Zhang Xiaoshan, male and from the Han ethnic group, born in October 1947, is a native of Shanghai and a member of the Communist Party of China. In July 1999, already a PhD student, he passed the course examination as well as the oral defense of his thesis in the department of agricultural economy management in the Graduate School of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, and became a PhD majored in Management. He serves as director and researcher of the Rural Development Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and PhD student advisor, expert of the appraisal group of the Project Subject Division of the National Social Science Research Fund, member of the Expert Consultation Committee of the Ministry of Agriculture of the People’s Republic of China, president of the Chinese Society of Forestry, Animal Husbandry and Fishery Economics, Vice-President of the Chinese Association of Agricultural Economics, Vice-President of the China Association of Rural Cooperative Economic Management, and advisor on Agricultural Economy to the People’s Government of Beijing Municipality. His academic expertise is in Agricultural Economy and Agricultural Organization and Systems. Since 1993, he has started to enjoy a special allowance awarded by the State Council. In 1996, he won the “Young and Mid-aged Expert with Outstanding Contribution” Award.
Working for the Welfare of Vulnerable Groups
Cui Hongzhi (Hereinafter referred to as Cui): Mr. Zhang, the studying and working experiences of the young people nowadays are very simple, but as far as I know, you worked and settled in the countryside for about ten years. You did not go to university until the National Admission Examination System was resumed. How did you come across these experiences? Would you like to talk about your experiences and feelings at that time?
Zhang Xiaoshan (Hereinafter referred to as Zhang): My family is from Hubei， and I was born in Shanghai in October of 1947. I came to Beijing in my childhood and I spent my junior and senior high school life in Beijing’s No. 4 High School. In 1968, I settled in Tumote Zuoqi, Hohhot in Inner Mongolia as a senior student of the class of 1966. Many educated young people like me returned to the cities one after the other because of enrollments and recruitments but there was no opportunity for me. In 1973, many young educated people were recommended and elected to go to university, yet I was unqualified to take an examination because of my family problems. I also did not succeed in taking an examination for the enrollment of 1974. Later, with help from some kindhearted cadres and schoolmates, I went to the Bameng Institute of Agriculture & Animal Husbandry to study agriculture for one year as a worker-peasant-soldier student and I returned to the countryside for work after graduation. In 1977, I was transferred to the Tabusai Seed Farm in Tumote Zuoqi to promote agricultural technologies. In the late autumn of that year, I was so delighted to hear from the video that the National Admission Examination System had been resumed and senior students of the year of 1966 and 1967 could enter the examinations for university. There was no more than one month left for me. I asked for leave because it was during a slack season. I would make steamed buns or steamed corn every several days and read day and night. My biggest dream at that time was to study in Beijing University. Thought I did not realize my dream, I was enrolled in the Inner Mongolia Normal College. Actually, I had only studied in university for one year. At that time, undergraduates in campus were permitted to enroll as postgraduates. Thus, in 1979, I passed the examination of the People's University of China as a postgraduate to study agricultural economy.
Cui: Mr. Zhang, as we know, your academic thoughts and viewpoints show an emphasis on social justice and concerns over vulnerable groups. You advocate giving fair standing points and equal competition opportunities to farmers. As for your living and working attitudes, and your daily words and behaviors, you are easy-going, low-profile and you care about difficult and vulnerable groups. I want to know whether your experiences have any influences on your academic viewpoints and your living attitudes.
Zhang: I should say I could not have engaged in research over agriculture and the agricultural economy as an urban young person without my nearly ten-year experiences of settlement in the countryside. At that time, my economic status was completely the same as that of farmers and I was even poorer. I witnessed how the Codonopsis sprouts planted by the production team were regarded as capitalist tendencies and were dug out. And also I once took a bag to divide grains with fellow-villagers in the yard at midnight. It was a rare chance to experience the society at low levels. I should say, it would have been virtually impossible for me to understand life, the society and the farmer properly without my nearly ten-year experience of settlement in the countryside. Initially, I chose agricultural economy as my major mainly considering my household registration, and I wanted to return to Beijing by my own abilities. Later on, I wanted to do something for my fellow-villagers so that they could have a decent life and share the achievements of the reform & opening-up and of modern civilization with urban citizens, which are my starting points of research.
Cui: Ok, Let’s continue to talk about your academic experiences and achievements. You began to make studies on the rural cooperative economy from 1980s, which has become a hot point and a key point of concern in our academic circles in recent years. The Law of the People's Republic of China on Specialized Farmers Cooperatives was issued in 2006. Can you tell us about your main research in the field of cooperative economics? And did your research achievements provide any help and contribution for current research?
Zhang: Our research over the rural cooperative economy was just basic research in the beginning. For example, the Chinese-foreign Comparative Study on the Theory and Practice of Cooperatives published in 1991 carried out systematic research and clearance over the international representative cooperative economic theories of the past 150 years. Combined with our practices, it made a comparative research on basic principles and some important relevant theories and practices. It made a deep analysis of the relations between the country and cooperatives, the development of national legislation and cooperatives, the evolution of community cooperatives and agricultural production cooperatives in developing countries, and put forward some important academic viewpoints. It also carried out a thorough and systematic basic prospective work of theories and practices for the development of China’s rural cooperatives. We can say that some of the main viewpoints and the content of this book still have a certain academic value and practical significance.
Cui: We know that you have never stopped studying the rural cooperative economy. Under your leadership, the Institute of Agricultural Development has formed a research team with complementary knowledge structures and reasonable age levels, which has published many high-level academic papers, research reports and monographs. It published the book Stepping into the Countryside: Rural Institutional Changes and Organization Innovations in 1996, and the book Study on Rural New Cooperative Organizations in China in 1998. In particular, it published the book Connection between Peasants and the Market--Study on Rural Intermediary Organizations in China written by you and other comrades, and the first part of the Theory Research gained the Sun Yefang Economic Science Prize (paper prize). The book General Comment: the Growth and Improvement of Rural Intermediary Organizations in the Socialist Market Economy written by you was the first chapter of Theory Research, which put forward new thoughts on developing and improving our rural intermediary organizations with complete theoretical systems and important decision references. Could you tell us what kind of content and innovation this book has shown us?
Zhang: Firstly, I should say that the General Comment written by me was just made up of conclusions, a summary and the development of the research achievements of me and other comrades, which was the embodiment of the collective wisdom. Combined with case investigations, questionnaire surveys and an overall grasp, our theoretical studies made a proper and thorough description of the current situation of our rural intermediary organizations and pointed out that the key point of current rural organization innovation in China was to gradually develop diversified new intermediary organizations and groups connecting farmers with the market under market economic situations on the basis of empirical analysis. For example, there are many organization types in various places including specialized cooperatives, professional technical associations, and corporations as well as farmers and farmer agents. We should transform and make the best use of network systems, infrastructures, specialized technicians and the capabilities of social mobilization of existing rural intermediary organizations (towns, village community organizations, supple and marketing cooperatives, credit cooperatives and the seven institutions and eight stations in towns). We should integrate the current and developing rural social capital, human capital and material capital to realize an efficient combination of these two organizational resources. But the precondition is to carry out the market-oriented reform of traditional organizational resources and make property rights clear.
Analysis shows that farmers are generally under a disadvantaged situation in corporations, plus farmers have difficulty in gaining profits in the secondary and tertiary industry because of the added value of primary products. The corporations will not choose cooperatives as their trade partners in most cases. Nowadays, the mode of cooperatives plus farmers (cooperatives themselves develop to be leading enterprises) has not become the guiding form connecting farmers with markets, but it is a reasonable choice for the long-term development of our rural economy to develop farmers’ cooperatives, which are efficient organizational carriers to improve the degree of organization, increase farmers’ incomes, maintain justice and protect vulnerable groups. In the long run, we shall develop various new organizational forms which take farmers as subjects of the market economy. We shall establish sale councils of various farm products composed of relevant governmental departments, agriculture-related enterprises, representatives of farmers and trading departments and develop equal partnership relations between regions representing farmers’ interests, national first-class cooperative economic organizations, agriculture-related commercial enterprise groups and governmental departments. In this way, together with the government, representatives of all parties will decide on production distributions, production structures, production quantities and the import and export trade of farm products, which is the only way for China’s farm products to make their way in the world.
Cui: Then how shall we solve these problems?
Zhang: To solve the above problems, we should integrate deepening the agricultural reform with deepening the reform of the macro economy and the political system, and we should especially devote ourselves to administrative management institutional reform at the central and provincial levels and to comprehensive auxiliary reform at the county level, the transformation of governmental functions, the conscious adjustment of the national income distribution structure, and the harmony between the central and local and between the local upper class and the grassroots. We should also establish a fairer national income redistribution system. With these preconditions, on the one hand, we should establish a rural public financial system in rural development; on the other hand, we should reform and improve rural administration organization and establish efficient balance organizations truly participated in by peasants at the town and county levels. These are the two basics for constructing a socialist county during the post agricultural taxation period.
Cui: As we know you pay attention to the accumulation of basic data and material, especially case analysis and empirical analysis in research methods, would you like to briefly introduce your reasons?
Zhang: Goethe said in Faust, “Theory is dim but the tree of life is evergreen”. Only if rooted in our rural reform realities, our theories will have a solid foundation. Practice shows that high-level case analysis is not the only basis of theoretical research, but also the gathering of first-hand material, which provides a true portrayal in certain aspect. As times goes on, some theories and viewpoints once regarded as standards can be proved to be fallacies by the development of practice, and some important theoretical ideas may be slowly forgotten by the world. But those excellent ideas will still be shining because they represent the true history of our rural reform in certain places and at certain stages.
Cui: I remember that you said in one class in 2001 that you would feel empty if you did not go to the grassroots for investigation. Why do you emphasize investigation in the grassroots so much, and how does it help you?
Zhang: We can feel fresh and grasp the pulse of the time in communication with common peasants and grassroots cadres. During the period of transition in the Chinese countryside, it is just like a testing field. Peasants in various places are making diversified choices relating to systems to deepen rural reform and promote the development of the rural productive forces because of differences in the natural situation, historical background and the development level of the productive forces. We are often surprised to find out from investigations that many creations of the peasants and many subtle system arrangements are in common with some theoretical predictions. I truly feel that the public wisdom and creation are the sources of theory research.
Cui: As we know the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences is a think tank of the central government, so how do you deal with relations between basic research and policy research?
Zhang: Generally, there are two kinds of research. One is academy oriented, which pays attention to research over theories and methods. The other is policy oriented, which pays attention to research over policies and countermeasures. Innovations in theory and method of academy-oriented scholars in CASS engaged in rural development application research should be integrated with real situations and be converted to policy suggestions so as to solve genuine rural social and economic problems. Research over rural development policies, even short-term countermeasure research, of policy-oriented scholars of CASS should take theoretical frameworks as support and research methods as tools, which would highlight features and characteristics of the scholars in CASS.
Cui: As for your studies, your chosen topics in basic research and policy-oriented research were all not topics which gathered much attention at the time, but you always stuck to claiming that they would become hot points and key points in academia in the future. This shows you toleration of loneliness and your foresight. For example, you began to engage in research on the rural cooperative economy in the 1980s, something which attracted wide attention from academic circles after the year 2000. You began to research rural social securities in the mid-1990s, and it is now a key research field. Can you tell us how you do this?
Zhang: Topic selection is the starting point of research. To make our research prospective we need to timely find out what the prospective problems are in social reform and development, probe and understand the inherent laws with a broad vision and sharp eyes. It is especially true that we should find the will to sit on the bench and study problems calmly and without fickleness, a desire for quick returns and unreasonable benefits. We have to say that in academic circles fickleness and striving for fame and gain prevail in academic circles. Mr. Xiong Shili once said, “The failure to seek knowledge lies in the desire for undeserved reputation but hard study and failure of behavior lie in vanity”.
