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Recovering from the Global Outbreak: The 12th Tsinghua Forum on Overseas Chinese Entrepreneurship Successfully Held

On September 6, 2022, the 12th Tsinghua Forum on Overseas Chinese Entrepreneurship jointly organized by the Center for Chinese Entrepreneurs Studies, Tsinghua University (CCES) and Chinese Institute for Overseas Chinese Studies, and co-sponsored by the Canada-China Institute for Business & Development and the Chinese Heritage Centre of Nanyang Technological University of Singapore was held online. A total of more than 200 domestic and overseas experts and scholars from North America, Europe, Southeast Asia, China and other places participated in online and offline discussions. Sui Jun, former Vice Chairman of All-China Federation of Returned Overseas Chinese, president of the Overseas Chinese History Society of China, and Yang Bin, vice president and the member of the standing committee of the the CPC Committee of Tsinghua University, delivered a speech respectively at the opening ceremony. Zhang Chunwang, Director of Chinese Institute for Overseas Chinese Studies, Zhang Xiuming, Deputy Director, Li Minghuan, Professor at the School of Public Affairs of Xiamen University, and Zhang Guoxiong, Director of the Institute for Guangdong Qiaoxiang Studies, presided over the event.

In her speech, the president of the Overseas Chinese History Society of China Sui Jun pointed out that the Forum has been held for 12 consecutive years since 2010. From a purely academic forum with overseas experts and scholars, it developed into a comprehensive forum with the participation of scholars, overseas Chinese merchants, the government, think tanks, social organizations and others. It is hoped that the guests will share their insights and offer advice to build a better future together, so that all Chinese businessmen may share development opportunities.

On behalf of Tsinghua University, vice president Yang Bin extended a sincere welcome to the guests and listeners online. He said that the Forum had developed into a high-end academic conference and an important academic brand with distinctive characteristics and global influence. For universities and scientific research institutions of universities, it is necessary to further strengthen international cooperation, promote the linking of government, society, universities and enterprises, boost exchanges and cooperation among scientists from different disciplines, and enhance the exchange and mutual understanding of multiple civilizations.

The Forum closely combined theoretical discussion with realistic care. It has broad and profound theoretical vision and also lives up to the spirit of gearing study to practical use. In addition to discussing issues related to overseas Chinese under the pandemic, the Forum included topics such as international politics, national identity, the business network and associations of overseas Chinese.

Zhou Min, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and chair professor of Sociology & Asian American Studies at University of California, Los Angeles, UCLA, delivered a keynote speech titled "US-China Relations and the Overseas Chinese in US". Prof. Zhou believes that US-China relations are closely related to the Chinese American society and directly affect the social situation and daily life of overseas Chinese in the US. The pandemic has deepened the contradiction between the two countries, and Asian Americans have become targets of racial discrimination. Different overseas Chinese have different perceptions, political views and positions on China's past and present situation, as well as degree of connections with China, hence the complexity and diversity of the overseas Chinese society. These will also influence and constrain their cognition on and identities with China.

Liu Hong, Associate Vice President of Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Tan Lark Sye Chair Professor of School of Social Sciences, NTU, Singapore, expounded Singapore's new "unity in diversity" community development model through the vision and theoretical framework of new political economics in his speech themed "the Changes and Challenges of Overseas Chinese Society in the Post-Covid Era". He said that the world today is in a "VUCA era", an acronym of "volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous". In this context, the development and transformation of overseas Chinese society presents a diverse and complex situation. The reconstruction of the world economy also brings new opportunities for the development of overseas Chinese merchants. Discussions over issues, such as how to form a win-win situation among overseas Chinese merchants, the country they are from and the country they live, have theoretical value and practical significance.

Prof. Lin Xiaohua at Global Management Studies at Toronto Metropolitan University delivered a keynote speech titled “Model Minority Theory: A Thought in the Context of the Outbreak” . He noted that overseas Chinese were labeled as model minority, but they were sometimes reduced to stereotypes of being self-centered and keeping within their communities. During the COVID-19 pandemic in Canada, Chinese Canadians continued to perform better in terms of healthcare and financial flexibility. In a way, the pandemic also become a transformative moment for Chinese immigrants' charity. They reached out to more people. To some extent, these actions have not alleviated the prejudice against the Chinese community in the local society, but Chinese people, especially Chinese businessmen, are still active in various social and political activities.

