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Elite Talk: A conversation with Yuk-shan Wong on Chinese Dream

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Education is the foundation upon which a nation builds its future. China's future hinges on its resolve to deepen reforms in a variety of fields, including education.

China's education reform plan laid out in the nation's recently-released government work report has gained a lot of attention over the past two weeks. The plan stressed further reform to provide high quality and equal education services for the Chinese people.

To find out more on China's education reform and other related topics, Zhenyu Li, editor-in-chief of the business channel at People's Daily Online, recently had a conversation with Yuk-shan Wong, vice president for administration and business of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST), one of the top universities in Asia. They talked about China's recently-released government work report, R&D investment, education reform, consumption transition and China's new catchphrase — the Chinese Dream.

Here are excerpts from their conversation, edited and condensed by GlobalPost.

Zhenyu Li: What's your impression about this year's government work report?

Yuk-shan Wong: I think the government work report is a very good report, very pragmatic, and it focused on the livelihood of the people. I was very impressed with the report. Particularly I am more concerned with education and technology.

On education, the government work report heavily stressed the fairness of education. Not only did we place education as our top priority, but also we have to implement fair treatment of education. You see, at this very moment, the expenditure on education is around 4 percent of the GDP. So compared with many years ago, it is quite good. So it is not a matter of money, but a matter of how to spend the money in the right way. The government work report said the government would spend more on rural areas, on the midwest area of China, and I think that is very positive.

Zhenyu Li: You know, China has been increasing its investments in R&D at a high rate and is now becoming a new innovation powerhouse. As a top executive of one of the top research universities in Hong Kong, you must have some great insights about that.

Yuk-shan Wong: First of all, I think China has been doing very well in science and technology over the past 30 years. We have been putting very handsome investment in scientific development, particularly in the R&D, which is up to 1.98 percent. Although the figure, compared with other developed countries such as Switzerland and Sweden, is not so large, the basis is very big.

However, I suggest, in addition to investing in the big R&D projects, the government should also put more money on supporting basic research, particularly the small project of basic research, because basic research is crucial for creation and discovery, which is very important for China's contribution to mankind. Putting more investment in smaller projects of basic research will also give more chances to young scientists and researchers so that they could emerge and develop, which also helps unleash our creative power, because a young scientist is a fountain of creation.

So I think investing in large projects is correct, but we also need to invest in some smaller projects for individual young scientists so that they could focus on basic research, which will be translated into discovery and do more good to mankind.

Zhenyu Li: China's educational reform plan laid out in the recently issued government work report has gotten many compliments and gained a lot of attention. As a senior educator and expert in higher education, do you have any helpful advice on China's educational reform?

Yuk-shan Wong: The government work report heavily stressed the fairness of education and pledged to boost education quality, and I think that is quite good.

What I'd say more is about the admission to university vs. proper examination. In the Third Plenary, some suggested that the admission and the proper examination should be divided, and I really support this idea, because in China, the admission to university should be left to the university; university should do the admission. The proper examination should be administered by a public body, which is under the leadership of the Ministry of Education; it should be an independent examination authority, in which the public and scholars participate.

Zhenyu Li: As you know, China is now moving toward a more consumption-led growth model. I know besides being an educator, you also head the Consumer Council in Hong Kong, so you must have some expert perspectives on China's current wave of consumption transition.

Yuk-shan Wong: Well, what I want to focus on here is the consumption protection. Consumerism has become a driving engine for the Chinese economy. And according to the official figure, it is about 42 percent of the total GDP. However, I think the consumption protection in China still needs to be further developed. So I think the government should invest more resources to strengthen the consumer council in China so that it could become a rather independent and influential body to protect consumer rights in China.

Zhenyu Li: You know, Chinese President Xi Jinping has put forward a new catchphrase — the Chinese Dream, which can be viewed as China's new guiding spirit. As a Hongkonger, what is your understanding of the Chinese Dream?

Yuk-shan Wong: I think everybody has a dream, but I think this "Chinese dream" is very important for China, because China has undergone 5,000 years of civilization, but we have been rather weak over the past 200 years. It is only after the Liberation, after 1949, but even before 1949, we overcame a lot of difficulties. It is only over the past 30 years that China started to develop, and we have been developed so well. So I think the Chinese Dream is about how to have the country further developed and how to achieve cultural rejuvenation so that China could in a real sense become a strong country and a well-respected country in the world.

Zhenyu Li: So, what is your personal "Chinese dream"?

Yuk-shan Wong: My Chinese dream is, by that time, every Chinese people could make a good living, and our country could become a strong country, politically and economically; and also our country could be respected by other countries in the world. But before that, we need to enhance the quality of ourselves.

(This is a slightly edited version of a piece originally published in the People’s Daily Online of the March 28, 2014 edition.)

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