Campus Lecture: Learning and Mislearning from China’s Rise

On Tuesday, September 26, economist Yuen Yuen Ang visited Reed to give a talk entitled “Learning and Mislearning from China’s Rise.” 

Yuen Yuen Ang is Alfred Chandler Chair of Political Economy at Johns Hopkins University and the author of How China Escaped the Poverty Trap and China’s Gilded Age.

Her lecture combined the personal, the academic, and the inspirational. She not only laid forth an argument that China’s primary success was dependent on encouraging and utilizing existing talent and knowledge, but not on any specific law or piece of infrastructure. She argued that because good economic policy, especially for developing nations, depends upon utilizing “indigenous wisdom and resources,” the strategies and practices used by developing countries will look “very different” from, and “wrong” compared to, developed, northern-Western nations.

Ang contextualized her speech by talking about how her scholarship was created and received. She heralded a liberal arts education and remarked that her scholarship initially had trouble gaining traction both because she questioned the conventional economic theory that development requires either good institutions or growth through foreign aid first, and because she faced systemic struggles against both racial and gender bias.

She also turned her focus to China in the modern day, and China-U.S. competition. Wang argued that because “good talent can achieve anything,” the most important front of U.S.-China competition is a race to recruit global talent, both in and outside of the sciences. She further argued that, in large part due to xenophobic policies and ethnic profiling of Asian faculty, it is a race the U.S. is losing.

Turning to the future, Ang posited that regardless of who wins the 2024 election, U.S.-China competition isn’t going anywhere, though it may be more brazen and less pragmatic under a Trump administration. She also argued that where once a war between China and the U.S. would have been impossible, increased tensions make it an unlikely possibility. She harkened such a state of heightened conflict to “a new cold war.”

Ang strongly criticized China’s Zero-Covid policy as economically destructive and argued that as China enters 2023, its golden age of development is behind it, and a new era is beginning in Chinese history.

The Rising China lecture series will return on October 24.

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