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NEF interview Yuk-fai Fong


How to innovate the theory of Economics? How to publish an article in an international top journal? Can you give an introduction about the theoretical innovation of the articles/papers that Chinese scholars have published in a top international journal?


Many thanks for inviting me for the interview. I think many Chinese scholars are much more qualified than me to answer these questions, but I am happy to share my personal opinion. Regarding how to make innovation in economic theory, I don’t think there is a teachable approach or formula to come up with new ideas. Some people simply have a lot of ideas, but others struggle to think differently from what is known in the literature. It’s especially difficult for PhD students to come up with their own ideas, but it gets easier with experience. I think critical thinking is very important. When I read works in the existing literature, I would constantly ask, “Are the assumptions made in the paper reasonable? What if an important assumption is changed? Would we get very different findings?” For those who struggle to come up with their own ideas but are strong in technical skills, I suggest that they first collaborate with others who have more new ideas. They can contribute with their mathematical and problem-solving skills. After they get through a couple of collaborative projects, they probably would become better thinkers and start to come up with their own ideas. 


On the question of how to publish in top journals, I can only speak from my experience working in the field of applied microeconomic theory. To publish in a Top-5 international journal, the paper has to contain a non-trivial theoretical contribution and has at least some real-life relevance. If either one element is lacking, the chance of getting into a top journal is very slim. Therefore, apart from producing a sound and innovative theory, it is important to write a good introduction and convince the reader that your theory helps us better understand real-life phenomena.


Finally, I would like to remark that for PhD students who aspire to be a theorist, I strongly encourage them to tool up with mathematical skills. No one can effectively teach you how to come up with new ideas, but everyone can try to improve his/her mathematics. Unsolved theoretical issues in Economics have become increasingly mathematical. Also, for the same idea one conceives, with better mathematical skills, he/she can explore the idea with more depth and this can improve the chance of getting the paper into a top journal.


It is difficult to give an introduction on the theoretical innovations by Chinese scholars because these contributions are made in various ares of Economics. I’m happy to say that it is not uncommon for Chinese economists to publish in the top-5 economics journals. Generally it is very difficult to publish in these journals and it is even harder to publish serially in these journals. On the other hand, many Chinese scholars are able to do that and some of them have published five times or more. These scholars include Professors Jushan BAI, Xiaohong CHEN, Han HONG, Hanming FANG, Qingmin LIU, Shouyong SHI, Lungfei LI, Wing SUEN, Serena Ng, Shang-Jin WEI, Wei XIONG, Junsen ZHANG, etc. I’m sure I’ve made important omissions.



What is the most interesting topic about the economic development in China and other developing countries among the international academic circles? What is the problem that the international academic circles think it is worth to discuss in depth in theory?


I’m sorry that I’m not an expert in economic development in China so I’m afraid that I am unable to provide an insightful answer to this important question.



At present, which Chinese scholar is worthy of attention in the world economics circle? And why?


Quite a number of famous Chinese scholars have made significant contributions to the field of economics. I have a great deal of respect for them and it is hard to single out one or two as most worthy of attention. Instead, I can talk about a couple of younger rising stars. They are Professor Zhiguo He of University of Chicago and Professor Qingmin Liu of Columbia University. They are respectively Full Professor and Tenured Associate Professor at top universities and are respected scholars in their respective fields. