Tian Xueyuan, male and from the Han ethnic group, born in August 1938, is a native of Benxin, Liaoning and a member of the Communist Party of China. In August 1964, he graduated from the department of economics of Peking University. He serves as a researcher and PhD student advisor in the Institute of Population and Labor Economics of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a Standing Vice-President of the Chinese Population Association, a Vice-President of the China Association of Social Economic and Cultural Exchanges, and a member of the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population. His academic expertise is demography and population economics. In 1984, he won the “Young and Mid-aged Expert with Outstanding Contribution” Award. Since 1992, he has started to enjoy a special allowance awarded by the State Council.
Major Academic Works
On the Population in the New Era, Heilongjiang People's Publishing House, 1982
On the Problems of Modern China’s population: a problem facing the big country, China Today Press, 1997
Aging of Population: the Demographic Wax and Wane, China Financial and Economic Publishing House, 2006.
Chinese Elderly Population (three volumes: on Population, Economy and Society), China Economic Publishing House, 1991
Household Economy and Fertility Studies, China Economic Publishing House, 1997
Sustainable Development on Population, Economy and the Society, China Economic Publishing House, 2003
Population and Development in the Process of Bringing Moderate Prosperity to China in an All-round way, China Population Publishing House, 2004
Demography, Zhejiang People’s Publishing House, 2004
Population of Chinese Ethnic Groups (five volumes), China Population Publishing House, 2002-2006
Redressing Mr. Ma Yinchu’s New Population theory, in Guangming Daily, August 5, 1979.
Changes in ages of economic production and the transfer of strategic emphasis in employment, in Economy Studies, November, 1984.
Population and employment of China in 2000, in Economic Daily, November 4th, 1985.
Demographic views on the economic development strategy of coastal areas, in Economy Studies, August, 1988.
On birth control under the market economy, Social Sciences in China, June, 1993
The social ringe cost of child—benefit, in China Population Statistics Yearbook 1993, January, 1993
Population and the sustainable development of the national economy, in Chinese Journal of Population Science, January, 1995
Yesterday, today and tomorrow of the population science development in China, in Population Research, April, 2002
The scientific development and China’s population development strategy, in Collected Works of Tian Xueyuan (the Fourth Volume), Red Flag Press, 2005
Knowledge and Perspiration: spreading the scholar’s righteousness and conscience
Wang Yuesheng (Wang for short below): When we read your articles, we find a kind of emotion or “academic complex” running through your theories. In 1979, shortly after China’s reform and opening-up, you first published a long paper entitled “Redressing Mr. Ma Yinchu’s New Population Theory” in Guangming Daily, in which you listed “To the Editor” the past unfair criticisms of Mr. Ma Yinchu. Moreover, in the Second National Symposium on Population Science, you gave a speech correcting the previous wrong viewpoints on Population Theory, and won long applauses and had a great influence on the audience. How does your “academic complex” come about? What effects does it have on your later research?
Tian Xueyuan (Tian for short below): “Academic complex” is an appropriate way of putting it. The truth is that I have been doing research on population science for nearly 30 years. I really have a very deep academic complex on it. When I visited the United States as a visiting scholar in 1982, a foreign Doctor who came to China as an exchange scholar wrote to me in awful Chinese characters: “I have read over 50 pages of your book On Population Theory in the New Era. It aroused a kind of passion in my heart. I was quite moved”. It happened that there was another similar case. A friend of mine in China once said to me: “the writings of Mr. Tian involve a kind of passion”. No matter what they have said about my writings, I think they have one thing right: my writings indeed convey my feelings. I hoped that my country would become powerful and prosperous and my people wealthy. The feelings were quite deep in that they flowed in my blood for over fifty years. They took root, grew, blossomed and produced fruits. There will be some day when my body also becomes the living fossil of my feelings. It is just this deep feeling that has been driving me to work hard in the academic field, not daring to slack. It was for the same reason that I was “subjected to distribution” and transferred from the field of economy to demography. And since then I have been doing research on population science for over 30 years. I have to start from the very beginning in order to explain how my academic views were melted in the passion for my country and my people.
