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Li, China Leadership Monitor, No. 29
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China’s New Think Tanks: Where Officials,
Entrepreneurs, and Scholars Interact
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 foreigneducated
“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.1 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).2 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.3 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.4
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
Li, China Leadership Monitor, No. 29
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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
Li, China Leadership Monitor, No. 29
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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 policymaking process.
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.7
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
Li, China Leadership Monitor, No. 29
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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.”9
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
Li, China Leadership Monitor, No. 29
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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.11 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 1,
next page).
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
Li, China Leadership Monitor, No. 29
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National Committee for Pacific Economic Cooperation, are focused primarily on
economic issues.
Table 1
Top 10 Think Tanks in China, Compiled by Chinese Authorities at the “First Forum on
China’s Think Tanks” Held in Beijing, in 2006
Rank Name Current Head
Year
Founded Location
1 Chinese Academy of Social Sciences Chen Kuiyuan 1977 Beijing
2 Development Research Center of the
State Council
Zhang Yutai 1981 Beijing
3 Chinese Academy of Sciences Lu Yongxiang 1949 Beijing
4 Academy of Military Sciences Liu Chengjun 1958 Beijing
5 China Institute of International Study Ma Zhengang 1956 Beijing
6 China Institute of Contemporary
International Relations
Cui Liru 1980 Beijing
7 China National Committee for Pacific
Economic Cooperation
Mei Ping 1986 Beijing
8 China Association for Science and
Technology
Han Qide 1958 Beijing
9 China International Institute of Strategic
Society
Xiong
Guangkai
1979 Beijing
10 Shanghai Institute for International
Studies
Yang Jiemian 1960 Shanghai
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 forwardlooking
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.
Li, China Leadership Monitor, No. 29
7
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.16 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. 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 (next page) 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
(text continues on p. 9)
Li, China Leadership Monitor, No. 29
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Table 2
The Leadership of the China Center for International Economic Exchanges (CCIEE)
CCIEE position Name Other current/former position Born Main identity Educational Background Education lvl.
Chair Zeng Peiyan Former vice premier 1938 Official Tsinghua University Undergrad
Advisor Chee Hwa Tung Vice chair, CPPCC; fmr. chief exec., HK 1937 Entrepreneur University of Liverpool Undergrad
Advisor Jiang Zhenghua Former vice chair of NPC 1937 Scholar
Xi’an Jiaotong University, Bombay
Int’l. Inst. of Demography Master’s
Advisor Tang Jiaxuan Former Minister of Foreign Affairs 1938 Official Peking University, Fudan University Undergrad
Advisor Xu Kuangdi President, Acad. of Sciences/Shanghai Mayor 1937 Official Beijng Inst. of Iron & Steel Undergrad
Exec. vice chair Wang Chunzheng
Fmr. dir., Off. of Economic & Financial
Leading Group, CCP Central Comm. 1938 Official Renmin University Master’s
Exec. vice chair Li Yining Professor at Peking University 1930 Scholar Peking University Undergrad
Exec. vice chair Liu Zunyi President, Chinese University of Hong Kong 1944 Scholar Stanford, UC Berkeley Ph.D.
Exec. vice chair Zhang Xiaoqiang Vice chair of NDRC 1952 Official Peking University Undergrad
Exec. vice chair Chen Yuan Chair of China Development Bank 1945 Entrepreneur Tsinghua University, CASS Master’s
Exec. vice chair Qian Yingyi Dean, School of Econ. & Mgmt., Tsinghua U. 1961 Scholar Tsinghua U., Columbia, Yale, Harvard Ph.D.
Exec. vice chair Jiang Jiemin GM, China National Petroleum Corp. 1956 Entrepreneur Shandong University Undergrad
Exec. vice chair Wei Liqun
Exec. Vice-President, China National
School of Administration 1944 Official Beijing Normal University Undergrad
Permanent
vice chair Zheng Xinli
Former Dep. Director of Policy Research
Office, CCP Central Committee 1945 Official Beijing Inst. of Iron & Steel, CASS Master’s
Vice chair Feng Guojing (Victor Fung) Chairman, Int’l Chamber of Commerce 1945 Entrepreneur MIT, Harvard Ph.D.
