THE CHINA CENTER FOR INTERNATIONAL ECONOMIC EXCHANGES
By Cheng Li
As Chinese think tanks begin to acquire the “revolving door” quality that has long described their peer institutions in other countries, business leaders from major state-owned companies and domestic (or Hong Kong– based) private companies now play a crucial role in the management of think tanks, gained through the financial contributions these companies make to the think tanks in reaction to government policies that strongly affect their businesses. Meanwhile, an increasing number of foreign educated “returnees” find think tanks to be ideal institutional springboards from which to reintegrate into the Chinese political establishment and play a role in shaping the public discourse. A close look at the formation of three prominent think tanks in the country—the China Center for International Economic Exchanges, the Chinese Economists 50 Forum, and the China Center for Economic Research at Peking University—adds a new analytical wrinkle to the long-standing and complicated relationship between power, wealth, and knowledge.
Never in the 60-year history of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) have Chinese political, economic, and cultural elites paid as much attention to think tanks as they have this year. In March the State Council approved the founding of a new think tank in Beijing, the China Center for International Economic Exchanges (CCIEE), and it immediately attained the moniker “super think tank” (chaoji zhiku). Former Vice-Premier Zeng Peiyan, a political heavyweight, took up the role of chairman, and several current or former ministerial-level officials, prominent business leaders, and internationally renowned scholars were appointed vice-chairmen.
Four months later, the CCIEE organized an international conference on the global financial crisis and the role of think tanks in promoting international cooperation on issues of global importance. This so-called “Global Think Tank Summit” attracted approximately 900 attendees. Among them were 150 former or current government leaders (Chinese and foreign), officials from such international organizations as the World Bank and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, about 450 scholars and think tank representatives from the world over, roughly 200 businesspeople, and 150 journalists. China’s top leaders were among those who made their presence felt at the conference, with Premier Wen Jiabao on hand to meet with distinguished guests and Executive Vice-Premier Li Keqiang delivering a keynote address. For almost a week, Chinese media outlets covered this event widely as part of the headline news.
The CCIEE is not the only think tank in China that has engaged in high-profile policy discussions or facilitated broad international exchanges in recent years. The academic association known as the Chinese Economists 50 Forum (Zhongguo jingji wushiren luntan), which includes the country’s 50 most prominent economists and government technocrats, is scheduled to conduct an intensive dialogue in late August with leading American economists on measures to promote economic recovery on the global scale. Similarly, the China Institute of Strategy and Management (Zhongguo zhanlue yu guanli yanjiuhui), headed by one of China’s leading strategic thinkers, Zheng Bijian, will host a conference called the “Strategic Forum for a U.S.-China Clean Energy Partnership” in the fall. Both events are co-sponsored by a leading American think tank, the Brookings Institution, and both will be held in the Diaoyutai State House in Beijing. As was the case at the CCIEE summit, top Chinese leaders are expected to attend and speak at these engagements.In contrast to many of their counterparts in the West, where independence from the government is usually seen as a mark of credibility, Chinese think tanks often strive for strong ties to the government, and especially value a close connection with the upper stratum of the Chinese leadership. According to its charter, the CCIEE is to operate “under the guidance and supervision of the National Development and Reform Commission [NDRC] in terms of its business scope.”5 The NDRC, whose purview is the macroeconomic management of the Chinese economy, is widely considered to be the most important ministry in the Chinese government. Another indicator of the CCIEE’s close ties to the Chinese leadership is its physical proximity to the levers of power—its current office is located only a few hundred meters from Zhongnanhai, the headquarters of both the Chinese Communist Party and the State Council. 6 The growing importance of think tanks in China and the frequency with which they are able to facilitate international exchanges is understandable within the context of China’s rise on the world stage. Many Chinese people are now conscious that their country is not only in the midst of profound socioeconomic transformations, but is also rapidly emerging as a major player in global affairs. They wish to understand the complex and internationally intertwined challenges that China faces in order to take intelligent positions on the issues involved.
TRIPARTITE ELITES IN THINK TANKS
Detailed analysis of the composition of Chinese think tanks, with a special focus on the newly established CCIEE, reveals several important developments. The most notable is that three distinct groups of elites—current or retired government officials, business leaders, and public intellectuals—have become increasingly active in promoting their personal influence, institutional interests, and policy initiatives through these semigovernmental organizations. In present-day China, think tanks have become not only an important venue for retired government officials to pursue a new phase in their careers, but also a crucial institutional meeting ground where officials, entrepreneurs, and scholars can interact.