In the field of scientific research, we should study on the bench without fickleness and desire for quick returns. We should not say or do what others say or do and also we should not swallow foreign theories. Only by means of this can we make some achievements in the theoretical studies of our rural development which won’t be made obsolete by the rapid developing rural reforms.
There is an old saying that one-tenth of our things will be wasted because of difficulty but nine-tenth of our things will be wasted because of laziness. If one does not have it in them to sit silently for study and stops at the first difficulty, there will not be any improvement, let alone any basic and prospective research.
Cui: Just now, you said that we should sit on the bench and study, so what other wishes and suggestions do you have for our young scientific researchers?
Zhang: I hope that young scientific researchers shall learn to be noble men before anything else, with a correct outlook on life and values.
Cui: The orientation of your outlook on life and values are of great significances. What kind of value orientation do you think a scientific researcher should have?
Zhang: Ideals and beliefs are not empty, but should be integrated with our specific work. What do we do to study rural development and the rural economy? What kind of value concepts and humanist concepts should we have to reasonably analyze the rural economy and social phenomena? What should we do specifically to guide our research within Marxism? Some comrades said to me that the Institute of Rural Development should not be representative of interest groups. I have thought about this again and again. In my opinion, what we do is related to our interests. Empirical analysis on China’s reform practices in the past 20 years has developed obvious divergences of opinion because of different value orientations. At present, there are different standpoints, viewpoints and thoughts present in the analysis of the real economy and social phenomena in the field of philosophy and social scientific research, and some scholars have become spokesmen of vested interest group in academia. We should be on guard against such snobbish manners in political living and belief.
Comrade Mao Zedong once said, “What kind of person one wants to be is the basic and principle problem”. Comrade Jiang Zemin also said, “the benefit of the great majority of the people is the most important and decisive element, and the basic viewpoint of Marxism”. The studies of mine and of the Institute of Rural Development should serve the most basic interests of the great majority of the people in China. The important basic point is that we should serve the 70 percent of the Chinese who are peasants and make our studies beneficial for the increased welfare of our peasants and for maintaining their material interests and respecting their democratic rights. The true implementation of this basic principle will help to realize the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. Only starting from this point when studying theories, correcting study styles and developing resources can we not deviate from our correct orientation. The personal pursuits of researchers should not have anything to do with a desire for quick returns, so as not to lose our nature and avoid self-alienation. This way many of the problems enveloping us will be easier to solve. All in all, what kind of person one should be is the basic and principle issue.
In recent years, the national financial status has improved, but it is still a crisis from the perspective of what we want to do. Under these circumstances, the country still promises certain scientific research funds for our scientific researchers to supplement resources and opportunities for scientific researches. We must make things for those who have helped us, which means our Party, country and the people. The country supplies us with the earnings of our citizens, so how can we not do anything? What we should do is to set a goal and try and return something to the society and the country.
Cui: Just now, you have summarized the relationship between outlook on life and values and how to study. Actually, as for me, I have really admired some of your behavior outside of studying in recent years. For example, you often took the time to stay with your mother before her death. In 2002, when I went to your house, I saw how you supported your mother when she wandered about. In October 2004, you said in one of your e-mails after your mother’s death, “In the recent period, I have felt great sorrow because I saw my mother fading away step by step untill death”. You also taught to me that “We should do want we have thought about rater than we regret in future in filial aspects”. Mr. Zhang, how do you deal with the clash between studying and your responsibilities as a director and towards family members? In addition, what influence do these different aspects of your life have on your research?
