FORTY years ago, China launched the reform and opening-up policy; but the earth-shaking transformation actually materialized in 1977 when the Gaokao System – the annual college entrance examination – was restored, since it ushered in a new era in which both knowledge and talents would be respected. I was fortunate enough to be among the first batch of college graduates after the restoration, and thus my life underwent great changes in parallel with the historic 40 years of reform and opening-up.
Restoring the Gaokao System
I will never forget that day, October 12, 1977, when I was working in the countryside at Dragon King Commune of Jintang County in Sichuan Province, as most educated urban youth did in the 1960s and 1970s. After a full day of hard work in the fields, I stayed at home reading by a dim kerosene lamp. Then I heard from the commune’s loudspeaker announcing the stirring news that the Gaokao system, suspended for about a decade, would be restored in December. I felt elated with excitement and hope as I saw a glimpse of my future and the hopes of the country.
Wang Huiyao works on a production team in the countryside of Sichuan Province.
Two months later, 5.7 million examinees with different family backgrounds, ages, and social status; from farmlands, factories, and barracks participated in the fierce competition. In the next spring, I was among the 270,000 winners whose dream of being admitted to a university came true.
On a spring day of 1978, I hopped onto the train southward from Chengdu to Guangzhou, where my destination, Guangzhou Institute of Foreign Languages was located. It took me three days and two nights to travel across half of China to reach Guangzhou, the forefront of the reform and opening-up. On campus, I avidly absorbed knowledge from textbooks and never stopped thinking about the meaning of my life in keeping up with the debates on the society and about the future of the country. Four years later, I graduated with a brand-new attitude towards life and a new worldview, which made me ready for entering the world outside China, which was a bigger arena for competition.
Scanning Widely to See the World
My first job after graduation was working for China’s Ministry of Foreign Economic Relations and Trade (now China’s Ministry of Commerce) in charge of promoting Chinese enterprises going global. During that time, I participated in drafting the report on China’s foreign contracted projects and labor cooperation, which was approved by the then General Secretary of the CPC Central Committee Hu Yaobang and implemented throughout the country. Feeling the importance of the great responsibility upon us, I was encouraged to work harder. But soon I realized that my knowledge on international business was limited, so I quit my job and shifted my focus on the academic study with an MBA degree abroad.
Wang with his college classmates in Humen, Guangzhou during his BA years.
I then dedicated myself to foreign universities and international communities for 10 years, with a focus on gaining deep understanding of the essence of cultures and institutions. From my perspective, the fundamental need of China’s reform and opening-up policy is emancipating the mind and providing talents with more opportunities. Two great measures that Deng Xiaoping decided to implement: the restoration of the Gaokao system and the encouragement for students to study abroad, have undoubtedly nurtured professionals and experts in various fields for the successful undertakings of the nation.
In 1984, during Deng’s southern inspection tour, he wrote at Shenzhen Special Economic Zone that “the development and experience in Shenzhen indicates that the policy to establish special economic zones is right.” Two months after Deng’s tour, the CPC Central Committee made a crucial decision, announcing “to open 14 coastal cities and Hainan Island for foreign investors.” Since then, the reform and opening-up policy has eventually expanded to all of China’s coastal areas.
Wang is in Canada pursuing his MBA and DBA degrees. He is one of the first Chinese students to get their MBA degrees in Canada.
Meanwhile, I was an intern at the Consider Canada City Alliance (CCCA) and was honored to escort a delegation with members from the above chosen 14 coastal cities headed by then Tianjin’s Deputy Mayor Li Lanqing to tour around a dozen of Canadian cities. The delegation visited the stock market in Toronto and Vancouver, and investigated the developed transportation and communication systems. The journey lasted for one month, stretching across Canada from one place to another. The surveys included every facet of the modern Western society, learning from their experiences, and summarizing and theorizing new ideas for China’s market economic reform.
In 1990, I stood out among hundreds of candidates in the public competition, and was nominated as the chief economic representative of Canada’s Quebec province accredited in Hong Kong and Greater China. During my tenure in the early 1990s, I did a lot of research projects on China-Canada economic and trade cooperation, made proposals, and facilitated multiple high-level visits.
Returning from Overseas
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, various vicissitudes had taken place at home and abroad – the demise of the Soviet Union, the upheaval of East Europe, the receding of socialist movements around the world, all casting a shadow on the prospect of socialism. The road to reform and opening-up was stymied and there were hurdles in the way forward.
Wang (center, standing) at the signing of a contract for international cooperation in the Three Gorges Project in China.