This new phenomenon suggests that the relationship between these three elite groups, and their relative importance vis-à-vis policy planning, may start to change. Three trends deserve our attention. First, a growing number of government and Party leaders now seek positions in prominent think tanks and universities both during and after their tenure in office. Second, business leaders from both major state-owned companies and domestic (or Hong Kong-based) private companies now play a crucial role in China’s think tanks, gained through the financial contributions these companies make to the think tanks in a natural reaction to government policies that strongly affect their businesses. Third, public intellectuals, especially well-known economists who received Ph.D. degrees in the West, have now become almost equal partners in this tripartite group of think tank elites. Indeed, to a certain extent the once-clear distinction between officials and scholars is now blurring as foreign-educated returnees become government leaders.
An examination of new think tanks such as the CCIEE can help to explicate these three trends, and thus provide a better understanding of important dynamics in the Chinese political system and policy making process.
In contrast to many of their counterparts in the West, where independence from the government is usually seen as a mark of credibility, Chinese think tanks often strive for strong ties to the government, and especially value a close connection with the upper stratum of the Chinese leadership. According to its charter, the CCIEE is to operate “under the guidance and supervision of the National Development and Reform Commission [NDRC] in terms of its business scope.”5 The NDRC, whose purview is the macroeconomic management of the Chinese economy, is widely considered to be the most important ministry in the Chinese government. Another indicator of the CCIEE’s close ties to the Chinese leadership is its physical proximity to the levers of power—its current office is located only a few hundred meters from Zhongnanhai, the headquarters of both the Chinese Communist Party and the State Council. 6 The growing importance of think tanks in China and the frequency with which they are able to facilitate international exchanges is understandable within the context of China’s rise on the world stage. Many Chinese people are now conscious that their country is not only in the midst of profound socioeconomic transformations, but is also rapidly emerging as a major player in global affairs. They wish to understand the complex and internationally intertwined challenges that China faces in order to take intelligent positions on the issues involved.
THE EVOLUTION OF THINK TANKS IN CHINA: A REVIEW
Think tanks (zhiku or sixiangku) are by no means new to China. In fact, one could argue that they played an important role in the country as early as the time of Confucius. However, since the establishment of the PRC, and especially during its first three decades, the role and influence of think tanks was largely dependent on the preferences and characteristics of the top leader. Mao Zedong did not value modern science and technology, disregarded rationality in government policy, and held intellectuals in rather low esteem.
Major decisions during the Mao era, such as the launch of the Cultural Revolution, the movement of China’s national defense industry to the so-called interior “third front,” and reconciliation with the United States in the early 1970s, were largely made by Mao and by Mao alone. While Deng Xiaoping greatly improved the economic and sociopolitical status of intellectuals during his reign, he felt no need to consult think tanks when making decisions. Indeed, his most significant decisions, for example, to establish special economic zones in south China and then in Shanghai’s Pudong District, have been attributed in large part to Deng’s visionary thinking and political courage. In his final years Deng preferred to listen to his daughters’ gossip rather than read expert reports. When Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang were in charge of political and economic affairs in the Party and the government in the 1980s, they were the “patron saints” of a group of liberal intellectuals who were usually affiliated with think tanks in the government and the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Some of these scholars later lent support to the 1987 liberal movement and the 1989 Tiananmen uprising. As a consequence of these two events, which brought about the fall of both Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang, many of these intellectuals sought amnesty in the West.
Although some think tanks were closed as a result of the Tiananmen incident, the think tank system survived and even became more institutionalized over the ensuing two decades. This has largely been attributed to the fact that China’s growing integration with the world economy required more scholars with professional expertise, especially in the area of international economics and finance. Without a doubt, Jiang Zemin, Zhu Rongji, and their generation of technocratic leaders paid more attention to the role of think tanks than did their predecessors.
