Hu Biliang explains the theory and practice of the reform and opening-up at the Deng Family Memorial Hall in Yantian village, Dongguan, Guangdong province. [Photo provided to China Daily]
Hu Biliang, executive director of the Belt and Road School at Beijing Normal University has spent nearly 10 years gathering some of the world's most brilliant minds together to cultivate future leaders and entrepreneurs, as well as run think tanks to research the political and economic issues related to the Belt and Road Initiative.
Inside an inconspicuous gray building housing the BRS, photographs of distinguished professors at the school - Zlatko Lagumdzija, former president of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Djoomart Otorbaev, former Prime Minister of Kyrgyzstan and Rajat M. Nag, former managing director general of the Asian Development Bank to name but a few - line the walls. All of them regularly fly to Beijing to give talks to students at the BRS.
According to Hu, most of the students are officials from government bodies in countries involved in the BRI. The school, which offers postgraduate and doctorate programs in public management and business administration, has nearly 200 graduates from more than 60 countries to date.
"We are going to set more subjects for foreign students to draw lessons from China's experience of reform and opening-up to contribute to the development of their own countries," he says.
In an effort to expand the school and the scope of its think tanks, the 58-year-old has spent the last few years attending no less than 100 conferences, symposiums and forums at home and abroad annually, and he usually doesn't leave his office before 11 pm. The executive director is attending the second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation which started on Thursday.
"I feel energetic every day as I'm right at the center of the BRI now. I want to keep pace with the times and build on our strengths to work toward creating a better society," he says spiritedly.
"Keeping abreast with the times" is not just a core value the BRS highlights on its website, but also the personal life motto Hu has stuck to over the past four decades.
Growing up in an impoverished and remote lakeside village in Hubei province, Hu says he used to think about how he could turn around the fortunes of his hometown as he walked along the paths that crisscross the fields there.
It was this notion that motivated him to study rural economies and policies at Zhongnan University of Economics and Law in 1979, shortly after China started its process of economic reform by launching the household contract responsibility system in rural areas.
Four years later, he decided to go a step further in the field and entered the Rural Development Institute at the China Academy of Social Sciences as a researcher in 1983. There he was given the opportunity to travel extensively around the country to investigate the problems confronting rural development in the early stages of the reform and opening-up process.
"Because of the undeveloped transport infrastructure, I often suffered from carsickness when bumping along over the rough roads on a bus from morning to night," Hu recollects. "Although we had to face a range of difficulties during those trips, we were still passionately interested in solving problems, such as how to increase agricultural production and how to deal with the underemployment in China's rural areas."
In 1987, he traveled abroad for the first time where he spent seven months in the Philippines researching the local land and banking systems, farmers' incomes and other economic issues.
Hu Biliang talks with graduates of the Belt and Road School at Beijing Normal University during their graduation ceremony. [Photo provided to China Daily]
He says that the firsthand research he conducted provided a solid foundation for his academic achievements, such as winning the Sun Yefang Economic Prize in 1995 and in 2007.
Hu might have continued to study rural economies for longer if he hadn't had "another encounter with history" at Beijing Railway Station one day in 1989, the year large groups of laborers from China's rural hinterlands began their mass migration to the country's major cities to find work.
"It was when I saw hoards of migrant workers burdened by bags flowing out of the station, that I thought it was time for me to divert my attention toward studying urbanization and city planning," he recalls.
He soon applied to join a postgraduate program jointly offered by the Asian Institute of Technology in Thailand and the Technical University of Dortmund in Germany where his main area of research centered around urban-rural planning.
Similarly, as China faced serious bouts of inflation in 1993, Hu chose to enter the World Bank's Chinese branch the following year to study how macroeconomic control methods can be used to reduce inflation.
"I tried to steer my career according to the changing tides of how the country develops," says Hu. "I want to ride the waves of our days."
In his bid to keep up with the times, Hu spent a busy decade between 1997 and 2007 engaging in a range of commercial and academic enterprises. While setting up a successful financial consulting business and an information technology startup, he also obtained his doctorate in economics from the Witten/Herdecke University in Germany and studied e-commerce.
"My extensive experience in these fields allows me to easily arrive at a common language with experts from a variety of different disciplines and gather them together for the think tanks at the Belt and Road School," says Hu. "And I hope I also can offer useful suggestions to my students."
Encouraged by Hu, Aliu Omotayo Sikiru, a Nigerian postgraduate student at the Belt and Road School, plans to set up an online platform which connects China's top e-commerce portals with customers in his homeland.
The 28-year-old, a former college teacher in mathematics and economics, says the idea came to him when the master's degree program provided him with the opportunity to visit Chinese companies and make new business contacts.
Studying at the BRS also allowed him to meet classmates and high-ranking professors from all around the world and develop a clearer insight into global economics and trade, he adds.