Vice chair Lu Ruihua Former Governor of Guangdong 1938 Official Zhongshan University Master’s
Vice chair Liu Huaqiu Former Director of the Foreign Affairs Office 1939 Official Inst. of Foreign Affairs Undergrad
Vice chair Zhang Yutai Dir., Development Research Ctr., State Council 1945 Official Beijing Aviation Inst. Undergrad
Vice chair Zhang Guobao Vice chair, NDRC 1944 Official Xi’an Jiaotong University Master’s
Vice chair Li Rongrong Minister of SASAC 1944 Official Tianjin University Undergrad
Vice chair Xu Rongkai Former Governor, Yunnan 1942 Official Tsinghua University Undergrad
Vice chair Lou Jiwei Chair of China Investment Corp. 1950 Entrepreneur Tsinghua University, CASS Master’s
Vice chair Teng Wensheng Former Dir., Policy Research Office 1940 Official Renmin University Undergrad
Vice chair Dai Xianglong Chair, Natl. Council for Social Security Fund 1944 Official China Central Inst. of Econ. and Finance Undergrad
Secretary Genl. Wei Jianguo Former Vice Minister of Commerce 1947 Official Shanghai Inst. of Foreign Languages Undergrad
Notes: CASS = Chinese Academy of Social Sciences; CCP = Chinese Communist Party; CIC = China Investment Corporation; Comm. = Committee; CPPCC = Chinese People's
Political Consultative Conference; Ctr. = Center; Dir. = Director; Econ. = Economics; Exec. = Executive; Fmr. = Former; GM = General manager; HK = Hong Kong; Inst. = Institute;
Int’l = International; Lvl. = Level; NDRC = National Development and Reform Commission; NPC = National People’s Congress; Off. = Office; SASAC = State-Owned Assets
Supervision and Administration Commission; U. = University.
Li, China Leadership Monitor, No. 29
9
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.19
Table 3 (next page) 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.
Li, China Leadership Monitor, No. 29
10
Table 3
Current or Former Government Officers Who Serve as Deans/Honorary Deans of Schools
Field Name
Current/Previous
Official Position Current Position in Educational Institution
Qian Qichen Former vice premier Honorary dean, School of International
Studies, Peking University
Li Zhaoxing
Former minister of Foreign
Affairs
Dean, Zhou Enlai School of Government,
Nankai University; Dean, School of
Diplomacy & International Relations,
Institute of Foreign Affairs
Long Yongtu Former vice minister
of Foreign Trade
Dean, School of International Relations &
Public Affairs, Fudan University
Chen Jian Former deputy secretary
general, United Nations
Dean, School of International
Relations, Renmin University
International
Relations
Xiong Guangkai Former deputy chief
of staff, PLA
Honorary dean, School of Inteernational &
Public Affairs, Jiaotong University
Zhao Qizheng Fmr. director, Information
Office, State Council
Dean, School of Journalism &
Communication, Renmin University
Shao Huaze Former president, People’s
Daily
Dean, School of Journalism &
Communication, Peking University
Fan Jingyi Former editor in chief,
People’s Daily
Dean, School of Journalism &
Communication, Tsinghua University
Gong Xueping Former deputy Party
secretary, Shanghai
Honorary Dean, School of Journalism &
Communications, Fudan University
Journalism
Song Zhao Vice minister, Shanghai
Propaganda Department
Dean, School of Journalism &
Communication, Fudan University
Zhou Xiaochuan Governor, People’s Bank Honorary Dean, School of Management,
China University of Science & Technology
Li Rongrong Minister of State-Owned
Assets Supervision &
Administration Commission
Honorary Dean, School of Management,
Tianjin University
Lu Ruihua Former governor of
Guangdong
Honorary Dean, School of Management,
Zhongshan University
Jiang Yiren Former vice mayor of
Shanghai
Honorary dean, Antai School of Economic
Management, Shanghai Jiaotong University
Liu Ji Fmr. vice president, Chinese
Academy of Social Sciences
Honorary Dean, China Europe
International Business School
Li Jinhua Former general director of
Audit
Honorary dean, School of Management,
Central China University of Science
& Technology
Management
Cheng Siwei Former chair, National
People’s Congress
Dean, Graduate School of Management,
Chinese Academy of Sciences
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,
Li, China Leadership Monitor, No. 29
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the forum has organized annual conferences, economic policy lecture series, internal
roundtable discussions, academic seminars, foreign exchanges, and policy briefings for
the national leadership.20
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.