It has been widely noted that in the early 1990s Jiang Zemin often received advice from scholars at Shanghai-based institutions such as Fudan University, East China University of Political Science and Law, the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, and the Shanghai Institute of International Studies. Indeed, over the course of the 1990s several prominent young scholars with experience in the field of foreign studies moved from Shanghai to Beijing, where they worked closely with Jiang in areas such as policy planning, propaganda, Taiwan affairs, and foreign relations. For example, Wang Huning, former dean of the law school at Fudan, later served as a personal assistant to Jiang and is now director of the Policy Research Office of the CCP’s Central Committee. In the same vein, Li Junru, a scholar who spent much of his career at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, later served as vice president of the Central Party School (CPS). Both men, Wang and Li, are believed to have been principal players in the development of Jiang’s so-called “theory of the three represents.”8 Former premier Zhu Rongji also relied heavily on the advice of several scholars in the 1980s and early 1990s. They included Wu Jinglian, who has been a research fellow at the Development Research Center of the State Council, and Lou Jiwei, who served for a time as Zhu’s personal assistant, later became executive vice minister of Finance, and is now chairman of the China Investment Corporation.
Following in Jiang’s footsteps, Hu Jintao turned the CPS into a prominent think tank in the late 1990s when he served as the president of the school. For over a decade now, the CPS has functioned as a leading research center for the study of China’s domestic political reform and international relations. China’s two most distinguished strategic thinkers—Zheng Bijian (former vice president of the CPS) and Wang Jisi (director of the Institute of International Strategic Studies of the CPS and dean of the School of International Studies at Peking University)—both played a crucial role in the development of Hu’s theory of “China’s peaceful rise.”
Wang Huning, Li Junru, Zheng Bijian, and Wang Jisi have dual identities as both officials and scholars. In fact, they are in many ways more like government officials than members of the scholarly establishment. Yet, their close contact with top leaders and their considerable influence on China’s decision-making process also has the effect of enhancing the role of think tanks in present-day China. Of course, most members of think tanks are not as close to the center of power as these intellectual celebrities. Many think tank members choose to exert influence on China’s decision-making process by adopting a more independent stance and by offering more critical views of current policies. In their 1999 book Voices (huhan), two senior reporters from the official newspaper People’s Daily, Ling Zhijun and Ma Licheng, observed that five distinct voices existed in post-Deng China: (1) the voice of mainstream society that follows Deng’s reform policies; (2) the voice of dogmatism that advocates a return to a planned, socialist economy; (3) the voice of nationalism; (4) the voice of feudalism influenced by neo-Confucianism and Asian values; and (5) the voice of democracy. The authors unambiguously argued for a pluralistic outlook and portrayed category five, the “voice of democracy,” in a remarkably positive light.10 Although members of think tanks are more often interested in pursuing “reform from within” rather than “revolution from without,” they often differ in their particular views, values, and visions. Some may be “at once within the system and at odds with it,” as a Washington Post correspondent in Beijing observed. Others, especially those in
universities or in the private sector, may be interested both in working cooperatively with policymakers and in exposing flaws in China’s political system and socioeconomic policies. These intellectuals do not consider such seemingly contradictory endeavors inappropriate, but instead see them as an effective way to exert influence on China’s decision-making process.
While the intellectual pluralism that Ling Zhijun and Ma Licheng classified a decade ago has only increased in recent years, today’s Chinese think tanks tend to concentrate on several key issues: China’s economic rise in the world, domestic political stability, social justice, energy security, and the country’s international image.12 The mainstream official think tanks have utilized their abundant human and financial resources to dominate the policy discourse. A group of emerging privately owned and operated think tanks, such as the Unirule Institute of Economics (tianze jingji yanjiusuo) and the Friends of the Nature (ziran zhiyou), have remained marginal players in the broader landscape of policymaking and public opinion formation.13 In 2006, at the “First Forum on China’s Think Tanks,” held in Beijing, the Chinese authorities, for the first time in the PRC’s history, designated the top 10 think tanks in the country, further enhancing the status and influence of the older, more established institutions ( see table HERE).
