More and more overseas Chinese students are returning to pursue their careers at home. What has brought about the increase in the numbers of returning students, and how are these people getting on today?|
China’s launch of reform and opening up in the late 1970s triggered a kind of “gold rush” for young Chinese to study overseas. At one time, some critics deplored the so-called “brain drain” and feared that China might lose her young and energetic talents forever. Now, they will be telling a different story.
Currently, returned students and scholars make up the majority of the country’s top scientists and engineers. Addressing a ceremony marking the 90th anniversary of the Western Returned Students Association recently, President Hu Jintao urged CPC committees and government bodies at all levels to realize the major significance of helping returned students, and called on them to conscientiously implement the relevant policies, so as to attract more returned students to participate in the development of the economy or to serve the country in a variety of ways.
In May 2001, many local newspapers published the same news: Starlight I, China’s first Grand Scale Integration (or GSI) chipset with an independent patent, had entered the international market and been adopted in the latest imaging product lines from companies like Samsung, Philips etc.. Chip design is one of the core technologies in the information industry, but China had long suffered from the lack of its own chipset manufacturers, and thus felt restrained in market competition. The launch of Starlight I changed all this.
Deng Zhonghan, Chairman of Beijing Vimicro Electronics Corporation, said, “More than 150 users are buying our products every month worldwide`. Starlight I chipsets account for 70-80 percent of the market share in the PC camera and OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) markets.”
The company responsible for developing this chip is Vimicro Electronics Corporation, an enterprise started by returned students. Deng Zhonghan, founder of the company, was once a senior research fellow at IBM and founded a microchip company in Silicon Valley. In 1999, when the Information Industry was growing briskly in the US and his company was facing a bright future, Deng came back to China.
Deng also said, “Why did you choose to come back under these circumstances? I felt very encouraged and honored to have been invited by the State Council to take part in the National Day celebrations in 1999. I’d seen that on the one hand China was developing very fast, while on the other there was still a great shortfall in the development of core technology and integrated circuits etc here. There was a lot of room for us professionals to cooperate or collaborate. It was under these conditions that Vimicro was established.”
As a well-known scholar, Deng’s return to China caused quite a stir in the Silicon Valley. Five PhDs resigned from big name companies such as HP and Microsoft and came back with him to set up the company. In the past four years, Deng Zhonghan has led Vimicro in developing a series of chipsets that have enjoyed a sales volume of over 5 million sets worldwide, with a value of over 40 billion RMB.
Deng add, “In the short space of four years, we’ve attracted back many overseas students. At the same time, we’ve made some breakthroughs in the field of core technology. These four years of development demonstrate that the nation’s policies toward returned students as well as its policies for invigorating the country through science and technology have been well implemented. ”
Students returning from overseas are a valuable part of China’s human resources. Over the past two decades, the central government has encouraged young Chinese to go abroad for education and learn advanced science and technology from other countries as an important way of fostering qualified personnel. It also has a number of favorable policies toward returning students. Over 150,000 people have returned from abroad since 1978, at an annual increase rate of 13 percent. These people have made significant contributions in scientific research, education, business management, and many other fields. More than 80% of academicians and 95 percent of directors of institutes with the Chinese Academy of Sciences are returned students.
Yang Xingke, Deputy Director of Personnel and Education Bureau, Chinese Academy of Sciences, noted, “They returned with good ideas. Most importantly, they can combine the best of Western and Chinese cultures to form new concepts that can lead to creativity in scientific research. This is the biggest benefit for the Academy.”
Returned students in the Chinese Academy of Sciences have assumed important tasks in various fields including scientific research and teaching. In the past ten years since returning home, Dr. Guo Lei has achieved a series of world firsts. He is renowned as one of the world’s six leading figures in the field of stochastic adaptive control.
Guo said, “China doesn’t have a long history in the initiation and development of modern science. But modern science and technology are vital to the growth of a country. It’s because we’re less developed that we need returned students to contribute their part.”
Dr. Li Jiayang, a leader in plant molecular genetics in China, has supervised over 5 postdoctoral candidates, 8 doctoral candidates, and 2 masters students since he returned, and still has 12 graduate students. He has also published a series of creative and influential papers in internationally renowned periodicals.
Li Jiayang, Academician of Chinese Academy of Sciences, said, “I think a scientist who decides to come back must want to work somewhere he can give full play to his talents, and where he is respected and offered favorable conditions to succeed. We are very confident in this respect, and because of this, many more overseas students are joining us.”
