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CHEN Xiao: Increasing global visibility of Tsinghua's accounting program


CHEN Xiao became one of the first Tsinghua University's economics PhDs to return from studying in the United States in March 1997. He rode the wave of the era and devoted himself to development of the accounting discipline. Drawing on his expertise and looking toward the international academic forefront, he pursued innovation while integrating teaching and research. He was committed to advancing the level of scientific research within the field of accounting in China.

CHEN Xiao teaches in the classroom.

"My connection with the school dates back to 1995," CHEN Xiao says as he reflects on his career choices, his thoughts drifting back to the 1990s. As he neared graduation, his mentor inquired about his future plans. "I want to go back to China," he replied. His mentor asked, "Are you sure that's what you want?" to which CHEN affirmed, "Yes." At that time, China in the midst of economic transition. Faced with uncertainties about the future, CHEN Xiao chose to trust his instincts.

Later, by a stroke of chance, CHEN Xiao met with ZHAO Chunjun and CHEN Xiaoyue, then the associate deans of Tsinghua University School of Economics and Management (Tsinghua SEM), who were visiting the United States. Through their interactions, CHEN Xiao found them dedicated to their work and sensed the school's respect for and expectations of its teachers. Tsinghua SEM became his top choice.

CHEN Xiao began laying a solid foundation on arrival. He harbored a sincere commitment to never forget his original aspirations, and focused on undergraduate teaching and research in China's accounting industry. In 1998, he took the lead in creating a North American-style PhD program, applying American research methods to the practical study of accounting in China. His efforts propelled the progress of doctoral training in China's accounting field but also served as a practical model for innovating research methods in accounting at other universities across the country. CHEN Xiao's leadership played a transformative role in the process.

CHEN recalls that, given the resources at the time, the most they could hope for was to reach the highest domestic standard. He advocated for the invitation of distinguished professors from leading universities to teach cutting-edge theories and methodologies, and to research practical issues in China. From undergraduate to doctoral, all courses in the Department of Accounting were redesigned according to the demands of the market economy, meeting or exceeding international standards. Embracing bilingual education, the department uses English textbooks, assignments, and exams. Their approach to talent development is strategic: undergraduate students are groomed to become professional accountants, master's students are encouraged to execute accounting tasks and to understand the underlying rationale, and at the doctoral level, research focuses on how to enhance practices within the field.

For decades, CHEN Xiao's rigorous academic attitude and relentless pursuit of progress have made him one of the undisputed "pioneers" in the internationalization and modernization of Chinese accounting.

CHEN reminisces about the early days of Tsinghua SEM's establishment, highlighting its emphasis on improving the quality of its faculty. Many graduates who chose to stay at the school became backbones of the institution. "In the beginning, the proportion of teachers with doctoral degrees was not significant. However, today, all teachers have doctoral degrees from prestigious universities, marking a qualitative leap," he says. The professor says this transformation has introduced contemporary perspectives and research methodologies, infusing new vigor into the school's cultural heritage.

When it comes to educating talent, CHEN Xiao emphasizes the two fundamental functions of a university: "Knowledge Creation and knowledge dispersion." This is the guiding principle in his daily work. He creates a relaxed and pleasant learning environment, allowing students not to be confined to textbooks and to maintain a critical thinking mindset toward scientific research. CHEN often reminds students to master each course during their time at school, especially foundational theoretical studies. While foundational theories cannot be seen or touched, they are akin to martial arts training - the more foundational they are, the more they reflect one's strength. By building on this foundational understanding, individuals can unleash their potential. CHEN Xiao also encourages students to have pursuits. He says a "pursuit" is not a specific goal, but seeking a sense of accomplishment. In the process of pursuing, one should align with the overall development of the country, constantly adjusting oneself to meet the needs of social development.

When it comes to research, the professor values the significant degree of academic freedom that Tsinghua SEM affords its faculty. Within this environment characterized by freedom, openness, and equality, the school has achieved remarkable outcomes across numerous fields, providing a substantial talent pool for China's economic and social development.

"I hope that the Department of Accounting of Tsinghua University will not only garner academic recognition at home, but also achieve greater recognition from scholars worldwide," says CHEN Xiao, expressing his lifelong aspiration despite the challenges ahead. He says that, particularly within the field of accounting, it's essential for foreign scholars to "understand and accept our research outcomes while also grasping the context of China's specific characteristics. This is not something that can be achieved overnight with the efforts of just one generation, but we are confident, and the school has the capability to go further."

On the 40th anniversary of Tsinghua SEM, CHEN Xiao expresses his wishes for the institution: "There is still a long way to go. I hope Tsinghua SEM can become the preferred destination for young students all over the world to study. Let's all work hard for this goal!"