From Pur­suer to in­no­va­tor

Chi­nese schol­ars should in­no­vate, not just fol­low, says Hu An­gang

NewsChina - - COVER STORY - By Cai Ru­peng

As the di­rec­tor of the In­sti­tute for Con­tem­po­rary China Stud­ies un­der Ts­inghua Univer­sity, Hu An­gang is a se­nior ex­pert on China's eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment, so­cial tran­si­tion and pub­lic pol­icy, widely known for his out­spo­ken­ness and op­ti­mistic fore­casts of China's fu­ture.

John L. Thorn­ton, chair­man of the board of trus­tees at the Brook­ings In­sti­tute, said that no Chi­nese thinker could pre­cisely pre­dict the di­rec­tion and speed of de­vel­op­ment like Hu, adding that he is very likely the most prag­matic econ­o­mist in China.

Although Hu's re­marks fre­quently draw con­tro­versy, he in­sists China will be­come a new type of global power as the coun­try's eco­nomic might con­tin­ues to grow. In his opin­ion, it is a his­toric op­por­tu­nity for Chi­nese schol­ars to ob­serve and an­a­lyze the Chi­nese sce­nario at a time of great so­cial and eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tion.

“Chi­nese schol­ars should never con­tent them­selves with be­ing a fol­lower. They have to compete with West­ern schol­ars to ac­cu­mu­late Chi­nese ex­pe­ri­ence and ex­plain it to the out­side world be­fore com­ing up with a unique dis­course sys­tem,” Hu said. “If not, it is a dis­grace to Chi­nese schol­ars.”

Newschina: You are an ex­pert on the study of China's na­tional con­di­tions. Can you give a brief ac­count of your work?

Hu An­gang: The study of na­tional con­di­tions is widely re­ferred to as the study of con­tem­po­rary China world­wide which fo­cuses on the re­cent de­vel­op­ment and chal­lenges in China. The study of na­tional con­di­tions is dif­fer­ent from other so­cial sciences be­cause it stud­ies the spe­cific so­cial and eco­nomic sce­nar­ios us­ing in­ter­dis­ci­pli­nary re­search meth­ods.

Along with the rapid rise of China, con­tem­po­rary China stud­ies have be­come an in­de­pen­dent sub­ject and an in­creas­ingly hot re­search area abroad. The study of China's na­tional con­di­tions plays a cru­cial role in mak­ing China's pub­lic pol­icy and es­tab­lish­ing de­vel­op­ment goals. His­tory in con­tem­po­rary China has demon­strated that

great achieve­ments hinged on suc­cess­ful strate­gies and huge fail­ures stemmed from poor pol­icy-mak­ing.

I have been study­ing China's na­tional de­vel­op­ment for more than 30 years. Over the past decade, I've kept an eye on the po­lit­i­cal fac­tors that contributed to the suc­cess of na­tional de­vel­op­ment. The study of China's na­tional con­di­tions is far more dif­fi­cult and com­pli­cated than many peo­ple imag­ine.

NC: How do you study con­tem­po­rary China?

HA: The study of con­tem­po­rary China aims to learn the mo­ti­va­tions, process, gains and losses of China's po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic tran­si­tions over the past 30 years. Schol­ars study China from mul­ti­ple stand­points, per­spec­tives and meth­ods, lead­ing to var­i­ous con­clu­sions. Each re­sult, how­ever, has to with­stand the tests of China's so­cial prac­tice and trans­for­ma­tion and only a few ar­gu­ments will with­stand the test of his­tory.

The study of con­tem­po­rary China in West­ern coun­tries is mainly based on sub­jects in­clud­ing so­ci­ol­ogy, eco­nom­ics and pol­i­tics, but it is very dif­fi­cult to study China in a com­pre­hen­sive way. We study China's na­tional con­di­tions from an over­all point of view – try­ing to see both the trees and the wood. We study the past, present and fu­ture of China. I al­ways ask my stu­dents to study the real China, and real Chi­nese prob­lems, and have a def­i­nite ob­ject in view.

NC: Over the years, some West­ern schol­ars have pre­dicted that China will col­lapse. What is the rea­son be­hind that?

HA: Along­side China's rapid rise as a global power, a grow­ing num­ber of coun­tries be­gan to fo­cus on China's de­vel­op­ment and its im­pact on the world, re­sult­ing in a va­ri­ety of dis­cus­sions and spec­u­la­tions. Three as­ser­tions made a great noise in the in­ter­na­tional pub­lic opin­ion sphere: “China Col­lapse,” the “China Threat,” and the “China Mon­roe Doc­trine.”