These “top 10” think tanks are all considered state-sponsored institutions. They were established in a variety of different periods of the PRC, although none of China’s newest think tanks made the list. Among the top 10, the youngest is the China National Committee for Pacific Economic Cooperation, which was founded 23 years ago. Some of these think tanks are gigantic government institutions with a large number of employees. For example, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) currently consists of 31 research institutions, 45 research centers, and 4,200 employees, of which 3,200 are members of the research staff (and these numbers do not include provincial branches of CASS).14 The China Institute of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR), which is operated by the Ministry of State Security, is much smaller. Yet even it has 380 employees, including 150 senior researchers.15 At least half of these top 10 think tanks concentrate on China’s foreign relations and international affairs. None of them is headed by an economist or a leader with a strong background in economic affairs, although some, including the Development Research Center of the State Council and the China National Committee for Pacific Economic Cooperation, are focused primarily on economic issues.
To a certain extent, these “established” think tanks and their recent descendents, such as CCIEE, are similar in terms of their close ties to the Chinese government. Yet, the former find it increasingly difficult to keep abreast of changes in the domestic and international environment and to ensure that their research agendas, personnel, financial resources, and international exchanges keep pace. At least three factors have contributed to the need to establish the new kind of think tanks and to make them more forward looking and innovative in thinking about China’s future. First, the end of strongman politics and the emergence of a collective system of leadership have pushed officials to seek increased legitimacy for their policies through the support of think tanks. Second, China’s growing integration with the world economy requires input from scholars with professional expertise, especially those who specialize in international investment and finance. Third, the rapid development of China’s market economy has not only made the Chinese economic and sociopolitical structures more pluralistic, but has also created many new interest groups. These interest groups, especially those in the business sector, now work carefully to influence government policy and shape public opinion. All three of these factors are evident in the initial formation and subsequent composition of the CCIEE. Looking closely at the dynamic interactions that take place between the Chinese leadership and the country’s prominent think tanks, on the one hand, and among the tripartite players in the Chinese think tank communities themselves, on the other hand, can help to elucidate important trends in Chinese politics.
THE “REVOLVING DOOR” FOR OFFICIALS
An important indicator of China’s political institutionalization over the past two decades has been the degree to which government and party officials have been subject to retirement age rules. Remarkably, at the 17th National Congress of the CCP, held in 2007, all leaders who were born before 1940 were, without exception, forced to retire from the Central Committee. This retirement age requirement has created an increased sense of regularity and fairness in the circulation of elites and has contributed to the end of the possibility of lifelong tenure for Chinese political leaders.
REVOLVING DOOR CONTINUED
Several senior leaders who had previously served on the Politburo, including then Vice President Zeng Qinghong (born in 1939), Vice Premier Wu Yi (b. in 1938), and Vice Premier Zeng Peiyan (b. in 1938), all retired. Wu Yi, former minister of commerce and one of the most respected female leaders in the country, said to the media that she was determined to “retire completely from all leadership positions” (luotui).17 She is not alone. In fact, almost all other top leaders—Jiang Zemin, Li Peng, Zhu Rongji, Zeng Qinghong, Li Ruihuan, and Qiao Shi—have largely disappeared from the public scene since their retirement. None of them now holds any important leadership position in the country.
This political norm seemed to start to change with the recent appointment of former vice premier Zeng Peiyan as chairman of the CCIEE. Zeng is the highest ranking former leader to now hold a
non-honorary chairmanship in a major institution. Previously, Vice President of the CPS Zheng Bijian and Deputy Chief-of-Staff of the PLA Xiong Guangkai also moved from their state leadership positions to head think tanks (the China Reform Forum and the China International Institute of Strategic Society, respectively), but they were only ministerial-level leaders. Qian Qichen, another former vice premier, holds the only honorary deanship of the School of International Studies at Peking University, and he has hardly spent any time at the school since his appointment a few years ago. The appointments of former high-ranking officials as leaders of the CCIEE and the subsequent media coverage thereof may have paved the way for other retired highranking Chinese officials to pursue careers in the leadership of think tanks, universities, and other important institutions. Similar to their counterparts in other countries, Chinese think tanks have increasingly become a “revolving door” for past and future government officials.
Table 2 (HERE) exhibits the leadership composition of the CCIEE, including the chairman, advisors, and vice chairmen. While those with government or Party backgrounds constitute a majority of the leadership, a number of prominent scholars and business leaders are also noticeably on board. In addition to Zeng Peiyan, a number of former high-ranking leaders (ministers or provincial governors) serve on the leadership of the CCIEE, including Tang Jiaxuan (former minister of Foreign Affairs), Wang Chuncheng (former director of the Office of the Economic and Financial Leading Group of CCP Central Committee), Liu Huaqiu (former director of the Foreign Affairs Office of the CCP Central Committee), Teng Wensheng (former director of the Policy Research Office of the CCP Central Committee), Lu Ruihua (former governor of Guangdong), and Xu Rongkai (former governor of Yunnan). All of these retired leaders are in their late 60s or early 70s.