I was born in Benxi, a famous city for iron and coal. The most impressive scene out of my childhood memory was the Japanese broadswords swaying before our Chinese laborers. The cross of swords and blades was accompanied with the roar of “Bakayarou”. It was out of my knowledge then that China had such a vast land. I only knew that the area outside the Shanhai Pass belonged to the once puppet state of Manchukuo in the northern east of China. Why were Japanese and Chinese people different? They did different work: the Japanese took the broadswords and gave commands, while the Chinese did the most laboring and tiresome work. They ate different things: Japanese ate food made in rice and wheat flour, while Chinese ate steamed corn bread. Their social statuses were different: Japanese people were unchallenged, while Chinese people could only obey their command. The torture of Chinese people only ended after Japanese Imperialism surrendered in August 15, 1945. How come Chinese people had to become slaves? That was what I could not understand in my very young heart. Later I went to primary school and the young teacher, a brother only a few years older than me, gave me the posthumous work My Lovely Country written by Fang Zhimin, who sacrificed his life for the country. For me, this was the first enlightened reading material. Tears welled up in my eyes when I learned how my motherland was oppressed and exploited by the Imperialist Powers. My heart was filled up with grief and indignation. I, as the son of my motherland, vowed to devote my life to make my country powerful. So you can imagine how happy I was when I was enrolled in Peking University shortly before October 1, 1959, the 10th anniversary of the foundation of People’s Republic of China. However, not long after I went to university, the second round of criticisms of Ma Yingchu’s—(our headmaster) New Population Theory pushed me into puzzlement. So I went to the library and found myself a corner in the fifth reading room. I found and read many of Professor Ma’s articles, for example his “My economic theory, philosophical thoughts and political stance” and many other criticisms of his articles. The more I read, the more I found that his views about controlling the population size and improving the population quality were justified. I was more moved by his thorough materialistic spirit of fighting and sacrificing his life for truth, even in his eighties. On the contrary, those critical essays, for pages and pages, were untenable and made little sense. Apart from some political propaganda, they could only tamper with premises and make logical deductions on the wrong basis. Their only aim was to criticize The New Population Theory and to humiliate and beat up Ma Yinchu. The situation became worse when Kang Sheng went to Peking University. The whole Yan Yuan (Garden of Swallows), including the Yannanyuan Garden (on the southern side of the garden) where Mr. Ma lived, were covered with big-character posters. The condemnations on Ma were heard everywhere. Since then Mr. Ma disappeared from the campus, the political and academic field of Peking University. For quite a long time, I was confused. I felt subtly in my heart that there would be some day when the distorted history could be reversed again. I was not aware that it was this complex and different understanding which cultivated the seeds of my choice to reverse the conviction of Ma Yinchu and then do research on population science.
