China has recently disclosed a national strategy for enlisting universities to advise the government through campus-based think tanks that will engage in research for various ministries. This move might surprise some academics in the United States. A review of the history of American universities and think tanks, however, reveals complex relationships between these organizations and government that are not as dissimilar to those involving their Chinese counterparts as they might appear. In both countries, think tanks are institutions with a certain degree of formal independence whose research projects are designed to influence decision makers. Thus, all think tanks have a political dimension. The connection between knowledge and power goes back to the dawn of history. Every important country has expanded its knowledge base as it has increased its power base, most recently the United States, whose state-of-the-art universities and think tanks were created to meet the needs of its booming economy. Perhaps this is what the Chinese government had in mind when it announced its plan to rely more heavily on institutions of higher learning for advice. As China’s power grows, so does its need for knowledge, and its universities and think tanks, like their American counterparts before them, are embracing their new role as purveyors of expertise for a country that is about to become the largest economy in the world.
November 1, 2014
Research and Occasional Papers Series (ROPS)
THE RISE OF THINK TANKS IN CHINA AND THE UNITED STATES: Their Interactions with Universities by Cristina Gonzalez and Xinpei Zhang CSHE.10.14 (November 2014)