Table 4 (next page) presents all 50 members of the forum, most 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.
Li, China Leadership Monitor, No. 29
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Table 4
Members of the Chinese Economists 50 Forum
Name Born Current Academic Position Current Official Position Main identity Degree
Cai Fang 1956 Dir., Institute of Population & Labor, CASS Advisor, Minister of Human Resources & Social Welfare Scholar Ph.D.
Cao Yuanzheng 1954 Guest Professor of Fudan Univ. Deputy CEO, Bank of China International Holdings Ltd. Entrepreneur Ph.D.
Chen Dongqi 1956 Researcher, CASS Vice president, Institute of Macro Economics, NDRC Official Ph.D.
Chen Xiwen 1950 Professor, Renmin Univ. Deputy director, Office of Leading Group on Agriculture Official BA
Fan Gang 1953 Director, Natl. Institute of Economics Member, Currency Policy Comm. of People’s Bank Scholar Ph.D.
Fan Hengshan 1957 Guest Prof., Wuhan Univ, Renmin Univ. Director, Regional Economy Department, NDRC Official Ph.D.
Guo Shuqing 1956 Guest Prof., Wuhan U.; Renmin U.; CASS CEO, China Construction Bank Entrepreneur Ph.D.
Hai Wen 1958 Vice President, Peking Univ. Director, China International Trade Promotion Committee Scholar Ph.D.
He Liping 1958 Chair, Dept. of Finance, Beijing Normal U. Advisor, China Economic Reform Fund Scholar Ph.D.
Hu Angang 1953 Dir., China Studies Center of CAS; Prof., Tsinghua U. Member, China’s Land Resources Committee Scholar Ph.D.
Jiang Xiaojuan 1957 Professor, CASS Deputy director, Research Office of the State Council Official Ph.D.
Li Jiange 1949 Professor, CASS; Shanghai U. of Econ. & Finance Chair, China International Capital Cooperation Ltd. Entrepreneur MA
Li Xiaoxi 1949 Dir., Inst. of Econ. & Resources, Beijing Normal U. Advisor, Shanxi, Shaanxi, & Qinghai governments Scholar Ph.D.
Li Yang 1951 Professor, CASS Vice president, CASS Official Ph.D.
Liang Youcai 1943 Chief economist, China National Information Comm. Scholar BS
Lin Yifu 1952 Professor, Peking Univ. Senior vice president, chief economist, World Bank Official Ph.D.
Liu He 1952 Guest Professor, Peking Univ.; Renmin Univ. Dep. director, Office of the Leading Group on Finance Official MPA
Liu Shijin 1955 Guest Professor, CASS Dep. dir., Development Research Center, State Council Official Ph.D.
Liu Wei 1957 Dean, School of Economics, Peking Univ. Advisor, Beijing government Scholar Ph.D.
Lou Jiwei 1950 Guest Professor, CASS Chair, China Investment Corp. Entrepreneur MA
Long Yongtu 1943 Dean, School of International Affairs, Fudan U. Secretary general, Boao Asia Forum Official BA
Ma Jiantang 1958 Guest Prof., Beijing Normal U. Renmin, U. Director, State Statistic Bureau Official Ph.D.
Mao Yushi 1929 Chair, Unirule Institute of Economics Scholar BS
Qian Yingyi 1961 Dean, School of Econ. & Management, Tsinghua U. Scholar Ph.D.
Sheng Hong 1954 Professor, Shandong Univ. Scholar Ph.D.