After I graduated from the Department of Economics in Peking University in 1964, I spent two years participated in the Four Clear-ups. And then came the Cultural Revolution and the Down-to-the Countryside Movement. There was no big difference netween my experiences and those of my contemporaries. However, as a scholar who had studied Marxist economics and the history of western economics systematically, I was hurt more deeply in that my hope for the prosperity of my country and the wealth of my people was even stronger. During the period of the Four Clear-ups，I dined, worked and lived with the peasants. I learnt that many peasants were still lacking food and clothes even fifteen or sixteen years after the foundation of the People’s Republic of China. The city dwellers were no better. Each person was allotted several grams of oil, meat and eggs every month. People could only get manufactured goods for daily use such as bicycles through special stamps, which were allocated according to the output. The country was struggling from the stages of starvation to adequate food and clothing, if we divide the stages of development into starvation, having adequate food and clothing, opulence, prosperity and extreme opulence. I couldn’t help doubting the people’s commune system and planned economy in the whole country. Why was it that the western countries with market economies only worried about overproduction, while our country with a highly centralized and unified economic planning system always suffered from shortages? The gap between China and the developed countries was widening rather than narrowing during the 30 years since the end of World War Two. The expectation of building a strong and prosperous country almost fell to desperation. The Third Plenary Session of the Eleventh Central Committee of the Communist Party of China held at the end of the year 1978, however, exalted my heart with ecstasy and I felt that my country was still blooming. So I immediately devoted myself to the work of bringing order out of chaos in the theoretical field. I published several papers on economics such as “Reform as the key to the current national economy”, and “Redressing for Socialist Trust” on Guangming Daily and other newspapers and periodicals. I finally cried out the economic theory complex that had been constrained in my heart for years. The most serious one related to the criticism to Ma Yinchu when I was first enrolled to Peking University in 1959. So I sorted out the materials that I had collected and published a few articles, including “Redress for Mr. Ma Yinchu’s New Population Theory”. I also compiled a number of Ma’s other articles on population into a new version of New Population Theory, which was republished 3 times in 3 years. This played a role in bringing order into the chaos of population theory, and won some recognition. Since then, I had forged an indissoluble bound with population science.
Wang: Your summary of your course of development makes me feel that a scholar’s impetus can be inspired, and his ideological understanding can be sublimated only when he cares about the world and its people.
Tian: It is true.
Wang: Mr. Tian, I find that your research was in tune with the requirements of the times throughout your academic history. I suppose it must be related to your academic complex. When social problems have not manifested themselves or are still in the bud, you can acutely detect the future trends and carry out research which advances with the times in order to provide intellectual support for our country’s policy making. This is quite enlightening to young scholars. Please tell me something concerning this.
Tian: After I shifted my study to population science, the first thing I did was to make clear the nature, present situation, and future development trends of the Chinese population problem, so that I could offer advice to solve the Chinese population problem comprehensively and properly. My population research can be divided into five phases:
The first phase was from the late 1970s to the early 1980s. The emphasis was on redressing the population theory, the center of which was to break the dogma which advocated “the continual and rapid increase of population is in accordance with the socialist population regulations” by seizing the chance of rehabilitating Ma Yinchu’s New Population Theory. In my treatise, I proposed and demonstrated the problem of overproduction, and the importance and feasibility of controlling Chinese population size. I also gave some policy suggestions.
The focus in the second phase was the research on Chinese population development strategies, which can be divided into two periods. The first period goes from the early 1980s. During March and May of 1980, The Central Government held a Symposium on Population for five times to discuss population plans. I argued by presenting research findings that we should control the population growth and gave suggestions on policy choices. I was also asked by the leading comrades of the Central Party Committee who hosted the symposiums to draft reports to The Secretariat of the Central Committee. I also received instructions to write an attachment in the name of myself concentrating on the problems of whether the IQ of the new born babies would decrease, whether there would be labor shortages, excessive aging problem, and whether there would be a "4-2-1 Problem" (one adult child left with having to provide support for their two parents and four grandparents) due to the inappropriate age structure, and whether the population distribution in rural or urban and other regions would be changed, if a couple only give birth to one child. This attachment was made in case the superiors would consult it. It now appears that the explanations to these problems were at least down to the ground and stand the test of history. And that can give me ultimate satisfaction as a scholar. Moreover, I was responsible for the first chapter of the project China in 2000 – Chinese Population and Employment in 2000 in 1984. This was an interior study report. So I put forward three programs for the aim of keeping the Chinese population within 1.2 billion. The three programs were aimed at keeping the population within 1.2 billion, 1.25 billion and 1.28 billion respectively. And finally I proposed a policy choice around 1.25 billion. It discussed further that we should control population size, improve the quality of the population and at the same time adjust the population structure, among which controlling the population size was the most important. This project also had some influence on the government’s policy making. Studies of the later period focused on the population developing strategy after stepping into the 21st century. We will talk about it later.