The state-run Xinhua News Agency reported that the formation and composition of the CCIEE leadership reflects an important effort to extend the “sustainable utility” (yure) of retired high ranking officials.18 In the past decade or so, the Chinese authorities have usually transferred high-ranking Party or government leaders who reached retirement age to less important leadership bodies, such as the People’s Congress or the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) at the national, provincial, or municipal levels before their full retirement. It now seems that some of these retired or semi-retired leaders will begin to find their way into the leadership of major think tanks and educational institutions that focus on policy research and world affairs.
Table 3 HERE catalogues former or current high-ranking government officials who serve as deans or honorary deans of colleges that concentrate on international affairs, journalism, and economic management. Former minister of Foreign Affairs Li Zhaoxing currently serves as dean in both the Zhou Enlai School of Government at Nankai University in Tianjin and the School of Diplomacy and International Relations at the Institute of Foreign Affairs. Former vice minister of Foreign Trade and China’s chief negotiator during the World Trade Organization accession talks Long Yongtu now serves as dean of the School of International Relations and Public Affairs at Fudan University. The deanships of the schools of journalism and communication in Beijing’s top three universities—Peking, Tsinghua, and Renmin—are now all held by retired senior government and Party leaders who were formally in charge of propaganda. Table 3 also shows that two current ministers who are in charge of financial and economic affairs in the country, governor of the People’s Bank Zhou Xiaochuan and minister of the State-Owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (SASAC) Li Rongrong, serve as the honorary deans of the School of Management at China University of Science & Technology and the School of Management at Tianjin University, respectively.
Li Rongrong also serves as vice chairman of the CCIEE, along with several other current ministerial-level leaders, including the director of the Development Research Center of the State Council, Zhang Yutai, and two vice ministers of the NDRC, Zhang Xiaoqiang and Zhang Guobao. In addition, executive vice-president of China’s National School of Administration Wei Liqun and chairman of the National Council for Social Security Fund Dai Xianglong are also full minister-rank leaders in the State Council. The strong presence of current government officials in the leadership of CCIEE seems to suggest that think tanks are not necessarily the “final stops” for politicians’ careers. Quite the contrary, the “revolving door” of China’s top think tanks may help current affiliates advance to higher posts in the years to come. Within the leadership of the CCIEE, 56- year-old official Zhang Xiaoqiang, 48-year-old scholar Qian Yingyi, and 52-year-old entrepreneur Jiang Jiemin are all widely seen as rising stars in the Chinese political and economic establishments.
The “revolving door” function of the Chinese think tanks, especially in terms of elite upward mobility, is perhaps most evident in the case of the Chinese Economists 50 Forum. The forum was founded in 1998 and claims to include the most accomplished academic economists in Beijing. The mission of the forum is to provide policy recommendations for the government on major economic issues. Over the past decade,the forum has organized annual conferences, economic policy lecture series, internal roundtable discussions, academic seminars, foreign exchanges, and policy briefings for the national leadership. The forum is led by a seven-member academic committee, including the country’s most influential economists and government technocrats: Wu Jinglian (fellow of the Development Research Center of the State Council), Fan Gang (member of the Currency Policy Committee of the People’s Bank), Liu He (deputy director of the Office of the Economic and Financial Leading Group of CCP Central Committee), Justin Lin (senior vice president and chief economist of the World Bank), Yi Gang (vice governor of the People’s Bank and director of the State Administration of Foreign Exchanges), Xu Shanda (deputy director of the State Taxation Administration Bureau), and Wu Xiaoling (former vice governor of the People’s Bank and current vice chairman of the NPC’s Financial Committee). It has been widely noted that Wu Jinglian once served as a key advisor to Premier Zhu Rongji. Liu He now serves President Hu Jintao in the same capacity. The forum has a permanent staff team that handles daily operations and the abovementioned activities. The forum also has a council of entrepreneurs, which is headed by two famous business leaders, chairman of the Stone Group Corporation Duan Yongji and chairman of Legend Holdings Liu Chuanzhi.