Prof. Fang Tao, the Stephen Jarislowsky Chair at Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada, gave a lecture themed “Innovations and Challenges in Canada's International Immigration and Global Talent Policies in the Context of the Pandemic”. He analyzed the Canadian government's response to the serious challenges posed by the pandemic in terms of international travel restrictions and the sharp reduction of overseas immigration. Two major policy measures have been introduced, namely the reform of the "fast track immigration" and the "transition from temporary resident to permanent resident", which have increased the attraction of overseas immigrants instead of a reduction. From the macro, meso and micro dimensions, it is expected that the Government of Canada will continue to adopt flexible immigration and talent policies in the face of global uncertainty, but the implementation process and effects are uncertain and require in-depth qualitative analysis and quantitative research.

Peng Juanjuan, Associate Professor of Department of History at the Georgia Southern University in the United States, took Tecno Mobile, the largest Chinese private enterprise mobile phone brand in Africa, as the research object. After investigating its market entry strategy, division of labor and interaction with local society from 2006 to 2020, as well as its socioeconomic impact on Uganda, she compared similarities and differences between the business behavior of Tecno Mobile in Africa in the 21st century and European and American investments in Asia and Africa in the early 20th century.

Based on a large amount of sampling and statistical data, Liu Ying, deputy director of the Center for Chinese Entrepreneurs Studies, Tsinghua University (CCES), analyzed the impact of the government's response policy under the COVID-19 pandemic on the welfare of citizens and economic activities, especially the operation and development of small and medium-sized enterprises. By comparing small and medium-sized businesses on the digital platform in China and the US, such as Amazon and Alibaba, it is proposed that the Internet and digital technology played an important role in economy, especially the functional value of the platform company in unleashing grassroots creativity.

Lin Hongyu, a member of the Standing Committee of the Party Committee and vice-president of Huaqiao University, delivered a keynote speech themed "Current Great Power Games and Challenges Facing China". He reviewed China's overall judgment on the international security environment since reform and opening up. With regard to the current international environment and major power relations, he pointed out that the current situation is the most severe and complicated. These factors will continue to affect China in future and will pose unprecedented challenges.

In his speech themed by "New Chinese Immigrants in Singapore: Case Study of Groups, Stratification and Integration", You Junhao, director of the Chinese Heritage Center in Singapore and director of the Center for Chinese Language and Culture (CCLC), compared the old with new overseas Chinese associations in terms of their connection with local society, and offered the case study of different groups such as international students, mothers accompanying overseas students and new immigrant literature authors. He expounded the situation and context of new Chinese immigrants in Singapore, their role in constantly reconstructing the local social norms and national resources, and outlined the situation of new immigrants who suffered from "stereotypes" and the multiple structures of their integration with local society.

Li Peide, Emeritus Professor at Department of Linguistics and Modern Languages of the Hong Kong University, took Chinese businessmen in Hong Kong from 1841 to 1997 in the perspective of "Global China” as research object. On the basis of research on Hong Kong by Takeshi Hamashita, he pointed out that Hong Kong played an important role as a hub in the Asia-Pacific region. Hong Kong formed different ethnic groups through immigration and trade, and shaped a network relationship with the surrounding region. For example, Huo Yingdong (Henry Fok), Shao Yifu, Bao Yugang (YK Pao) and other representative businessmen of Hong Kong played an important role in international trade and political arena.

Prof. Long Denggao, Director of the Center for Chinese Entrepreneurs Studies, Tsinghua University (CCES), discussed the close relationship between the rural construction movement led by the eminent educator Yan Yangchu (Yu-Chuen James Yen, or Y.C. Yen) and overseas Chinese businessmen under the theme of " Y.C. Yen and Overseas Chinese Leaders: the Internationalization Practice of China's Rural Construction Experience". He pointed out that Y.C. Yen promoted China's rural construction experience to the world, and played an important role in international rural construction. The International Institute of Rural Reconstruction (IIRR) founded by Yen still plays an important role. His efforts to actively integrating into the mainstream society and release the energy of local overseas Chinese are key factors for success. Prof. Long Denggao believes that excavating and summarizing the heritage of Y.C. Yen and expanding and innovating his practice would provide inspiration for the exploration of the human community with a shared future.