The third phase was in the late 1980s, and focused on the change of the age structure, aging and urbanization problem. In the study of the early 80s, I already noticed the aging problem that was brought about by controlling the population size and consecutive drops in the birth rate. During the “Seventh Five-Year Plan” period, I hosted a national key project funded by the National Social and Scientific Fund -- Studies on the Chinese Elderly Population and the Social Security of Elderly people. With the support and help of rural and urban sampling statisticians from China's Bureau of Statistics, the sample survey was carried out in 1987 among all the population above 60 in China. After the research, I produced a report and three treatises, which were on the elderly population, economy and society respectively. I proposed and demonstrated an old-age security system which combined the forces of the society, families and elder people themselves, and some countermeasures and suggestions. Alongside the study of aging problems, I undertook a study of population movement and urbanization at the same time. Through the analysis of the developing trends of the new life and vigor of urbanization brought about by the reform and opening up, I suggested an accelerated rhythm of household registration system reform. These two researches could be regarded as an extension of the research on population development strategy into the field of population age and the urban and rural structure. It helped perfect the strategic studies.
The fourth phase took place in the early 1990s. Its special emphasis was on the household economy and fertility rate, as well as community studies. In order to put into practice the population development strategies, we also had to win support at the macro and micro levels, despite the scientific aim and plans on population development at the macro level, with full awareness of some side-effects such as the aging problem. We should turn strategies into conscious actions of the broad masses. For this reason, I undertook a national key program co-funded by the United Unions — the Household Economy and Fertility Studies. In 1992, sample surveys on the household economy and the fertility rate were carried out among 10 provinces in China. The sample survey information, the report and the treatises concluded from the research were published. I proposed and demonstrated “The social fringe cost of child—benefit” with a detailed calculation method, which made innovative achievements.
The fifth phase started in the middle of the 1990s. Studies in this phase placed the population development strategy in the framework of sustainable development. I presented and elucidated the people–oriented sustainable development strategic system. To achieve sustainable development, I believed that resources were the premise, because all development came down to materials transferred from resources. Population was the key, because the transformations from resources to materials could only be regarded as development when human beings participated. Environment was the destination because the ultimate goal of sustainable development was to create a better natural and social environment for the development of human beings. Economic and social development were the regulators, because the practice of sustainable development mainly relied on the coordinated development of the economy and society. Based on the national reality, I put my emphasis on population and the economy, and specifically on the sustainable development problems between the overall population and subsistence, the working-age population and subsistence, the aging of the population and social security, urbanization and the industrial structure, the educational level of the population and advances in science and technology, and the spatial distribution of the population and the productivity layout.
Wang: The generalization you have made for your academic courses also has illuminating significance for the subject selection of the present studies.
Tian: Just for reference.
Wang: What kind of knowledge do you think would be needed if the young scholars in this field want to be qualified to do research on this?
Tian: There are two which are most important: some principal theories on demography and knowledge of other relevant disciplines. I will tell you what I have learned from my experience. One day in 1980, the head of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences went to me and asked me to conduct demographic research. For people of our generation, being “subject to distribution” was a bound duty. The first choice on the distribution form that I handed in when I graduated was “subject to distribution”. But I knew well that the “difference in profession makes one feel worlds apart” even though the economy was closely related to demography. I had to increase my knowledge of demography. The chance came when I went to the American East-West Center to study as a visiting scholar during March 1982 and June 1983. I read the major demographic works systematically during the spare time from my research work. And I also made my acquaintance there with A. Curle from Princeton University, who came as a senior visiting scholar and many other famous scholars such as G. S. Baker and F. Hauser from the University of Chicago, S. Gerstein from Brown University, Blass from London University, Jun Fu Kuroda from Nihon University, and Caldwell from the Australian National University. We carried out academic exchanges and I learnt a lot from them. In this way, I gradually built up my knowledge in demography. To do this was necessary because demography is a normalized subject and people can hardly do normalized studies on it without a solid foundation. Demography is also a fringe subject which mixes various different specialties . To do scientific researches on population you need a background in social sciences like economics, sociology and statistics, and some natural sciences such as mathematics, medical science and biology. It is true to say that scientific research on population is related to almost all fields of science. Can you imagine any field of science that is not associated with the change and development of the population? The only solution is to study. Simply reading is one way, and cooperative study with scholars from other fields is a more targeted way of learning. I have learnt a lot from cooperative studies.
