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Shaping China's Foreign Policy: The Paradoxical Role of Foreign-Educated Returnees

From: Asia Policy
Number 10, July 2010
pp. 65-85 | 10.1353/asp.2010.0038

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Shaping China's Foreign Policy:
The Paradoxical Role of Foreign-Educated Returnees
Cheng Li

Cheng Li is Senior Fellow and Director of Research at the Brookings Institution's John L. Thornton China Center. Dr. Li's publications include China's Leaders: The New Generation (2001), China's Changing Political Landscape: Prospects for Democracy (2008), and China's Emerging Middle Class: Beyond Economic Transformation (forthcoming 2010). He can be reached at <cli@brookings.edu>.


inline graphic The author is indebted to Yinsheng Li for his research assistance. The author also thanks Jordan Lee and Robert O'Brien for suggesting ways in which to clarify the essay.


1. In Chinese, the words for "returnee" and "sea turtle" have the same pronunciation.

2. There are, however, a few exceptions. See David Zweig, Internationalizing China: Domestic Interests and Global Linkages (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2002); and Cheng Li, ed., Bridging Minds across the Pacific: U.S.-China Educational Exchanges 1978-2003 (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2005).

3. As Jonathan D. Spence observed, for many Western internationalists, China often offers a hope—a "chance to influence history by the force of personality." See Jonathan D. Spence, To Change China: Western Advisers in China, 1620-1960 (Boston: Little, Brown Publishers, 1969), 292. Some scholars argue that this educational endeavor "would do a far better service than guns and battleships in keeping a peaceful world." See Bu Liping, Making the World Like Us: Education, Cultural Expansion, and the American Century (Westport: Praeger Publishers, 2003), 86.

4. Renmin ribao [People's Daily], January 7, 2003, 10.

5. See "2009 nian Zhongguo chuguo liuxuerenyuan zongshu dadao 22.93 wan" [The Total Number of Chinese Students and Scholars Who Went to Study Abroad Was 229,300], China News, March 29, 2010 inline graphichttp://www.chinanews.com.cn/lxsh/news/2010/03-12/2166360.shtml. The total number of Chinese students and scholars who have studied in the United States is based on the speech delivered by China's ambassador to the United States, Zhou Wenzhong, in Seattle on June 1, 2005. See Chinese News Net, June 6, 2005 inline graphichttp://www.chinesenewsnet.com.

6. See "2010 nian zhongguo fumei liuxue zongshu jiangda shi wan" (The Total Number of Chinese Students Who Study in the United States is Expected to Reach 100,000 in the Year 2010 Alone) inline graphichttp://edu.qiaogu.com/info_21391/. The total number of students who came to study in the United States in 2009 was approximately 98,000. See "Jinnian mei liuxue renshu jiang chuang xingao" (This Year's Total Number of Chinese Students Who Study in the United States is Expected to Break the Record) inline graphichttp://news.sina.com.en/o/2010-03-03/031117154305s.shtml.

7. "2009 nian Zhongguo chuguo liuxuerenyuan zongshu dadao 22.93 wan."

8. Nanfang Zoumo (Southern Weekend), April 15, 2005; see also "Zhumu dishidai haigui guanyuan" [Focusing on the Tenth Generation of Returnees Who Now Serve as Government Officials], Xinhua inline graphichttp://news.xinhuanet.com/report/2005-04/15/content_2833349.htm.

9. See "Zhongguo liuxue renshu meinian jin shisan wan ren" [Some 130,000 Chinese Citizens Left to Study Abroad Every Year], February 11, 2009 inline graphichttp://news.china-b.com/lxdt/20090211/14484_1.html.

10. See "2009 nian guojia liuxue jijin zizhu shenqing" [China Scholarship Council Application, 2009], October 17, 2009 inline graphichttp://www.taisha.org/abroad/topic/gongpai.

11. In contrast to the Marxist notion that the Communist Party should be the "vanguard of the working class," Jiang's theory claims that the CCP should represent the "developmental need of the advanced forces of production," the "forward direction of advanced culture," and the "fundamental interests of the majority of the Chinese people."

12. For a detailed discussion of the theory of China's peaceful rise, see Zheng Bijian, China's Peaceful Rise: Speeches of Zheng Bijian 1997-2004 (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 2005).

13. Barry Naughton, "China's Economic Think Tanks: Their Changing Role in the 1990s," China Quarterly, no. 171 (September 2002): 629.

14. Joshua Cooper Ramo, The Beijing Consensus (London: Foreign Policy Centre, 2004), 22-23.

15. Cheng Li, "Foreign-Educated Returnees in the PRC: Increasing Political Influence with Limited Official Power," Journal of International Migration and Integration...