Shi Xiaomin 1950 Deputy head, China Economic Reform Association Official BA
Song Guoqing 1954 Dir. of Population and Economics, CASS Chief economist, China Stock Exchange Commission Scholar Ph.D.
Song Xiaowu 1947 Guest Prof., Renmin U. & CASS Dep. Dir., Northeastern Development Office, State Council Official MA
Tang Min 1953 Deputy secretary general, China Development Fund Official Ph.D.
(table continues next page)
Li, China Leadership Monitor, No. 29
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Table 4 (continued)
Wang Tongshan 1948 Dir., Inst. of Quantitative &Technical Economics, CASS Scholar Ph.D.
Wang Jian 1954 Professor, CASS Dep. secretary general, China Macroeconomic Assoc. Official BA
Wei Jie 1952 Dep. dir., Economic Research Center, Tsinghua U. Scholar Ph.D.
Wen Tiejun 1951 Dean, School of Rural Development, Renmin U. Dep. secretary general, China Macroeconomic Research
Fund
Scholar Ph.D.
Wu Jinglian 1930 Fellow, Development Research Center, State Council Scholar BS
Wu Xiaoling 1947 Guest Professor, Tsinghua U. Deputy chair, NPC’s Financial Committee Official MA
Xia Bin 1951 Guest Professor, Renmin U. Dir., Inst. of Finance, Dvlpmt. Research Ctr., State Council Official MA
Xiao Jie 1957 Guest Professor, CASS Director, State Taxation Bureau Official Ph.D.
Xie Duo 1960 CEO, China Foreign Exchange Center Official MA
Xie Fuzhan 1954 Prof., Central China University of S & T Director, Research Office, State Council Official Master’s
Xie Ping 1955 Guest Prof., Renmin U., Nankai U., CASS Central Huijin Investment Co., Ltd. Entrepreneur Ph.D.
Xu Shanda 1947 Guest Professor, Tsinghua U., Peking U. Deputy director, State Taxation Administration Bureau Official Master’s
Yang Weimin 1956 Guest Professor, Tsinghua University Director, Development Planning Department of NDRC Official Ph.D.
Yi Gang 1958 Professor, Peking University Vice Governor of People’s Bank Official Ph.D.
Yu Yongding 1948 Dir., Institute of World Economics and Politics, CASS Scholar Ph.D.
Zhang Shuguang 1939 Director, Unirule Institute of Economics Scholar Master
Zhang Weiying 1959 Dean, School of Economic Management, Peking U. Member of Economic Reform Fund Scholar Ph.D.
Zhang Xiang 1941 Dean, School of Management, Shanghai Jiaotong U. Secretary General, Boao Asia Forum Official Ph.D.
Zheng Xinli 1945 Guest Professor, Renmin U. and CASS Deputy Director, Office of Policy Planning Official Master’s
Zhou Qiren 1950 Dir., China Economic Research Center, Peking U. Scholar Ph.D.
Zhou Xiaochuan 1948 Guest prof., Tsignhua U., China U. of S & T Governor of People’s Bank Official Ph.D.
Source: http://www.50forum.org.cn/index_expert.asp
Notes: CAS = Chinese Academy of Sciences; CASS = Chinese Academy of Social Sciences; Comm. = Committee; Dep. = Deputy; Dvlpmt. = Development; CEO = Chief Executive
Officer; Dir. = Director; Econ. = Economics; Inst. = Institute; NDRC = National Development & Reform Commission; NPC = National People’s Congress; Prof. = Professor; S & T =
Science and Technology; U. = University.
Li, China Leadership Monitor, No. 29
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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.21 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 Politics 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.23
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 appointments
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
Li, China Leadership Monitor, No. 29
15
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.”26
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). 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,27 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 wellendowed
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 foreigneducated
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.28 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.31
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
Li, China Leadership Monitor, No. 29
16
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.