Most members of the forum, of whom have the dual identity of scholar and official. Based on their main professional work at present, 25 (50 percent) are government officials and many hold ministerial-level positions, including some of the most important positions in China’s economic and financial leadership. In 1998, when the forum was founded, 14 of these 25 current officials worked as research fellows in think tanks and/or were university professors. Justin Lin, for example, was at that time a professor at Peking University. Ten years later, he and many others are substantively involved in China’s economic decision-making process. The group’s most prominent leaders are the governor of People’s Bank, Zhou Xiaochuan; the director of the State Taxation Bureau, Xiao Jie; director of the Research Office of the State Council, Xie Fuzhan; director of the State Statistic Bureau, Ma Jiantang; deputy director of the Office of the Leading Group on Agriculture, Chen Xiwen; deputy director of the Office of the Leading Group on Finance Liu He and vice governor of People’s Bank, Yi Gang. Several members of the forum currently serve on the powerful Central Committee of the CCP (Zhou Xiaochuan, Xiao Jie, Guo Shuqing, and Lou Jiwei) or the Central Discipline Inspection Commission of the CCP (Xie Fuzhan). Both the large number of retired officials taking positions in the leadership of the CCIEE and the many cases of scholar-turned-official in the China Economists 50 Forum suggests that the doors of China’s prominent think tanks are already revolving.
A NEW KIND OF BOSS AND NEW SOURCES OF FUNDING
For most of the PRC’s history think tanks have been fully funded by the Chinese government. Political officials have been the only “bosses” in the Chinese think tanks.Recently, however, economic globalization and China’s market reforms have both profoundly changed the way Chinese think tanks operate. As with their counterparts in other countries, the tasks of paying salaries and securing funding for research has become a central concern for the Chinese think tanks. Not surprisingly, a new kind of boss (laoban)—the entrepreneur—now has a strong presence in the leadership of China’s new think tanks. This trend is particularly noticeable in the case of the CCIEE.
It has been reported in the Chinese media that the CCIEE aims to raise a total of 500 million yuan, of which only 1 percent (5 million yuan) will come from the Chinese government. According to Wei Jianguo, secretary-general of the CCIEE, the research expenses and salary for a proposed total of 96 research staffers will largely depend on the institution’s fundraising campaign.22 This explains why several business leaders currently serve in the leadership of the CCIEE as either advisors or vice chairmen. Chee-hwa Tung, former chief executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, is currently a vice chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.
He also serves as chairman of the Hong Kong–based China-United States Exchange Foundation. The governing board of the foundation includes several worldclass business tycoons such as the chairman of the Hang Lung Group, Ronnie Chan, chairman of Wheelock and Company, Peter Woo, and chairman of Hopewell Holdings, Gordon Wu. The foundation aims to support research in areas of importance to US-China relations, including the environment and climate change, energy security, anti-terrorism, nuclear non-proliferation, food security, multilateral trade issues, the international financial order, controlling the spread of pandemics, drug trafficking, and financial crimes.
Feng Guojing (Victor Kwok King Fung), chairman of the Li & Fung group of companies, not only serves as vice chairman of C. H. Tung’s China-United States Exchange Foundation, but also serves as vice chairman of the CCIEE. Feng is also chairman of the International Chamber of Commerce, a prestigious international business organization. Feng’s company is often considered one of the world’s most influential trading companies. As a U.S. citizen, Feng was ranked by Forbes magazine as one of the 400 richest people in the United States in 2005.24 Presumably, both C. H. Tung’s foundation and Feng’s company have provided substantial financial support to the CCIEE.
Several CEOs of China’s major banks and state-owned enterprises (SOEs) also serve on the leadership body of the CCIEE. In China, these leaders of state-owned business often have dual identities. They are government officials whose appointment are usually made by the CCP Organization Department rather than their own companies, but they are also widely identified as entrepreneurs (qiyejia) because they take business risks domestically and internationally and are responsible to stockholders, if their companies are listed on the stock exchange. In the Chinese context, “entrepreneur” refers both to an owner of private property and a manager of state-owned or joint ventures. Thus, an entrepreneur is defined as a person who possesses property either through the capitalization of personal income or through the operation of a collective, public, or jointventure enterprise.25 This Chinese definition of entrepreneur differs significantly from the definition that prevails in the West, where entrepreneurs are seen as businesspeople who assume the “risks of bringing together the means of production, including capital, labor, and materials, and receive reward in profit from the market value of the product.”