Dr. Tan Tieniu returned in 1998, and over the past few years has led the Institute of Automation under Chinese Academy of Sciences to become a pacesetter in biological identification and visual monitoring in China, as well as one of the major research teams in this field worldwide.
Tan Tieniu, Director of Institute of Automation, Chinese Academy of Sciences, said, “My five-year experience in the Institute of Automation fully demonstrates that it’s a good idea doing research at home in China. We can still achieve great success; that’s to say, we need the broad platform this country offers.”
Over the past 25 years, returned students have contributed a great deal to the nation’s development. In turn, the party and the central government have provided favorable conditions for them to make full use of their talents.
Wang Xiaochu, Deputy Minister of State Ministry of Personnel, said, “Comrades Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao have all been very concerned about overseas students. The relevant central departments have launched a series of special policies to improve working and living conditions for returned students to establish their careers locally and contribute to the country. They have also carried out the New Millennium Talent Project, the Yangzte River Scholar Encouragement Plan and many other talent projects. “Pioneer parks” have been built as well. A system of favorable policies and working conditions has been put together in order to attract overseas Chinese students back to China.”
The Overseas Students Pioneer Parks are special organizations for assisting returned students in starting their businesses. The Haidian Science Park Incubator was the first of these. The Park offers services in investment, financing, management and other business activities for returned students to start businesses. Many businesses have benefited from this help. The Beijing Origin Seed Technology Company was one of them. At first the lack of working capital seriously affected the development of the company; at the same time, they couldn’t get loans from banks.
Han Gengchen, Chairman of Beijing Origin Seed Technology Inc. , said, “We needed some loans, but the bank required mortgages or pledges in fixed assets, namely real estate, but as technology-related enterprises we had practically no real estate. What we owned was technology and some products. It was very difficult for us to get loans from the bank. This was not just our problem, many businesses in this Park faced similar problems.”
Companies turned to the Park for help. However, the Park’s assets belonged to the state, and just like the companies, didn’t have fixed assets of its own to mortgage. Under these conditions, the Park liaised with the enterprises, the banks, and the bonding companies, and finally succeeded in launching China’s first credit guarantee for small loans. The Park recommended an enterprise to the bonding company on the basis of its years-long credit standing, while the bonding company after careful examination chose whether stand guarantor for the company concerned. Once the bonding company decided to guarantee the loan, the bank would then extend a loan to the company.
Wang Shiqi, Deputy Director of The Haidian Science Park Incubator, said, “You made the recommendation on the basis of your own credibility: did you ever consider the consequences if the company couldn’t pay back the loan on time? We thought about this beforehand. If the company couldn’t pay back the loan, the bank would lose out, and so would the bonding company, and our credit would also be affected. But for one thing, we needed to consider the company’s needs, for another, we had a good knowledge of this particular company. We were confident in taking such a step. ”
With a credit guarantee for small loans, Origin and six other companies inside the Park got their urgently needed working capital, becoming the first beneficiaries of the system. So far, 25 companies in the Park have obtained loans through the system.
Han Gengchen, Chairman of Beijing Origin Seed Technology Inc., said, “We didn’t borrow too much the first time, but set up our credit record with the bank. The next time we may borrow several million, and the third time more than that. They lent us 20 million RMB on credit, but in fact we didn’t use all of that. The capital played a vital role in the development of our company, especially the expansion of our business.”
With the assistance of such parks, the number of high-tech enterprises is growing very rapidly. At present, 76 industrial parks have been established across the country for returned students to develop their businesses from scratch. So far, over 4,000 companies run by 15,000 returned students have been started up in these parks.
Sun Yong, President of Accelet Technology Corporation, said, “Three years ago, I came back alone to start my company with less than US$100,000 of personal savings. Now we have 40 employees in the domestic company and 50-60 in our American branch. Our turnover will exceed US$10 million this year.”
Herbert Wang, President of Prient Information Corporation, said, “We’re very proud to say we’ve become a major player in China’s E-Government Administration and E-Commerce. We’ll go ahead with our goal of improving our business so that everyone in our company can realize their dreams.”
Han Gengchen also said, “While I was abroad I felt like I was floating, you didn’t have a place to take root. When I came back, it was like a seed falling into fertile soil. You can really gain nourishment from the land and grow.”