Wang: At the beginning of the reform and opening up, you determinedly devoted yourself to the work of rehabilitating for Ma Yinchu’s New Population Theory. In the early 1980s, despite your vigorous advocacy of controlling the population growth, you also pointed out in your report on Population and Employment in China in 2000 that keeping the Chinese population within 1.2 billion was hardly possible, and that it would more likely reach around 1.25 billion. And you also did research on the possible side-effects of the aging problem in advance. All of these actions required academic courage and should be regarded as examples for young scholars.
Tian: During a scholar’s academic life of three to five decades, what should he do and what can he do? Scholars need some academic courage to think about it. I tried rehabilitating Ma Yinchu because if there was no rehabilitation, the work of bringing population theory from chaos to order could not be accomplished and the population research could not be put into a scientific track. I made public the strategic goal of keeping the Chinese population under 1.2 billion in 2000. But as a scholar on population science, I knew how difficult it was. However, I could not raise an objection in public. So I chose to press my views and advocate within internal reports. The problems of the increasing sex ratio at birth and the policy making on childbearing were some of the other problems of that time. To present and stick to one’s own academic view takes some courage and spirit as well as some art. In this aspect, the old headmaster Ma Yinchu set a good example for us. He sought after the truth until death and valued the truth more than personal honor. This spirit of learning and his integrity is worth our learning.
Wang: The policies of controlling the Chinese population growth have been carried out for over 20 years. A while ago, many scholars concentrating on population science were assessing the effects of the policies. Even some scholars in other fields were attracted to it. You also organized a research group to do this work. Please introduce us to your main concluding views.
Tian: Since the 1970s when the population controlling policy was carried out energetically, remarkable achievements have been achieved. This policy has prevented in total 0.3 billion births cumulatively from the time of its implementation. The aging structure has gone from mainly adult to mainly elderly, and the possibility of population increase has been greatly reduced. There are three kinds of opinion concerning the relationship between these achievements and family planning: positively related, partly related and irrelevant. Our view is that the continuous falling of the fertility rate in the long-run mainly relies on the strict implementation of the basic state policy of family planning. Meanwhile, the economic and social development also play an enormous role. It is the objective foundation for the implementation of the family planning policy.
Wang: The choice of future population theories is a controversial problem which has been receiving wide attention in last several years. It is not only a hot topic within the population research field but also a hot topic that can attract attention from the whole academic world. With the advanced modern information technology it has become a hype, which has a great influence among the common people. We would like to listen to your opinion on it.
