you share some insights into your current research and what makes it so important?
QC: Currently I’m interested in researching the relationship between corporate governance and the governance of digital platforms. The topic has attracted limited attention: it might be thought that corporate governance mainly concerns internal governance within a corporation whereas platform governance usually focuses on the interaction between a platform firm and its external users. However, I take the view that the line between internal and external relationships for platform firms has blurred due to the characteristics of online platforms. For example: are Uber drivers internal or external to Uber? Is it possible for them to elect their representatives on Uber’s board of directors? Indeed, business practices of several world-famous platforms have already demonstrated the kinship between platform governance and corporate governance. One example is the recent establishment of the Stakeholder Committee on Airbnb’s board. This committee mainly consists of users of the platform. I hope the topic can be fed into the broader discussion of the optimal model of governing digital platforms, a quite meaningful subject in a “platformised” society.
Q: What aspect of your role do you enjoy the most?
QC: I love teaching the most. I enjoy the process of presenting complicated things in a simple but orderly way to students. I also enjoy exchanging views with students, just like how my father was fond of talking to me.
Q: What achievement are you most proud of?
QC: There are few “historic moments” in my career. Every published article and every successful lecture (measured by student engagement) would bring me much joy. I remember one student wrote in their course feedback sheet that they would seriously consider tax law as their career. That makes me feel very proud.
Q: What do you love doing in your spare time?
QC: I do jog sessions followed by workouts every day. I also swim a lot. I’m the family cook and I enjoy trying my own recipes rather than sticking to rule books. It turns out that every time before the meal, my daughters would have to check which dishes are “lawbreakers” and carefully bypass them.
Q: What 3 things would we be surprised to learn about you?
(1) I drafted my first formal contract before my eighth birthday. I made a loan of 10 yuan (probably worth 10 pounds or more today) to one of my P2 classmates. The contract stipulated 100% annual interest, which means one year later the debtor had to pay back 20 yuan in total. We both signed the contract and I even stamped on the document a seal which I stole from my dad. However, the contract had never been honored until the parents of both parties intervened. I finally clawed back some of the principle. I regret that the parents hadn’t renegotiated the contract into some sort of convertible note, as my former classmate is now doing extremely well in his business.
(2) I practiced criminal law for years before I started my PhD in tax law.
(3) Like my dad, I also encourage my children to have good arguments, not because I want them to become lawyers, but because I feel that independent thinking and courage are of particular importance in this age. These virtues sound almost like a cliche, but my assessment of the age may surprise many (though I might be wrong).