Zhang: Life is just like a stage and a single person often plays many roles in their lifetime. In your work place, you can be a director, researcher and doctoral supervisor. In the society, you can be a citizen, a classmate or a friend. And you can be a son, husband, father or brother in your family but some roles cannot be replaced. For example, in a family, you must try your best to take up your own responsibilities. I once saw a TV program, which left a deep impression on me. A reporter interviewed the chairman of the board Ms. Zhong Binxian and asked her how she dealt with the clash between business and family. She gave an example. Once the president of the United States invited her to the White House, but at the same time her son hoped she would attend an important event in his school. In the end, she declined the invitation from the president and went to her son’s school. She said that there would be no influence on the president if she did not accept the invitation, and he could invite others as a substitute. But her son would be in deep sorrow for a long time because of her absence because no one else could go there instead. I really appreciate her way of thinking and her way of handling problems. The ancients said that one should be an internal saint and an external king. It is reasonable that we should accomplish self-cultivation and run a state with both benevolence and resolution. Only those who fulfill their duty in everyday matters will fulfill them on great occasions. We should be filial to our parents and take responsibility for our children, which is an embodiment of a sense of social responsibility. And I just play various roles with this thought in mind.
Cui: You have wide interests outside your work. It seems that you know about everything including movies, TV, novels, art, chess, football and volleyball. Does this have any influence on your research?
Zhang: Ok, It is a good question. If you don't give up, you won't own new things, and vice versa. We can only make great achievements with perseverance and hard work in learning. But for us, scholars engaged in social science research, broadening the scope of our knowledge will help to widen the scope of our professional studies and deepen our understanding of research subjects. Knowledge has no burden. The key point is that we should deal with the relationship between specialty and erudition, stress and relaxation, labor and spiritual enjoyment, which are not easy to grasp.
Cui: Finally, let’s talk about your skilled management. I myself feel there is a good scientific atmosphere in the Institute of Rural Development, with some efficient institutions. For example, it regularly invites outside scholars and officials for lectures, and they can all say what they want to say and criticize without any hesitance. What kind of experiences and feelings would you want to share with us?
Zhang: As a leader, we should have high morals and excellent capacities. When it comes to the aforementioned excellent capacities, I pay attention to make the cake bigger. I engage in institutional construction on the basis of development to establish a fair and reasonable income distribution system. In 1987, I got to read the paper of Theories on Growth of the Western World written by Douglas North and Thomas Robert in 1970, which said that institutional reform for income redistribution would usually increase social outputs but lower social outputs. Looking back at the tens of years’ economic development of the New China, I think this is completely right. And I have a new and deep understanding of it after years of study. Indeed, only focusing on institutional reform for income redistribution will usually increase social output. Only institutional reform based on fair distribution can bring about a sustainable increase of the economy. So, the important point of institutional reform is to establish fair and reasonable income redistribution systems, which are the so-called management affairs, employees and powers with institutions.
Institutional construction is not a goal in itself and we should create an institutional environment beneficial for creating achievement and talent. The leading team should be oriented on science and research, integrated with scientific forces and make influential and important scientific achievements. We should pay special attention to cultivating talents and gathering talents. We should try our best to provide opportunities establish platforms and create good conditions for the staff, and we should also provide opportunities and create conditions for vulnerable groups. To allow all our talents to work creatively and leisurely and to increase the intangible assets of the Institute of Rural Development through their contributions will improve the academic level of our institute, and its contributions to the the Party and the people.
As for high moral, I am first of all disciplined and fair. In 1998, higher leaders came to appoint the new leader team. I said that I would be fair in work no matter whether I was close to or distant from all comrades in personal relations. Some comrades have more contact with me in work and I am more familiar with their strengths and working capacities, so that I can easily make judgments about them in employment. I have never lobbied for title evaluation and promotion for those close to me because I believe that justice exists in our hearts. Somebody close to me was even influenced by that, for which I feel great sorry. But I believe that honest and upright persons will not suffer losses in the end. Although it may seem that I am very busy and tired because I am in charge of both administrative management and scientific research with many matters to look after, I live at ease because I have a clear conscience.
Cui Hongzhi, Male, Born in Ruzhou, Henan Province.
At present, Cui acts as deputy researcher of the Institute of Rural Development of CASS, and his main research field is rural social securities. He has participated in and fulfilled many important scientific tasks in the National Social Science Foundation, key points of the CASS, the Ford Foundation and the World Bank.
(Translated by Zhufuxiaofei)
Editor: Wang Daohang