Tian: This is related to the understanding of Chinese population development strategy in the future. Since the 1980s, my research on population development strategy was gradually developed into a three-step plan. The first step was to reduce fertility rates to a level lower than the replacement level, which had been realized by the mid-1990s. The aims of the second step was to keep the fertility rate at a low level which would not generate new population growth and at the same time enhance the population quality and adjust the population structure. This step would be accomplished around 2030. In the third step, we could determine an ideal appropriate (appropriate in size, quality and structure) population size according to the economic, social, resource and environmental situation, after the growth rate comes to zero. We are now in the middle of the second step. The policy making should be in accordance with the requirements of the second step. That is, on the one hand, we should stabilize a low fertility rate and strictly pursue zero growth; on the other hand, the population quality should be enhanced and the population structure regarding age, sex, rural or urban and spatial distribution should be adjusted. The key point is that the population size should be in accordance with the aging conditions in the population structure. For a certain period of time, the stricter family planning is enforced, the quicker the fertility rate gets lower and the aging problem becomes more serious, and vice versa. Based on such an understanding, I hosted a National Key Project -- Study of Chinese Population Development Strategy and proposed three kinds of prediction programs: “hard landing”, “soft landing” and “slow landing” aiming at realizing the goal of zero growth in the second step. For the hard landing program, the fertility rate will be a little lower than the present level. It also gives little consideration to the economic and social effect that will be brought about by a continuing fertility decrease. Thus it is called “hard landing”. “Soft landing” is a medium prediction program. Fertility keeps relative stability. If it sees some increase, it must be kept at a level slightly higher than the present level. “Slow landing” is a high-level prediction program. Fertility will be restored gradually and keep at a relatively stabilized level when it reaches the replacement level. The aim of zero growth will be deferred. Comparing the three programs, we find that the “soft landing” program combines the strong points of effective control of the population size in the “hard landing” program and the better population structure in the “slow landing” program. Meanwhile, it overcomes the shortcomings of unreasonable population structure in the “hard landing” and poor population control in the “slow landing”. When the population size increases to 1.465 billion in 2030, zero growth can be achieved. According to this program, the ratio of elderly people over 65 will peak in 2050 with a rate of 23.07 %. The labor population ratio and structure will also be appropriate. All in all, the “soft landing” program is an ideal one which adapts to the present population state and future population size and structural changes. It is a program that can promote a harmonious development of the population and the economy, society, resources and environment.
To realize the goal of the second step by adopting the “soft landing” still has some problems. The people’s will still has a certain distance from the policy concerning the childbearing problem. So there is some potential energy for rebound. However, the medium prediction of the “soft landing” program does not require a continuous fertility rate decrease. On the contrary, it can only keep stabilized after a slight restoration. This offers credible assurances for the realization of this strategic aim. This aim can be achieved as long as we keep the policy stabilized or even when there is a slight restoration. There are some childbearing policies for our consideration. First of all, nationwide, whether in rural or urban areas, if both couples are single children, they are allowed to have two children. This policy can be carried out right now. At present, there are around 23% of married women of childbearing age who are only children. Most of them are distributed in cities and towns. So if this policy is implemented among them, the fertility rate growth will be limited and thus the policy can be practiced with no conditions attached. Secondly, if any member of the couple is an only child in a rural area, the couple is allowed to have two children. This is also ready to be put into practice right now. For cities and towns, it is better to put it into practice after 2010. The reason is that in the rural areas, the quantity of single children is relatively lower, and thus this policy will bring no big increase in the fertility rate. But for cities and towns, there are much more single children. The chance that there is only one single child in a couple is slim. So policy implementation among them also won’t lead to a big increase in the fertility rate, especially when the implementation is deferred to 2010, when women at a childbearing age under 30 are further reduced. But the second policy will have great practical and irreplaceable significance towards the parents’ family support, and the change of the family age structure from the only child side. Thirdly, if a third or further child birth can be effectively prevented, the second child (no matter whether male or female) is allowed in the rural areas. At present, the average fertility rate for the rural areas is a little higher than 2.0. If a third or further child can be prevented, except for some ethnic minorities with a small population, the fertility rate of 2.0 will not increase under the implementation of this policy. Besides, it is also permitted for a slight increase of the fertility rate in our “soft landing” program. As long as we can prevent the third child, the fertility rate in the rural areas will not rebound.
Wang: The demographic studies in China underwent a great development during the 1980s and the early 1990s. After this period, the research troops diminished, and the project funding and international cooperation were also suffering a contraction to some extent. How do you predict the future development of demography? What should our main concerns be?