Zeng Shaocong, a researcher at the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, delivered a keynote speech themed “Overseas Chinese and the identity of the Chinese Nation”. He focused on the relationship between Chinese emigrants and the connotation of Chinese nation, their recognition of Chinese culture, and their recognition of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. He noted that most overseas emigrants still retained the Chinese national consciousness and identity. The differences between emigrants themselves and the policies of Chinese and their current local government towards overseas migrants have also profoundly affected their recognition of the Chinese nation.

Prof. Zhang Yinglong at the Academy of Overseas Chinese Studies at Jinan University, investigated the business methods of new overseas businessmen through a field survey on new Guangdong emigrants to Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Since the 21st century, new Guangdong emigrants in Dubai has mainly gathered in two places, Daira and Dragon Mart, to engage in the wholesale and retail business of clothing, mobile phones, cosmetics and other products. Their business and trade transactions are centered in Dubai, covering overseas markets in the Middle East, Africa and Latin America. Most of them are from Shenzhen. Following the track of their friends, relatives and business partnerships, they mostly moved there for businesses and relevant work. Therefore, the prominent characteristics of these new overseas Chinese are "living abroad" and "doing business".

Zhang Zhikai, Director of the Center for Contemporary Chinese Studies at Durham University, introduced the phenomenon that the socioeconomic situation of overseas Chinese was rarely followed by the local media under the title of "Chinese Catering Industry in the UK under the Pandemic: Socioeconomic Changes and Corporate Resilience". By examining how Chinese food companies (restaurants, takeaways and supermarkets) react and adapt in the UK after the outbreak, such as switching from traditional operations to distribution and online sales, he provided valuable insight into the adaptability and entrepreneurship of overseas Chinese.

Prof. Peng Jinglian at the University of Leuven (KU Leuven) and the University of Antwerp in Belgium, and Li Jingjing, a doctoral student in the Department of Anthropology at the KU Leuven, jointly delivered a lecture on "Transcending an Either Or Trust: Strategies and Practices of the Bubbles of Overseas Chinese in Belgium during the COVID-19 Pandemic". They noted that the 2019 pandemic posed an unprecedented challenge to trust and immigrant communities worldwide. Existing studies on trust and migration tend to believe that migrants either trust the host country or their home country. However, in their ethnological field investigation on Chinese overseas, it was found that in the process of domesticating the "Chinese bubble" into a "Belgian bubble", Chinese immigrants' trust became complicated, which has surpassed the binary choice of China and Belgium to cope with the pandemic.

Prof. Xu Xi at the School of Political Science and Public Administration of Huaqiao University explored the development characteristics of the Malaysian-Chinese Chamber of Commerce in two dimensions: history and reality, and analyzed its external network relations from the perspective of network governance theory. The Malaysian-Chinese Chamber of Commerce is a non-profit and unofficial organization that is established for mutual benefits, as any other general chambers of commerce are. Yet it is also a quasi-political body with Chinese characteristics, as other chambers of commerce of overseas Chinese are. It is an important bridge between China and Malaysia to promote exchanges and cooperation. The instability of the external network of the Malaysian-Chinese Chamber of Commerce severely constrains the effective performance of its value function. Finally, she suggested that departments at all levels involving overseas Chinese affairs should actively guide the Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry to integrate the strength of Chinese business, strengthen the in-depth exchanges and cooperation between Chinese and Malaysian civil organizations, and weave a tight circle of friends of Maritime Silk Road.

A corner of the conference site at Tsinghua University

The Tsinghua Forum on Overseas Chinese Entrepreneurship is an international brand event jointly organized by the Center for Chinese Entrepreneurs Studies, Tsinghua University (CCES) and Chinese Institute for Overseas Chinese Studies. It brings together well-known experts, professors, scholars, high-level talents and overseas Chinese businessmen from all over the world. As a platform for exchanges among academic, business and political circles, and an influential international brand of overseas Chinese business research, the Forum aims to further promote the influence of Chinese business in the international field through interdisciplinary research, integrating production, learning, research and other resources, and jointly exploring the current situation and development of Chinese business.

Contributed by: Xing Jinghua, the Center for Chinese Entrepreneurs Studies, Tsinghua University