Old Version
Cover Story

From Pursuer to Innovator

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

By NewsChina Updated Feb.1

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 demonstrated 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.