Tian: During the "Ninth Five-Year Plan" period, The United Nations Population Fund stopped funding scientific research and teaching on Chinese population. Scholars in this field were impacted, and a number of population research institutions were withdrawn or consolidated. Many qualified scholars turned to related disciplines. It seemed that demography was not popular on the whole, and it fell to a low ebb. After several years of adjustment, research and teaching on population broke away from this problem. The remaining institutions and research teams were well-developed. Moreover, even the new research institutions and scholars greatly increased. One of the most important reasons was that after the renaming of the State Family Planning Commission to the National Population and Family Planning Commission (NPFPC), the research on population development strategies is assigned as a job by NPFPC. The research achieved more guidance and support. Necessary population research institutions were built at all levels of the Population and Family Planning Commission. For example, five relevant research divisions were founded in the Peking Population and Family Planning Commission. Ten population research institutions were adjusted or reorganized in Hunan Province. Graduate education also achieved great development. There were only about ten doctoral programs before this period across the nation. But another four were added during the "Tenth Five-Year Plan" period. The increase in master programs was even higher at over ten. The enrollment of graduate students increased every year. Some schools even had over 80 graduates in demography. Graduate education on Population, Resources and Environmental Economics, which were closely related to market economy and thus had greater demand, grew more rapidly. In the early 2000s, there were only four universities which had the authority to launch PhD Programs on Population, Resources and Environmental Economics. After the "Tenth Five-Year Plan" period, another ten were added. And the number of universities with the authority to launch Master Programs exceeded 30. These developments offered us new developing spaces in the frontier and interdisciplinary subjects. As a result, there was an obvious increase in research findings and the quality was also improved. In the early 1990s, the National Social Science Research Funds authorized only four or five projects on demography. Since the independence of demography science, the projects increased a lot and reached seventeen or eighteen. Moreover, based on statistics, papers on demography which were published in major newspapers and periodicals were over 1,100 in 2001 and increased to over 1,500 in recent years, with a growth rate of 30 to 40%. A notable sign for higher paper quality is that the normative features of the papers were increasing and could better meet the national standard. Some major institutions gradually developed their own research characteristics and had more competitive advantages over others. It was crucial for them to know how to strengthen and develop their subject advantage, which would exert a deep influence on the general development of Chinese population science. Besides the subject construction of demography, the interrelationship between population size, quality and structure, the sustainable development of the population, economy, society, resources and environment, and the population problems which occur in the construction of a moderately well-off and harmonious society need to receive more attention in the new historical era of overall development.
Wang: In this light, even though the study on demography was not as spectacular as in the recovery period, it finally became mature after over two decades. To some extent, a “cold” environment is more beneficial to the subject’s development.
Tian: This is quite reasonable.
Wang: In foreign academia, scholars are grouped into different schools according to their different research perspectives and methods. It is also the same in the field of demography. For example, there are economic schools, sociology schools and biology schools. These divisions are helpful for systematic studies and thorough studies, instead of decentralized studies or spontaneous remarks, so that reserve forces will be built. It seems that the situation in China is still unsatisfactory. What do you think we can do to improve it?
Tian: This is a good question. It still remains a question how to form various schools and make them play a part in scientific research, not only for demography but also for all the social sciences. The famous economist Sun Yefang once in his lifetime made an agreement with Mr. Yu Guangyuan to start bald arguments in order to bring out a good academic atmosphere among different schools. However, Mr. Sun left us shortly after the beginning of the plan. I totally agree with you that we should energetically advocate arguments and form different schools. It is a requirement to promote the flourishing of philosophy and other social sciences. Research schools are formed based on different views and theories on the same subject. There are three premises for the formation of schools. The first one is thorough research, through which scholars can form an insightful understandings and systematical academic views. The second premise is a down-to –earth attitude. Only with this attitude, scholars can host academic discussions in order to pursue truth and avoid personal wrangles. The third premise is an appropriate environment. Under the principle of "letting a hundred flowers bloom, a hundred schools of thought contend", scholars should avoid personal abuse in the name of academic contentions.
Wang: You have long taken a leading position in the institute of population in the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. So the administrative work must have taken up a large amount of your research time. How do you handle this conflict?
