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Li Presents Model to Address China's Growing Pains

December 5, 2011

Li Xiguang, dean of the Tsinghua University International Center for Communication, presented the city of Chongqing as a model and “message of hope” for the rest of China in a lecture last month at the Watson Institute. Speaking in a presentation titled, "From American Dream to Chongqing Dream: The Making of Soft Power in China,” Li said the major manufacturing city in southwest China serves as a shining example of Chinese development.

Li offered the Chongqing story as an angle for discussion of the forces behind the recent socioeconomic changes in China. The Chongqing story, he said, provides an example of a model of government, marked by a large public sector and multiple state-owned enterprises. Li described how the government seeks to provide social services, such as housing and security, while pursuing environmental goals, an expansion in infrastructure, and increased health care for all citizens, whether they are from urban or rural areas.

In recent decades China has witnessed rapid economic growth, but Li said that lately the gap between rich and poor in the country has widened, with the top 10 percent holding 45 percent of the wealth and the per capita income of urban residents more than three times that of rural dwellers. People in coastal areas make twice as much as residents of the western provinces, and Li said the widening wealth gap has sparked social unrest and undermined the government’s authority over its people people. Thus he pointed to the introduction of a set of well-being indices and social equality measures in Chongqing as examples of the sort of reform that might help all of China. These social equality measures include offering public housing, free public health care, and loans for individuals to start up small enterprises.

Li said Western journalists and scholars have already noted the success of Chongqing, citing Ted Koppel’s Discovery Channel series, “The People’s Republic of Capitalism,” and the writings of Harvard professor Niall Ferguson as examples.

“Chongqing today is a source of inspiration to most Chinese people, particularly the poor people,” Li said. “Chongqing tries to spread development gains more equally among the people.”

In addition to being dean of Tsinghua University’s International Center for Communication Studies, Li is dean of the Chinese Academy of World Agendas of the Southwestern University of Political Science and Law. He also sits on the Chinese Ministry of Health’s experts committees for both disease control and crisis handling, is vice-chairman of the Ministry’s Journalism Education Committee, and a media adviser to the Chinese Minister of Education.

Before founding the journalism program at Tsinghua University, Li was a fellow at the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at the Kennedy School of Government of Harvard University; a senior editor and director of the political, cultural, and science desk of Xinhua News Agency; and a science and medical writer with the Washington Post. The author of many books, his latest titles include "Soft Power and China Dream," "Soft Power and Global Communication," "Intellectual Dialogues of Tibet," "The Future of Journalism Education," and "News Reporting and Writing."

Li spoke at the Watson Institute as part of Brown’s Year of China, a yearlong initiative examining China’s culture, history, people, geography, and neighbors, and its relation to the world. The Year of China initiative aims to explore China's past, present, and possible future through an array of programs across disciplines.

The talk was co-sponsored by the Watson Institute, Strait Talk, and the Taubman Center of Public Policy and American Institutions.

By Watson Institute Student Rapporteur Lauren Fedor ’12