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State plan seeks to attract talent, halt brain drain

2011-11-23 14:30    Ecns.cn     Web Editor: Wang Fan
China's Thousand Talents Plan aims to attract top notch international talent to return and contribute to the country's economy. (Photo: China Economic Weekly)

China's "Thousand Talents Plan" aims to attract top notch international talent to return and contribute to the country's economy. (Photo: China Economic Weekly)

(Ecns.cn) – The "Thousand Talents Plan" initiated in late 2008 is seen by many as an unprecedented move by the Department of Organization under the Communist Party of China Central Committee (CPCCC) to address the country's problem of brain drain.

With a state-level program aiming to bring top overseas scientists and talent back to the country, the department plans to make use of the recruitment drive to make breakthroughs in key technology, promote hi-tech industries, spur new disciplines and nurture an environment conducive to high quality work.

In the past three years, the program has already attracted a number of Chinese-born professionals, academics and experts to return and contribute to the country's economy, most of them between the ages of 35 and 50, the best years for innovative ideas and pioneering work.

Some say it is good timing for these experts, and that they have an unparalleled opportunity to make the country a better one. Yet others still worry about the red tape involved in the program and the bureaucratic practices hindering the overall environment.

Temptations of returning

China has sent 1.92 million students and scholars to foreign countries for further studies in various fields since 1978, but to the consternation of the government only about 630,000 of them (less than one-third) have returned. The rate is even lower for those who graduated with doctorate degrees in science and engineering in the U.S., according to a report cited by China Economic Weekly.

With such a high degree of brain drain, China has undoubtedly lost competitive strength in its rapid development.

In the book "Chinese Students Encounter America" written by Qian Ning in 1996, the author depicted a popular scene when two Chinese students meet at an American university. On such occasions, the conversation usually began with questions concerning expected graduation dates, job hunting or plans to buy a house, yet few would ask "When are you going back to China?" Such a decision was not considered a wise choice.

Ten years later, Ning Zhijun wrote a book called "The Revolution of China," in which he told a very different story describing another kind of opinion held by Chinese students in the U.S. According to Ning, the most popular question had become, "Why are you still here?"

Although this might be an artistic exaggeration, it implies a changing perspective towards China, the world's second largest economy.