In January 1992, 87-year-old Deng Xiaoping again traveled southward, speaking with regional leaders regarding the destiny of socialism in China. He emphasized that the basic line of the CPC must be unrelentingly pursued for a hundred years, and that officials should be bolder and dare to lead people across the river by feeling the stones. The speeches Deng made during this tour revitalized the nation and its people to devote themselves once again to the practice of reform and opening-up.
“If you wish to make greater contributions to the nation, you’d better come back from overseas.” Deng’s sincere words touched my heart and soul. I knew that China’s development could be hardly pushed forward without cooperation with the outside world and therefore, a large batch of overseas talents were badly needed to bridge China and the world. I hoped that I could be a pioneer among them.
In the mid-1990s, I returned to China, and became one of the few private Chinese entrepreneurs. Deep in my heart, I believe that everyone should at least start an undertaking during his or her lifetime. Regardless of the success or failure of the endeavor, the entrepreneurial experience will open up a brand new world, in which one has the freedom and power to maximize his or her potential, showcase abilities, and master life. In 1999, my image was put on the cover of Canadian Business, introduced as a Chinese businessman, and I was nominated as one of the first “10 Great Entrepreneurs among Oversees Returnees” by the China Investment of the National Development and Reform Commission.
To know more people with common interests, I joined the Western Returned Scholars Association (WRSA), which was the largest platform established by Chinese overseas returnees. In 2002, I proposed to set up the WRSA Chamber of Commerce and was nominated as the founding president. In my opinion, a sound society should be jointly supported by the government, enterprises, and organizations, which are interconnected. Entrepreneurs are not just the heads of their companies but also a driving force of societal reform.
Ushering in a New Journey
I had been a part-time professor at the Guanghua School of Management of Peking University for three years, teaching international business management. During that period, I felt that China’s market system had already formed and private enterprises sprang up like bamboo shoots after a spring rain. However, there were few think tanks focusing on policy studies, especially private think tanks without a governmental background. Therefore, I had an idea to start and run a social think tank with an international impact.
Wang (4th from left) attends the ribbon cutting ceremony for CCG’s new office in Beijing’s CBD.
In 2008 when I was 50 years old, with my wife Dr. Miao Lü, I set up the Center for China & Globalization (CCG) in Beijing, focusing on studies about China and globalization, global governance, international relations, and the internationalization of talents and enterprises. Globalization was then in vogue in China. Over the last decade, CCG never stopped researching and promoting the significance of globalization’s impact on China, and convened forums and seminars on globalization. In addition, CCG published various blue books on the topic of internationalization of talents and enterprises, monographs and English versions of research works.
Under the complex situation of the China-U.S. trade dispute, CCG has organized experts and scholars to have track II diplomacy or “backchannel diplomacy” themed talks with bilateral economy and trade in focus in both Washington D.C. and New York, and has joined hands with the Hudson Institute, think tank of the White House, to hold the seminar “40-Year Retrospect and Prospect on China-U.S. Economy and Trade Relations and Policy Recommendation.” CCG also published a series of research reports titled “China-U.S. Trade Relations and Challenges: Past, Present, Future and Policy Choice.” Our efforts have promoted communication and exchanges between professionals from various spheres, playing an active role in eliminating economic and political barriers through dialogues.
In today’s world, globalization has become a mainstay of China’s development. In early 2017, Chinese President Xi Jinping’s speech on China’s support for globalization at the World Economic Forum gained wide appraisal from all over the world. China has already become the major driving force of the new type of globalization the world is witnessing. In the report of the 19th National Congress of the CPC, it has been clearly proposed that “China will actively participate in and promote economic globalization and develop an open economy at a higher level.”
Forty years ago, I was fortunate enough to get a ride on the fast train of reform and opening-up which has connected my life with the nation. I was among the first session of college graduates after the restoration of the Gaokao system, the first batch of officials responsible for promoting Chinese enterprises going global, the first corporate executives of multinationals, the first overseas returnees who entered the international community, and the first MBA who received education overseas. Moreover, I was the entrepreneur who set up the WRSA Chamber of Commerce and 2005 Committee, as well as the CCG.
Nowadays, China is still on the track of reform and opening-up, and will persevere onward with opening on a higher level to the outside world in the future. As the generation who witnessed these monumental changes in the past 40 years, we should never forget our original intention when we started our work, and work hard with the younger generation to forge ahead, advancing China’s reform and opening-up over the next 40 years.
WANG HUIYAO is the founder and president of the Center for China and Globalization (CCG).