China’s heads of state banks and large firms were very minimally involved in the activities of Chinese think tanks for most of the PRC’s history, but this appears to have changed in recent years. Now Chinese entrepreneurs have become one of the three major players in this new era of Chinese think tank activity. Board members of the CCIEE include Jiang Jiemin, general manager of the China National Petroleum Corporation; Chen Yuan, president of China Development Bank; and Lou Jowei, chairman of the China Investment Corporation (see Table 2 (HERE)). Most importantly, Li Rongrong, minister of the SASAC, also serves as vice chairman of the CCIEE. The SASAC supervises the 140 largest SOEs in the country, including the gigantic companies that monopolize such key industries as electricity, telecommunications, railways, aviation, shipping, and oil. The 122-member council of the CCIEE includes many CEOs of China’s largest banks and companies, among them the president of the Sinosteel Corporation, Huang Tianwen; the CEO of the China Shipping Group Company, Li Shaode; and the CEO of the State Development & Investment Corporation, Wang Huisheng. Without a doubt, these high-powered and well endowed companies provide much-needed funding for the CCIEE.
THE GROWING IMPORTANCE OF THE “SEA TURTLES”
One of the most important new players in reform-era life is the elite group of foreign educated Chinese returnees known as the “sea turtles” (haigui). In Chinese, the words for “returnee” and “sea turtle” have the same pronunciation. Beginning with Deng Xiaoping’s landmark decision to send a large number of students and scholars to study abroad in 1978, a total of 1,360,000 Chinese nationals have pursued foreign studies over the past three decades, with a large number (approximately 37 percent) going to the United States.
SEA TURTLES CONTINUED
In the past few years China has witnessed a tidal wave of returnees coming back to their native country. By the end of 2008, some 370,000 foreign-educated Chinese students and scholars had returned to the PRC.29 The area most strongly influenced by returnees is, not surprisingly, higher education, especially research institutions.30 According to an official Chinese source, in 2004 roughly 81 percent of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, 54 percent of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, and 72 percent of team leaders of the national technological research projects were returnees.
Returnees have also come to dominate prominent research centers in the field of China studies. This trend is most strikingly on display at the China Center for Economic Research (CCER) at Peking University, as demonstrated in table 5’s list of the educational backgrounds of the center’s entire 24 faculty members in 2005. All of them studied abroad and all received doctoral degrees, mainly from universities in the United States. These U.S.-educated economists have largely redesigned the curricula and research methods of the fields of economics and management at Peking University to be more in line with the American model, particularly the “Chicago model.” It is also significant that the CCER has been a key resource for China’s economic decision makers in the last decade. In addition to publishing academic journals, the CCER is also known for its regular internal reports and policy briefs submitted to various agencies in the Chinese government.32 Five faculty members—Justin Lin, Yi Gang, Hai Wen, Zhou Qiren, and Song Guoqing—are also members of the prestigious Chinese Economist 50 Forum. The NCER seems to have assembled “dream teams” both in the field of Chinese economic studies and in the management of the financial sector of the PRC.
