Exclusive Interviews with Alumni || Hu Biliang: Keep Abreast with The Times, Conduct Research for The Country
Hu Biliang, an alumnus from the class of 1979 from the School of Business Administration, now the Director of the Emerging Markets Institute, the Director of the Belt and Road Research Institute (BRRI) of Beijing Normal University (BNU), as well as a professor of Economics and a doctoral supervisor of the University, is a ZUEL alumnus from the 1979 class of the Department of Agricultural Economics. Before his professorship, he was a research assistant of the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT); He also worked with the World Bank as a China economist for three years in 1990s; He was Vice President and the chief China economist of SG Securities Asia, as well as the chief representative of the company in Beijing for four years. He used to teach Development Economics in the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) as a researcher. Besides, he served as the Dean and Associate Dean of the School of Economics and Resource Management.
His works won twice (in 1994 and 2006 respectively) Sun Yefang Economic Prize which is the highest economics research award in China, and he also won the Second Zhang Peigang Development Economics Award in 2008. His main academic interests are development economics, the Belt and Road economics, the emerging market economies, urbanization and rural development.
Hu Biliang’s years of research focus have been switching for many times ranging from rural development, the emerging market economies to urbanization and the Belt and Road economics. But there is one trace hidden in those changes. “Keep Abreast with The Times, Conduct Research for The Country” serves as the principle for guiding him whether to embrace changes or remain unchanged in his research.
Thought Starts in The Fields
Hu was born into a poor rural family from Hubei Province. Since he, as the firstborn child, had three sisters and two brothers, Hu Biliang had to shoulder the burden of life since his childhood.
However, the seed of thought has grown in his brain since then. “At the time, although my whole family did farm work from dawn till sundown, we did not earn much and even owe much more money at the end of the year. Therefore, every time working in the fields, I would think why we are as poor as ever even if we work so hard. Are there some problems with our rural policy and how to improve that? And at that time I made up my mind not only to change my life but bring my family and hometown out of poverty.”
The restoration of the college entrance examination provided Hu Biliang with an opportunity that changed his life. In pursuit of his dream, Hu went to Hubei Institute of Finance and Economics (now Zhongnan University of Economics and Law) and chose agricultural economics as his major with no hesitation in 1979. After graduation, he worked in the Rural Development Institute Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, his dream workplace, and began to specialize in agricultural economics and rural development.
In the late 1980s, a sea of migrant workers were packed like sardines in Beijing Railway Station after the Spring Festival. Hu Biliang acutely observed that China’s social transformation really began. “The improvement of agricultural productivity caused the flow of agricultural production factors from the agricultural industry. Therefore, large groups of laborers from China’s rural hinterlands had to begin their mass migration to the country’s major cities to find work. Consequently, China began to experience a gradual transformation from a rural society to an urban one and sped up its urbanization.” said Hu. In response to the times, he thus shifted his attention from rural development to urbanization as well as urban and rural development.
Meanwhile, Hu Biliang decided to go abroad for advanced studies. After studying in Germany, he passed the recruitment exam and managed to work with the World Bank as a China economist. Three years later, he switched fields again and worked with SG Securities Asia as Vice President and the chief China economist.
During the period of working in the World Bank, Hu Biliang mainly researched on macroeconomics, environmental protection and food security. He basically engaged in, researched into and witnessed China’s overheated economy starting from 1993 and its soft landing in 1997. Besides, he helped the World Bank complete two significant researches on food security and environmental protection in China as the coordinator. With the rise and development of China’s capital market, he started to deal with the capital market more directly in SG Securities Asia. “ In SG Securities Asia, I mainly engaged in offering opinions and suggestions for our clients through researching into the capital markets.” Hu said.
Driven by investment research, Hu Biliang diverted his attention toward the emerging markets to study what markets could offer better investment opportunities, which laid the foundation for his changing research areas again. Later, he went back to campus again, receiving his Doctorate of Economics in Germany and conducting a two and half years post-doc research program in Harvard University.
Research Adapts to the Times
In December, 2009, after graduating from Harvard University, Hu Biliang worked in the BNU and his main research interest was the emerging market economies. “The world financial crisis in 2008 gave an important signal that the western developed countries had suffered many big problems in their development. But by comparison, the emerging markets are presenting positive potential for development. I think this foretells that the world structure will be reshaped in the future. And I have studied the emerging markets, so it naturally become the focus of my research.” Hu said.
When General Secretary of the CPC Central Committee Xi Jinping put forward the Belt and Road initiative in 2013, Hu Biliang were just doing research on the emerging markets in the Republic of Kazakhstan. He established links between researches on the emerging markets and those on the Belt and Road Initiative quickly. He believed that there was a issue of common concern, that is, how to promote the economic growth of those developing countries, which was also the focus of his attention from a young age.
In Hu’s opinion, scholars must continue to advance their theoretical exploration. He once said, “Both the emerging markets and the Belt and Road Initiative represents a new force driving the world’s future development. Therefore, that I am studying them means that I’m studying the future world.” Along with on-going depth of Hu’s research, the research team guided by him continues to grow. At first he established the Emerging Markets Institute in the BNU, he did everything himself and guided his students to conduct researches. With more and more findings, more and more support has offered to the Institute, developing a research team with more than 30 members. To better conduct research on the Belt and Road Initiative, the BNU established the BRRI led by Hu Biliang based on the Emerging Markets Institute.
Hu also played a significant role in developing the Institute into a high-end think tank. He sponsored “ ‘the Belt and Road Initiative’ Jingshi Forum” where a number of world-renowned experts, international financial leaders and former dignitaries from countries related to the Belt and Road Initiative were invited to deliver a series of lectures. This forum has been widely acclaimed by the students.
Principle Persists Throughout Hu’s Lifetime
Looking back at his life, Hu Biliang jokingly calls his life as “wild growth”. From a rural boy in the fields to a researcher researching rural reforms in the CASS; from exploring macroeconomics in the World Bank to studying microeconomics in an investment bank; from an entrepreneur to a professor; Hu changed his own running tracks of life every few years. However, he never strays from his research principle: conducting researches for the country and society. “I always persist in keeping pace with the times and studying the changing world that serves as an important driver of my researches. I hope that my researches can keep up with and even be ahead of the times. I hope I can become a pioneer in my research fields.” Hu told the reporter.
Now, despite being busy with theoretical exploration and think tank construction, Hu bears in mind his another position of a teacher all the time. He expressed his enjoyment in holding such a vigorous job. In June, 2013, Hu was awarded as the First Top 10 Most Popular Teachers for Postgraduates of the BNU, which was especially cherished by him. “I hope my students will shine across the world. No matter how many achievements they have made, they should keep in mind that they are students cultivated by China, by Beijing Normal University, and by me. To achieve this, I will make every effort to provide my students with the best education and live up to my position.” said Hu.
Another place that Hu cannot forget forever is his hometown. Regardless of how the world changes, Hu always cares about the fields where he grew up and usually talks with people in the hometown about its development. “When I was young, I determined to lift my hometown out of poverty. And my lifetime’s research is inextricably linked with my hometown development.” Hu said.