s the former chairman of the CITIC Group, famed entrepreneur and economist Kong Dan has long enjoyed a front-row seat at China’s vast economic reforms. Now over 70, he has shifted attention from business management to theoretical research.
At Kong’s suggestion, the CITIC Foundation for Reform and Development Studies was established in August 2014. As its head, Kong has proposed three objectives for the think tank: to “seek truth from facts,” “stick to the China Path,” and “develop the Chinese School.”
“The CITIC Foundation aims to research key issues of social sciences, particularly on the ‘China Path’ and China Model,” Kong told NewsChina.
NewsChina: The so-called ‘Chinese School’ has generated plenty of controversy in academia. What does it actually mean?
Kong Dan: There are many ways to understand the Chinese School. The CITIC Foundation has invited scholars from various academic backgrounds to discuss the issue. It needs to be pointed out that the Chinese School is not restricted to academia. It also includes innovative theories of the Communist Party of China based on practice in the country.
As a matter of fact, the Chinese School owes a debt to various other schools and their exponents from pre-Qin times to the early years of the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD). It is a philosophical approach to understand the world and society and it has played a crucial role in China’s social and economic development. China is rich in history and culture, and these are the foundation of the Chinese School.
Since modern times began, China was tasked with a string of historical missions including a revolution in independence, construction and reform. Mao Zedong was a forerunner of the Chinese School during this period, and he made forays into the fields of philosophy, politics, military affairs and economics.
In 1978, Deng Xiaoping initiated China’s Reform and Opening-up to the outside world, putting China in the fast lane of economic growth. Deng also significantly pushed the development of the Chinese School. Since then, guiding social and political theories such as the “Three Represents” of Hu Jintao and the “Scientific Outlook on Development” of Jiang Zemin have also become part of the Chinese School.
Finally yet importantly, China has forged ahead in the face of a global economic slowdown over the past five years. The 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China gave us Xi Jinping thought on Socialism with Chinese characteristics for a New Era. Xi’s governance of China has turned out to be a recent highlight of the Chinese School.
For my part, the Chinese School aims to absorb various civilizations created by mankind in order to solve practical problems in China. It is not a subject that studies China alone, but China has to be the starting point and the center of research.
NC: Since its inception, the CITIC Foundation has been on a mission to develop the Chinese School. Why does a foundation run by a major investment company have such a goal?
KD: The CITIC Foundation was created in 2014. Back then, China’s ideological spectrum brimmed with disputes and chaos, and many of which stemmed from the mechanical application of Western theories and thoughts.
History demonstrates China has found a path suitable for itself – socialism with Chinese characteristics. CITIC, one of the earliest windows of China’s Reform and Opening up, also has economic, social and political obligations.
NC: You were born to a family of high-level Chinese Communist Party officials and maintained frequent contacts with many Chinese leaders. Rumors swirl that the CITIC Foundation was established at their behest to speak for China’s Communist Party. Is that true?
KD: The CITIC Foundation was set up after the ratification of the State Council and the Ministry of Civil Affairs. Meanwhile, it came into being at a time when the central government vowed to consolidate its ideology. The CITIC Foundation likes to describe itself as an assisting force to facilitate China’s Reform and Opening up.
NC: What role does the CITIC Foundation play in promoting the Chinese School?
KD: Since it was established, the CITIC Foundation has aspired to promote theoretical works with a China angle, China vision, China style or a part China’s national narrative. We have a historical responsibility to do so.
Before the CITIC Foundation was established, some academics had already devoted themselves to the Chinese School of Thought, such as Hu Angang, director of the Institute for Contemporary China Studies under Tsinghua University, Wang Shaoguang, chair professor in the Department of Government and Public Administration at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and Pan Wei, director of the Center for Chinese & Global Affairs, Peking University. These scholars from various institutions conducted research out of their own intellectual consciousness but they did not use the term ‘Chinese School.’
The CITIC Foundation aimed to provide a platform to bring together scholars scattered throughout academia in order to accelerate the development of the Chinese School. To attain this, the foundation has set up an advisory committee comprising 146 senior scholars from more than 40 institutions who have an average age of 57. In addition, it has attracted more than 140 young and academically qualified scholars whose average age is 38. The CITIC Foundation has become home to academic staff of different ages and from various backgrounds.
These scholars can communicate and share information using the CITIC Foundation as a platform. Over the past few years, we have organized more than 70 conferences, supporting the academic research of these scholars. What’s more, the CITIC Foundation has been promoting the Chinese School through publications, seminars and research projects.
NC: What are the main challenges to building the Chinese School? How can they be overcome?
KD: The biggest challenges lie in epistemology and methodology. To be specific, many Chinese scholars fail to seek truth from facts.
After the People’s Republic of China was founded in 1949, China studied advanced technologies and social systems in the Soviet Union, Japan, Europe and the US. These places have their own development models based on their own conditions. If China blindly and mechanically borrows from their experiences, problems will naturally arise.
Over the years, theory has always lagged behind practice in China and academia has to reflect on its role. On May 17, 2016, Chinese President Xi Jinping vowed to speed up the construction of social science with Chinese characteristics. This will be a great opportunity to develop the Chinese School.