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LU Yi: Striving for excellence, dedicated to progress


At the Department of Economics' 95th anniversary celebration in 2021, Chair LU Yi recalled his profound memories of faculty and students and his expectations for the department's future. He summarized the department's ethos as "pragmatic" and "down-to-earth," a sentiment that mirrors his own temperament.

"Tsinghua's economics discipline is intended to foster people who will make great contributions to the country's economic strategy. It is difficult, but something we should strive for, and something that Tsinghua economists, including myself, want to do," he said. At the 40th anniversary of Tsinghua University School of Economics and Management (Tsinghua SEM), LU Yi shared his ideals without hesitation and his vision was resolute. LU has influenced many young students and scholars with his words and deeds, and has nurtured talented individuals to be pillars of the country.

LU Yi was born and raised in Shanghai, where he completed his undergraduate and master's degree studies. In the summer of 2010, he went to Singapore as a teacher. He had never been to Beijing and knew little about Tsinghua University before 2017.

The primary topic of LU Yi's research is China's economy, and he said he hopes that returning to his home country will improve his and its value. He also hopes his research can have a positive effect on economic policy.

"I want to be closer to the heart of my country, where I can have a better understanding of the operations of the Chinese economy, especially its process of economic policy making. In Beijing, economists can play a more active role in analyzing China's economy, evaluating policy making, and perhaps even participating in the design and formulation of policies," LU Yi said. BAI Chong-En, dean of Tsinghua SEM, introduced LU to the development of the economics disciplines at Tsinghua and shared his own insights about China's economy, which prompted his decision. "I decided to come to Tsinghua without any contact with other schools," LU said.

LU Yi shares his thoughts at a meeting.

LU seamlessly transitioned into the professional environment at Tsinghua SEM. Its down-to-earth approach to economists research and peer interaction are essential to the school's ethos.

The faculty of the Department of Economics holds weekly luncheons, usually with no specific theme, but these are the birthplace of many academic ideas. Topics unfinished at the luncheon become the subjects of continued discussion when the faculty return to their offices. In recent years, young teachers and scholars in the department have initiated a "happy hour" activity on Thursday afternoons, when doctoral students and post-doctoral fellows join in the exchange, creating a venue for communication within the school. It is through these occasions that LU Yi has grown from a newcomer who "did not know anyone" to a mature scholar who can mentor young teachers.

After returning to China and communicating with young scholars at academic conferences, LU Yi found their knowledge system needs urgent improvement. There were shortcomings in their research methodology, perspectives on cutting-edge research issues, and their understandings of Chinese practice.

"I've been through all this and understood it's not easy, so I hope that the advice I offer will save them some time and lead to greater research achievements." LU Yi said.

Driven by empathy, LU Yi started a small-scale training for young scholars in economics, aiming to assist them in broadening their horizons and avoiding mistakes. The scholars learn from each other's teaching and research, challenging ideas and forming friendships. The initiative exposes young scholars to cutting-edge knowledge. LU Yi said the academic trial has been encouraging.

In 2018, Tsinghua SEM, in conjunction with the National Institute for Fiscal Studies at Tsinghua University, began the yearly Summer School of China's Public Finance, which provides short-term training and exchange focused on cutting-edge theories and practical issues in the field of public finance for young Chinese scholars and senior doctoral students and promotes the development of public finance research in China. The event has been well-received, and LU Yi's original intent was very simple: "I hope to contribute to society by promoting standardization in policymaking, which is all I can think of to give back to society."

LU Yi speaks at the NCER-CCER (National Center for Economic Research at Tsinghua University - China Center for Economic Research at Peking University) China Economic Symposium.

Tsinghua SEM has a mission to "advance knowledge and cultivate leaders for China and the world." LU Yi sees the cultivation of future talents as his personal responsibility.

LU Yi said he hopes his students will become experts in their fields, with the ability to conduct academic research and theoretical analysis, as well as a true understanding of China's problems. To that end, he requires individual communication with his students at least once every two weeks, or more often if needed.

He and his students have traveled to central and local government departments to speak with frontline staff to understand considerations in policymaking and effectiveness in implementation. "In essence, economics is about problem identification and problem solving. But there are so many problems to identify, so we must also focus on one type of problem to become experts who truly understand the situation in China," he said.

"Understanding China" is not an empty phrase, he said. LU believes all expressions should be based on understanding, analysis and research; and therefore, he has spent nearly half of his recent years making surveys and investigations. But he does not forget to remain humble: "I have accumulated some ideas in recent years, but I am still working on the construction and improvement of the academic system," LU said.

As Tsinghua SEM celebrates its 40th anniversary, LU Yi said the school bears the expectation of becoming a world leader in economics and management education: a mission that must be accomplished despite the difficulty. The school also shoulders responsibility for cultivating the best students in China - even in the world. Rapid socio-economic development in China has put higher requirements on higher education, and Tsinghua University must be at the forefront.