These as­ser­tions re­flect the prej­u­dices and lim­i­ta­tions of West­ern the­o­ries. The so-called China Col­lapse the­ory has turned out to be an in­ter­na­tional joke. It also shows that main­stream West­ern schol­ars lack un­der­stand­ing of China's na­tional con­di­tions and re­cent de­vel­op­ment, and they are im­pa­tient about the Chi­nese sys­tem and are not tol­er­ant of Chi­nese cul­ture. They tend to see the wood, not the trees.

NC: You have re­cently ar­gued that China's eco­nomic, sci­en­tific and over­all na­tional strength has over­taken that of the US, which gen­er­ated con­tro­versy. How do you see that?

HA: The con­clu­sion was made after more than a decade's re­search. We made the com­par­i­son based on the over­all strength in­stead of the mean level. China's over­all strength has over­taken that of the US but its pro­duc­tion rate re­mains low. The re­search find­ing was ini­tially pub­lished in the Jour­nal of Ts­inghua Univer­sity and if schol­ars have dif­fer­ent views, they are wel­come to pose a chal­lenge.

As a mat­ter of fact, many of our pre­dic­tions were quite con­ser­va­tive rather than ex­ag­ger­ated. We have striven for orig­i­nal re­search which of­ten goes against the gen­eral un­der­stand­ing of the pub­lic. It de­mon- strated that truth is usu­ally in the hands of the mi­nor­ity.

NC: You are de­scribed as a govern­ment mouth­piece. How do you re­spond?

HA: Our re­search find­ings are based on orig­i­nal data and strict aca­demic anal­y­sis. They are never pro­duced at the re­quest of the govern­ment. Sometimes, our re­search find­ings are in ac­cor­dance with the cen­tral govern­ment, but we never work to cater to the needs of the au­thor­i­ties. In ad­di­tion, we of­fer ad­vice be­fore the pol­icy-mak­ing is made.

NC: You are ac­claimed as a scholar of the Chi­nese School. Do you agree?

HA: Along with China's rise, Chi­nese schol­ars have the re­spon­si­bil­ity to ob­serve, an­a­lyze and ex­plain the suc­cess­ful sto­ries of China to the out­side world. In this process, we are work­ing to con­struct a Chi­nese School. In my opin­ion, the Chi­nese School aims to give an in­side ac­count of the Chi­nese path, Chi­nese ex­pe­ri­ence and Chi­nese wis­dom in time.

For­mer Chi­nese leader Deng Xiaop­ing once said that Chi­nese peo­ple should be cit­i­zens of the world and from this per­spec­tive, Chi­nese schol­ars should be­come schol­ars of the world. Chi­nese schol­ars should have the con­scious­ness and will­ing­ness to compete with their over­seas coun­ter­parts to have a louder voice from China.

NC: What is the sig­nif­i­cance of con­struct­ing the Chi­nese School? HA: The­o­ret­i­cal think­ing is cru­cial if a na­tion wants to scale the heights of sci­ence. Nowa­days, China is get­ting closer to the center of the global stage. The coun­try should not only pro­duce ma­te­rial prod­ucts but also pro­duce thoughts and ideas, pro­vid­ing Chi­nese ex­pe­ri­ence to the out­side world, par­tic­u­larly to many de­vel­op­ing coun­tries.

China's Re­form and Open­ing-up brought Chi­nese ex­pe­ri­ence, in­clud­ing both suc­cesses and fail­ures, to the out­side world. For ex­am­ple, so­lu­tions and di­rec­tions pro­vided by the 19th Na­tional Congress of the Com­mu­nist Party of China will con­trib­ute to global growth, gov­er­nance and tack­ling joint chal­lenges. Chi­nese gov­er­nance with clear goals, a solid foun­da­tion and tan­gi­ble re­sults have pro­vided ref­er­ence points for other coun­tries.

NC: What are the main dif­fi­cul­ties in con­struct­ing the Chi­nese School?

HA: West­ern thoughts re­main dom­i­nant in in­ter­na­tional academia and these have a great im­pact on Chi­nese class­rooms and text­books. Some Chi­nese schol­ars look up to West­ern thoughts as the stan­dard.

Chi­nese schol­ars must ur­gently go global, and write and trans­late ex­ist­ing works for broader au­di­ences. At the In­sti­tute for Con­tem­po­rary China Stud­ies of Ts­inghua Univer­sity, we al­ways teach stu­dents with our own text­books. Our po­si­tion is clear: we serve as a bridge be­tween academia and the govern­ment, a bridge be­tween the govern­ment and the gen­eral pub­lic, as well as a bridge be­tween China and the world.

Hu An­gang, di­rec­tor of the In­sti­tute for Con­tem­po­rary China Stud­ies at Ts­inghua Univer­sity

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