Table 5
Educational Backgrounds of the Faculty of the China Center for Economic Research at
Peking University (2005; all hold Ph.D.’s from foreign universities)
Name Professional Title Field Graduate School
Degree
obtained
Chen Ping Professor Physics University of Texas at Austin 1987
Gong Qiang Assistant professor Economics Northwestern University 2004
Hai Wen Deputy director & prof. Economics University of California at Davis 1991
He Yin Assistant professor Economics University of Colorado at Boulder 2004
Hu Dayuan Associate professor Economics University of Kentucky 1995
Li Ling Professor Economics University of Pittsburgh 1994
Liang Neng Dean & professor Economics Indiana U., U. of Pennsylvania 1990
Lin Yifu (Justin) Director & professor Economics University of Chicago 1986
Lu Feng Associate professor Economics University of Leeds, UK 1994
Ma Hao Professor Economics University of Texas at Austin 1994
Ping Xinqiao Associate professor Economics Cornell University 1998
Shen Minggao Associate professor Economics Stanford University 2001
Song Guoqing Professor Economics University of Chicago 1995
Shi Jianhuai Associate professor Economics Osaka University 1999
Wang Dingding Associate professor Economics University of Hawaii 1990
Wang Hao Assistant professor Economics Ohio State University 2002
Yao Yang Assoc. prof., dep. dir. Economics University of Wisconsin at Madison 1996
Yi Gang Professor Economics University of Illinois 1986
Zeng Yi Professor Economics Brussels Free University 1986
Zhang Fan Associate professor Economics Wayne State University, Michigan 1994
Zhang Lee Associate professor Economics Ohio State University 1999
Zhao Yaohui Professor Economics University of Chicago 1995
Zhao Zhong Assistant professor Economics Johns Hopkins University 2001
Zhou Qiren Professor Economics UC Los Angeles 1995
Source: Cheng Li, “Foreign-Educated Returnees in the PRC: Increasing Political Influence with Limited Official Power.” Journal of
International Migration and Integration, Vol. 7, No. 4 (Fall 2006): 500. For the original data, see http://www.ccer.edu.cn/en/faculty
.asp?BigClassName=EN&SecondClassName=Faculty, 1 June 2005.
Notes: Assoc. = Associate, Dep. = Deputy, Dir.-Director, Penn. = Pennsylvania, Prof. = Professor, U. = University, UC = University
of California.
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
Li, China Leadership Monitor, No. 29
17
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.33 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). 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.
Li, China Leadership Monitor, No. 29
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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.35
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.
Final Thought
China is still in the early stages of developing a network of think tanks that can engage in
systematic and well-grounded research and provide balanced and independent policy
Li, China Leadership Monitor, No. 29
19
analysis for policymakers and the Chinese public. As illustrated in the newly established
CCIEE, the growing presence of tripartite elites in think tanks—retired or current
government officials, entrepreneurs representing major business companies, and
distinguished scholars who are often foreign educated—suggests that these semigovernmental
institutions will play an increasingly important role in the years to come.
The establishment of the CCIEE has raised some concerns, especially among
other think tanks, about the possibility that “super think tanks” might come to
monopolize financial and human resources. Members of more independent think tanks,
such as the Unirule Institute of Economics, fear that they will be further marginalized.
Indeed, some Chinese critics argue that the CCIEE is primarily for show, and is in
actuality little more than an “image project” (mianzi gongcheng) that aims to enhance
China’s international image.36 These detractors claim that the CCIEE has more vice
chairmen on its board than the institution’s total number of researchers. Others believe
that the real function of the CCIEE is to serve as a club for retired officials
(yanglaoyuan), an argument that evokes the Imperial Academy (Hanlinyuan) of
traditional China.37 According to these critics, one should not expect this “old men’s
club” to generate many innovative ideas or bold policy recommendations.
