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《China Network》 Peking University’s National School of Development – Academia at an appropriate pace


Langrun Garden

Deep within the confines of Langrun Garden, situated just north of Peking University’s Weiming Lake, lies China’s no.1 think-tank – Peking University’s National School of Development (“NSD”).
With its traditional royal courtyards and over 200 years’ history, the academic atmosphere and environment at Langrun Garden is unique to Peking University.

Was the NSD shaped by the times or did it shape the times?

Today,the NSD is China’s top think-tank but in its 20 years it has experienced some tough times. In the early days of China’s opening up, China’s market economy research was seriously lacking and it was against this backdrop that Justin Lin, Yi Gang, Hai Wen et. al decided to establish the “China Centre for Economic Research” with an aim to be devoted to teaching and researching modern economics and management and provide policy consulting for China’s economic development. 

These academics had undergone systematic economic training in the West and their understanding of Western economics and research methods were very different to China’s economic schools in the past.

The China Centre for Economic Research (CCER) was established in 1994 and in the following year, Langrun Garden was completely renovated. In 1996 the double master’s degree in Economics was officially launched. The work of the CCER has continued to this day and has become the National School of Development, specializing in economic policy research and teaching Chinese Economics.

20 years have passed and the Chinese economy has experienced a ‘golden age’. NSD founders Justin Lin, Yi Gang, Hai Wen, Zhang Weiying et. al are now China’s leading economists

Influencing the government, business and the future

 Aside from influencing the government through its reports and research, the NSD is also business focused. The idea of an MBA program in cooperation with an outside organization (international MBA) was suggested by Prof. Zhou Qiren, who believes that the NSD cannot rely purely on the government or businesses (for income) but “must think of ways become self-sufficient”.

In 1998 the NSD (then named the CCER)and Fordham University established their joint MBA program (BiMBA)taught by professors from both institutions. In later years, the program was extended to include EMBA, EDP and other programs. Beijing International MBA (BiMBA) at Peking University followed best practices from leading business schools and the majority of its courses were taught in English. MBA candidates are mainly mid-senior level managers in Fortune 500 companies. International enterprises place great value on management training and are willing to pay for this training. Furthermore, for foreign professors, this is an excellent opportunity to learn about Chinese business practices and develop the Chinese market.

This type of academic program can aid professors in understanding first-hand the realities of business in China and provide solid cases studies. Meanwhile, the growth of the business school can provide an income stream for the NSD which will guarantee its independence as a think-tank and, more independent research will bring direct results to companies. 

Aside from influencing entrepreneurs, the NSD places great importance on influencing future leaders. As early as 1996, under the advice of Yi Gang (currently Deputy Governor of the Central Bank), the NSD opened courses to undergraduate students which was to become the “Economics Double Master’s” degree, which has continued to run to this day.

It is understood that each year Peking University has approx. 3000 undergraduate students of which 600-700 choose to take the double master’s in Economics. In other words, 1 in 4 students if an alumnus of the NSD – this is much higher than any double degree in other departments. In almost 20 years, the alumni of the double Economics degree have reached over 10,000 and graduates have moved to all corners of China in many different industries.

Also in 1996, the NSD officially began recruiting PhD students. The school caters for students from undergraduate through to research level.

There are not many think-tanks that can truly be independent

Experts whose publications are quoted in important Western journals will, on a certain level, be highly recognized. The NSD’s researchers have been quoted in numerous publications and therefore, in international economic rankings is consistently ranked at the top. In other words, the NSD is influential not only in China but also on the international stage.

What the NSD’s academics hope for is to combine their theories with actual economic development, specifically to solve issues China is facing today.

Many organizations will work to please the government or work towards what the government propositions. However the NSD is much more independent.

The NSD’s work is focused on government positioning and its reports offer guidance and advice on areas such as government streamlining and delegation, urbanization, healthcare reform, population, education, environment and energy.

During this report, we learned that students are independent thinkers and, through their own investigations and research have given the Central government appropriate policy advice. This kind of autonomous research will be ever more important in the coming 5 years. 

NSD scholars study at an appropriate and realistic pace, “Harmony in diversity” attracts top academics to the NSD

Prof. Justin Lin once said : “ When at the top, it is hard to find faithful companions and for economists this is especially true. That Prof. Lin can have an open dialogue with Zhang Weiying brings great results. Later, top economists such as Zhou Qiren, Song Guoqing and Huang Yiping joined the NSD’s ranks, building a strong cohesive force. As each of these experts brought their own strengths and resources, which increased the strength of the NSD. Each professor had their own academic field and had some overlap, bringing great strength to research and teaching.

Aside from having great scholars, the NSD has an atmosphere of egality. Whilst each professor has their own style and thinking, they will always seek a consensus whilst reserving their differences.

Good teachers can not only teach and research, but also train promising students. The NSD has been successful in implementing this – here, teachers and students are strongly linked.

Promoting rational Chinese society and enlightenment of the public.

In the Spring of 2013, Chairman Xi Jinping personally asked Prof. Lin to develop the think-tank. At the beginning of this year the 2014 Chinese Think-Tank Influence Report was published. In this report the NSD was ranked 4th in “Economic Development” and “Political Development” and was ranked 5th in “Overall Deepening Reform”. It was in the top 10 for overall influence and top 5 for influence by discipline, system influence and professional influence.

Since its founding and 20 years of development, Peking University’s NSD has devoted itself to becoming China’s best influential think-tank. The fundamental mission of the NSD is, on the one hand, to continue its down-to-earth traditions to attract more and more scholars to research at the school and on the other hand, to influence the Chinese government and its policies and continue to promote the development of the rational Chinese society.