Wang Huiyao: Returnees help voice of China to be heard

October 10 , 2019
In the new era of globalization, the concept of innovation-driven development has been embraced by China and its people. As a leading force of innovation, generations of Chinese overseas returnees have played a major role in China's globalization in the past 70 years.

By Wang Huiyao |

President of the Center for China and Globalization(CCG)


In the new era of globalization, the concept of innovation-driven development has been embraced by China and its people. As a leading force of innovation, generations of Chinese overseas returnees have played a major role in China’s globalization in the past 70 years.

In 1847, Rong Hong, who studied in the United States, was the first Chinese student to pursue higher studies abroad. Since then, generation after generation of students have fulfilled their dream of studying abroad for rejuvenating China.

Many of these students became leading figures in politics, science, culture and business. They made outstanding contributions to education, science and technology, as well as national defense. Later, they took the opportunity of reform and opening-up to promote the integration of China with the international economic system, and helped bridge East and West.

Before reform and opening-up, more than 10,000 Chinese students went to the former USSR to study advanced technologies. Upon their return, they participated in 156 key projects that laid the foundation for industrialization in New China.

When the country called for help, Chinese experts such as Qian Xuesen and Qian Sanqiang returned to their motherland and made great contributions to the country’s national defense. Among 23 experts in China’s early breakthroughs in space and nuclear projects, 21 were overseas returnees. They overcame technological constraints and helped China strengthen itself on the international stage, while inspiring future students to go overseas and return to participate in China’s development.

After reform and opening-up, overseas returnees again showed a pioneering spirit in promoting China’s globalization. They brought foreign capital into the country, boosting the market economy. They led Chinese enterprises into international markets and actively participated in political life, making policy recommendations to help realize scientific and democratic governance. They served as a bridge between China and the rest of the world.

From 1978 to 2018, 5.86 million Chinese students went abroad for further studies, of whom 3.65 million chose to return home. Overseas returnees played a significant role in shaping various aspects of China’s modernization, from politics, technology and industry to education and culture.

Today the world is witnessing tremendous changes, from the international trading system to technology and geopolitics. New frameworks are needed for global economic governance. At the same time, China’s domestic situation has entered a new normal, where new dividends are sought through innovation and industrial upgrading. Against this backdrop, China needs to deepen opening-up and further participate in global governance.

President Xi Jinping has summed up the illustrious history of overseas returnees as a story of “seeking the ideal China”, highly praising them for helping to promote China from closed to open, and from poverty to prosperity.

In the new stage of globalization, a vast number of Chinese students studying abroad will take on a historic new mission.

First, overseas returnees should take advantage of their grasp of Chinese and Western cultures to help the Belt and Road Initiative develop into a multilateral institution. With deglobalization on the rise, the BRI has provided a new perspective for revitalization of international cooperation. It has offered emerging market economies a feasible way to play a bigger role on the global stage.

Second, overseas returnees should continue to play their role as a driving force for China to follow the path of innovative development. The vast number of students studying abroad should use new technologies to explore new fields of entrepreneurship.

Third, overseas returnees can help achieve social innovation and harmonize cultures within Chinese society. They have returned with not only advanced technology, but also open minds. They can become an innovative force in various social organizations in fields such as environmental protection, charity work and public welfare.

On the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China, young Chinese at home and abroad have a great opportunity. The large number of students studying abroad are an important part of China’s talent pool and an important force in deepening people-to-people ties with other countries.

Returnees in the new era will not only promote China’s integration with the global economy, but also China’s contribution to globalization. Together, they will help China’s voice to be heard and promote dialogue on the world stage, inherit the pioneering spirit of their predecessors, and continue to contribute to China’s development and bright future over the next 70 years.

Keyword Wang Huiyao