Tian: From 1984 to 1998, I was the director of the institute of population. Because this institute was newly-founded, I spent quite a lot of time on administrative work. The superiors in CASS emphasized that as the director I should work hard to manage the institute and moreover, as an excellent academic leader, I should stand at the forefront in the academic field. Thus I could not neglect any of these tasks. I had no better choice but work hard and scientifically arranging my time. Higher efficiency could give me more time and achievements. My responsibilities in administrative work were strictly set down by the regulations. I was especially responsible for the division of scientific research. I had to come to the institute frequently. I would go to the institute in the morning and do administrative work in the office. After this I would go home and begin to do scientific research. Usually, I would change my role very quickly. I needed only 5 minutes to be fully prepared for work. My family members did not move a thing in my study, on my reading desk or computer desk. So I could resume my research in a short time.
Wang: Now you are approaching your seventies (in old Chinese Guxi). But you give us the impression that you are quite energetic, or even youthful. As I know, you serve us a Standing Vice-President of the Chinese Population Association, a Vice-President of the China Association of Social Economic and Cultural Exchanges, adjunct professor and many other posts. You really participate in a lot of social works. I am afraid it is hardly possible for you to do all these without a sound body. What is your secret for keeping healthy? What is the most incisive lesson you have learned in your life as a scholar?
Tian: Using knowledge and perspiration to broadcast a scholar’s honest conscience. That is the basic requirement that I have observed during my academic life. My childhood was spent in the semi-feudal and semi-colonial Old China. This experience cultivated in my mind a deep patriotic complex. I aspired to serve my country, my people and my parents. But how? The answer is knowledge. To learn knowledge, people should be willing to devote time and energy. There is a famous old Chinese saying: “When heaven is about to place a great burden on a man, it always tests resolution first, exhausts his body, makes him suffer great hardships and frustrates his efforts”. I think it makes sense. Thanks to a solid grasp of the knowledge in the books, I still remember the test questions in the college entrance examination, and also the questions set on the subject test of Das Kapital. Besides the book knowledge, what we learn from practice should also not be neglected. Since high school, we had work-study programs. I worked as a fitter for half a day every week then. During the “Great Leap Forward” period in 1985, I went to Benxi Iron works to work in front of the blast furnace for three or four months. During my college years, I planted trees on the Xiaoxi Mountain in the west of Beijing. I also took part in the railway construction work with the division of Peking University, whose campus was located in the Ming Dynasty area. When I served as a battalion commander in the militia, I practiced hard the “three controls” under the hot sun all the time, and sometimes in storms. After I began to work, I dined, lived and worked with peasants during the “Four Clean-ups” period. When I studied in the “57” cadre school, I ate millet, crossed big mountains, analyzed courses and dissected my views of the world. Even though I might not have been all that good in these things, at least I did them earnestly. So I made great achievements in terms of thoughts, knowledge and my body.
To broadcast a scholar’s honest conscience requires us to stand by the people. We should stick to the facts instead of booklore or superiority. Moreover, we must persist in academic creation and advance with the times. For years I complied with the principle of “zero forbidden zones for research with disciplined broadcast”. And this practice left me with many thoughts. What we are left to do if there is a forbidden zone in research? But broadcast disciplines are necessary because expressing inappropriate opinions casually, which may be related to population policy, will lead to wrong directions and cause undue loss. As I am gradually growing old, I always remind myself that I should be cautious against ossified thinking but instead absorb new things, study new problems and learn from young scholars.
Physical health is closely related to mental health. The most important thing is to keep a good mentality. We should use our mind more often because it is helpful for health. Moreover, physical exercise is necessary. For myself, I persist in running laps at various speeds for two or three kilometers in the nearby park for two or three times every week about five in the afternoon.
Wang: It is a great honor that we can have you here to systematically introduce your development history, your academic course and research findings. We have learnt a lot. And we all thank you very much.
Wang Yuesheng, male and born in 1959, is a graduate with a doctoral degree from the Graduate College of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. He is now a researcher in the Institute of Population and Labor Economics. His academic expertise is on historical demography, institutional demography, population and social changes.
(Translated by Xu Xiujun)
(Translated by Xu Xiujun)
Editor: Wang Daohang