The CCER has received significant financial support from such foreign foundations and international organizations as the Ford Foundation and the World Bank, and this is not an isolated case. Many other research institutes and think tanks in China have received funding from American and other foreign foundations. For example, the Center of China Studies at Peking University has received grants from the Ford Foundation, the Henry Luce Foundation, the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF), and the Asia Foundation, among others. Most of these foundations began providing support to social science and legal research in China in the mid-1980s. A two-decadelong effort to promote China’s social science research and the diffusion of international norms now seems to have come to fruition. Lin Yifu (Justin Lin), founder and director of the CCER, is himself a legendary figure. Born in Taiwan in 1952, he attended both National Taiwan University and National Chengchi University. In 1979, when he was in military service at Jinmen, Lin decided to defect to the Mainland. It was reported that Lin swam to Xiamen using two basketballs for flotation. From 1979 to 1982, he studied political economy at Peking University, receiving an M.A. in economics. He then went to the University of Chicago to continue his doctoral studies in economics. Lin returned to the PRC in 1987 and worked at the State Council’s Research Institute of Rural Development for seven years. As a deputy director of the institute, Lin led several important research projects, and his scholarly work contributed significantly to China’s market liberalization process. In 1994 Lin founded the CCER with five other instructors at Peking University and served as director of the center until 2008, when he was appointed senior vice president and chief economist of the World Bank. Another original member of this think tank who later became an influential figure in China’s economic leadership is Yi Gang. He began his studies in the United States in 1980 as an MBA student at Hamlin University and then pursued his Ph.D. in economics at the University of Illinois. After graduating in 1986 he began to teach at Indiana University, where he received tenure, becoming an associate professor in 1992. In 1994, after studying and teaching in the United States for 14 years, he returned to China to teach at CCER. Only three years later he was appointed deputy secretary general of the Currency Policy Commission of People’s Bank, and after serving as division head of currency policy he was promoted to assistant governor in 2004 and vice governor in 2007.34 Most recently, in July 2009, Yi was appointed to what is arguably the most important position in the People’s Bank: director of the State Administration of Foreign Exchanges (SAFE).
The career experiences of Justin Lin and Yi Gang, especially their very prominent roles in economic leadership, suggest the growing power and influence of returnees in present-day China. It is interesting to note that four other distinguished returnee scholars—Jiang Zhenghua, Li Yining, Liu Zunyin (Lawrence J. Lau), and Qian Yingyi— have made it to top leadership posts in the CCIEE ( see Table 2 HERE). Jiang Zhenghua is a scholar turned political leader and recently served as vice chairman of the National People’s Congress. He studied at the Bombay International Institute of Demography in India in the early 1980s and was a visiting professor at the University of Paris and Stanford University. As one of the most accomplished experts on demographic issues in China, he has played an important role in China’s population policy over the past two decades.
Professor Li Yining, who has taught at Peking University for 54 years, was the chief architect of China’s adoption of stock markets, one of the most far-reaching economic reforms in the country. The author of 50 books and over 100 academic articles, he has challenged several theoretical propositions in Western economic literature and is an expert on the nature and dynamics of China’s reform-era transitional economy. Also of note, Li was the academic mentor of two of the rising stars in the fifth generation of Chinese leaders, Executive Vice Premier Li Keqiang and Director of the CCP Organization Department Li Yuanchao. In fact, Professor Li Yining co-authored a book in 1991 on strategies for China’s economic prosperity with three of his graduate students, including Li Keqiang and Li Yuanchao. Professor Lawrence Lau is currently president of the Chinese University of Hong Kong. He received his undergraduate degree in physics and economics from Stanford University and his Ph.D. in economics from the University of California at Berkeley. After teaching at Stanford for four decades he took his current position in Hong Kong. In addition, he is a personal friend of C. H. Tung and Victor Fung, as well as many senior Chinese leaders. Professor Qian Yingyi also has remarkable professional credentials. Born in 1961 in Zhejiang Province, Qian passed the first national college entrance examination after the Cultural Revolution at the age of 16 and enrolled at Tsinghua University. He moved to the United States for graduate studies in 1982 and spent the next 20 years there. He received a master’s degree in statistics from Columbia University, an MBA from Yale University, and a Ph.D. in economics from Harvard University. He has taught at Stanford, the University of Maryland, and UC Berkeley. Qian’s presence in the leadership body of the CCIEE is highly symbolic: a scholar and a foreign-educated returnee can be on equal footing with ministers of the State Council and CEOs of China’s flagship companies.
These new think tanks that have strong representation by “sea turtles,” as exemplified by the Chinese Economists 50, the CCER, and the CCIEE, constitute an important development that merits further attention. Returnees now regularly help to shape the research agendas and research methods in the fields of economics, management, sociology, international relations, demography, and other fields in their institutions, and are leaders in China’s intellectual and policy discourses. Many of these think tank members concurrently hold academic positions in research institutions in China and abroad, thereby very closely linking these Chinese institutions with their peers overseas. International academic exchanges and collaborative projects can greatly improve the quality of think tank work in China and broaden Chinese perspectives on issues of global significance.