Perhaps the most important reservation concerning the CCIEE is the concern that
such a close association of prominent officials, business leaders and well-known scholars
might cohere into a “wicked coalition” that represents none other than China’s most
powerful interest groups (jide liyi jituan).38 For example, some Chinese critics point to the
property development industry as one of contemporary China’s most powerful specialinterest
groups.39 According to Sun Liping, a sociology professor at Tsinghua University,
the real estate interest group has accumulated tremendous economic and social capital
during the last decade.40 Ever since the 1990s real estate bubble in Hainan, this interest
group has consistently sought to influence government policy and public opinion.41 The
group includes not only property developers, real estate agents, bankers, and housing
market speculators, but also a significant number of local and national leaders and public
intellectuals (economists and journalists) who promote the interests of that group.42
It is at least encouraging that these criticisms—valid or not—have been allowed
to surface in the Chinese media. In the larger scheme of things, this development adds a
new analytical wrinkle to the long-standing and complicated relationship between power,
wealth, and knowledge. Only time will tell whether these dramatic changes in the
composition of Chinese think tanks will contribute to profound and positive
developments in elite politics—or whether this new confluence of political, economic,
and academic elites will spell trouble for China’s near-term future.
Notes
1 The author is indebted to Yinsheng Li for research assistance. The author also thanks Sally Carman,
Jordan Lee, and Robert O’Brien for suggesting ways in which to clarify the article.
2 http://business.sohu.com/20090403/n263180355.shtml, 3 April 2009.
3 For the website of the CCIEE and the “Global Think Tanks Summit,” see
Li, China Leadership Monitor, No. 29
20
http://www.cciee.org.cn/temp/index.asp.
4 China’s leading news magazines made the conference their cover story. See, for example, Huanqiu
(Globe), No. 13 (2009), 1 July.
5 See http://www.cciee.org.cn/temp/index.asp.
6 See http://news.backchina.com/2009/6/29/46808.html, 29 June 2009.
7 Hu Angang uses these three examples to characterize the Mao era as the era of individual decisionmaking.
See http://www.people.com.cn, 9 January 2003.
8 In contrast to the Marxist notion that the Communist Party should be the “vanguard of the working class,”
Jiang’s theory claims that the CCP should represent the “developmental need of advanced forces of
production,” the “forward direction of advanced culture,” and the “fundamental interests of the majority of
the Chinese people.”
9 For a detailed discussion of the theory of the peaceful rise of China, see Zheng Bijian, China’s Peaceful
Rise: Speeches of Zheng Bijian 1997–2004. Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution, 2005.
10 Ling Zhijun and Ma Licheng, Huhan: Dangjin Zhongguo de wuzhong shengyin (Voices: Five voices in
present China). Guangzhou: Guangzhou chubanshe, 1999.
11 Steven Mufson, “The Next Generation,” Washington Post, 18 June 1998, p. A1.
12 For more discussion of Chinese think tanks in the past decade, see Murray Scot Tanner, “Changing
Windows on a Changing China: The Evolving ‘Think Tank’ System and the Case of the Public Security
Sector.” China Quarterly, No. 171 (September 2002): 559–74. This issue also includes other excellent
articles on a variety of issues relating to Chinese think tanks written by Bates Gill, Bonnie Glaser, James
Mulvenon, Barry Naughton, Phillip Saunders, and David Shambaugh, among others. For studies conducted
by PRC scholars, see Zhu Xufeng, “The Influence of Think Tanks in the Chinese Policy Process: Different
Ways and Mechanisms,” Asian Survey, Vol. 49, No. 2 (March/April 2009): 333–357; and Xufeng Zhu and
Lan Xue, “Think Tanks in Transitional China,” Public Administration and Development, (December 2007):
452–464.
13 For more information about the Unirule Institute of Economics, see
http://www.unirule.org.cn/Secondweb/TianZeJianJie.asp.
14 http://www.cass.net.cn/about/wygk.htm. Among the 3,200 research staff, 1,676 are senior researchers.
15 http://www.cicir.ac.cn/tbscms/html/byjj.asp.
16 For more discussion of this topic, see Melanie Manion, Retirement of Revolutionaries in China.
Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993.
17 Guangzhou ribao (Guangzhou Daily), 18 March 2008, p. 1. Also see
http://news.dayoo.com/china/news/2008-03/18/content_3335387.htm.
18 See http://news.dayoo.com/china/200904/16/53868_5726098.htm. Xinhua News Agency, 16 April 2009.
19 Ibid.
20 For the details of the work of the forum, see its website,
http://www.50forum.org.cn/%5Cindex_about.asp.
