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China's Scholar

The most populated nation on earth, China remains one of the least understood. Dali Yang, assistant professor in political science and the College, has made it his mission to explain his native country as it becomes more active in global economics and politics.

"China is one of the most important topics of study as it rejoins the world community," he says. "It will be an important player. My job is to contribute to the worldwide effort to understand the changes taking place there."

In September, Yang returned from one of his annual trips to mainland China. On this month-long visit, he met with Beijing officials as well as local villagers to research his forthcoming book on the relationship between business and government in China. By next summer, he plans to have completed a draft of the book, to be published by Stanford and tentatively titled Remaking China.

American leaders have long debated whether China--one of the world's last communist bastions, known for its dismal human-rights record-should be encouraged to institute democratic reforms through the use of U.S. economic incentives or pressured to do so through the use of U.S. economic sanctions. But Yang believes China is busy "remaking" itself into a more consumer-oriented, politically open society.

"There is an interactive relationship between business and government in China," says Yang, who studied engineering before earning his Ph.D. in political science from Princeton. "The reforms in the economy make the government reforms possible. And then the government reforms enable industry to do things more easily."

While in Beijing, Yang met with national officials about the impact of a major government restructuring, now under way and intended to cut the number of official ministries and commissions from 40 to 29 and their staff sizes by half. Some once-prominent government bodies are quickly becoming remnants of a fading planned economy system, he says. For example, the State Development and Planning Commission's staff has already dropped from 900 to just over 500 and several industrial ministries are likely to dissolve by 2000. He notes other changes: a more vibrant nightlife in major cities; the ability to buy a new TV set on the open market rather than through government bribes; local elections; and the emergence of toll-free numbers for consumers.

"There used to be strong bonds between the government and enterprise," Yang says. "Twenty years ago, enterprise was state-owned. Now many businesses are managing on their own and learning to survive in the market. There's no going back."

Yang, 34, grew up in the countryside of China's coastal Shandong Province, whose remote location, far from the political chaos of the cities, he calls "a blessing." In visits to such areas-like Weihai, a port city on the tip of China's coast closest to South Korea-he found concern about the Asian financial crisis, but also optimism because of the area's healthy tourist trade. And in Zhucheng, where the local government had earlier pioneered the concept of employee-owned farms, he met city officials who "view themselves as facilitators between the government and business, not managers."

China may be more successful at its reforms than former communist countries like Russia, Yang says, because it is preceding in a more orderly manner, providing, for example, new job training for laid-off civil servants. "The Chinese economy has changed so much," he says. "People are now ready to accept the risks."-C.S.

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