21 Renmin ribao (People’s Daily), 19 June 2009. Also see http://news.sina.com.cn/c/2009-06-
19/012218047932.shtml.
22 Dongfang zaobao (Oriental Morning News), 3 June 2009. Also see
http://finance.qq.com/a/20090603/004913.htm.
23 For more information about the foundation, see http://www.cusef.org.hk/eng/about_statement.asp.
24http://www.cnceo.com/webcontent/cnceo/person/fangtan/20051114/044320051114121358.shtml.
25 Zhang Houyi, “The Position of the Private Entrepreneur Stratum in China’s Social Structure.” Social
Sciences in China, Vol. 16, No. 4 (1995): 33.
26 Encyclopedia Americana (International edition), (Danbury, Connecticut: Grolier Inc. 1992),Vol. 10,
p. 477.
27 http://cq.takungpao.com/content.asp?id=17060.
28 See http://news.xinhuanet.com/newscenter/2009-01/03/content_10596719.htm, 3 January 2009. The total
number of Chinese students and scholars who have studied in the United States is based on the speech
delivered by China’s ambassador to the United States, Zhou Wenzhong, in Seattle on 1 June 2005. See
http://www.chinesenewsnet.com. June 6, 2005.
29 See http://news.xinhuanet.com/newscenter/2009-01/03/content_10596719.htm, 3 January 2009.
30 For further discussion of this topic, see Cheng Li, ed. Bridging Minds across the Pacific: U.S.-China
Educational Exchanges 1978–2003. Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2005.
Li, China Leadership Monitor, No. 29
21
31 See http://www.xinhuanet.com, 16 February 2004; and Renmin ribao (People’s Daily), 2 March
2004, p. 11.
32 For more information about the center, see http://www.ccer.edu.cn/cn/ReadNews.asp?NewsID=4276.
33 Shijie ribao (World Journal), 28 May 2005, p. A4.
34 Cheng Li, “The Status and Characteristics of Foreign-Educated Returnees in the Chinese Leadership,”
China Leadership Monitor, No. 16, (Fall 2005).
35 The third student was Meng Xiaosu, then personal secretary to Vice Premier Wan Li and currently
chairman of the China State Housing & Real Estate Development Group Corporation. Li Yining, Meng
Xiaosu, Li Yuanchao, and Li Keqiang, Zouxiang fanrong de zhanlue xuanze (Strategic Choices on the
Path to Prosperity). Beijing: Jingji ribao chubanshe, 1991.
36 See, for example, http://www.ckxxw.com/html/c3/2009-07/4732.htm.
37 Xiao Feng, “Zhongguo xuyao zhiku, buxuyao yulinyuan” (China needs think tanks, but not Imperial
Academy), Xinzhoukan (New weekly), 17 July 2009.
38 Zhongguo xinwen zhoukan (China Newsweek), 13 January 2006; Liaowang (Outlook), December 5,
2005, and also see http://www.chinesenewsnet.com, 12 December 2005.
39 The other powerful interest groups include the monopoly industries such as telecommunications, oil,
electricity, and automotive. They have a huge stake in government policies. See Sun Liping, “Zhongguo
jinru liyi boyi de shidai” (China is entering the era of the conflict of interests), http://chinesenewsnet.com, 6
February 2006.
40 Sun Liping, “Zhongguo jinru liyi boyi de shidai” (China is entering the era of the conflict of interests),
http://chinesenewsnet.com, 6 February 2006. Also see Sun Liping, Duanlie: 20 shiji 90 niandai yilai de
Zhongguo shehui (Cleavage: Chinese society since 1990s), Beijing: Shehui kexuewenxian chubanshe,
2003.
41 China’s Reform Institute (Hainan) conducted this survey. See http://chinanews.com, 19 January 2006.
42 Jin Sanyong, “Zhongyang difang cunzai mingxian boyi” (The open game that the central and local
governments play). See http://www.zisi.net, 10 February 2006.

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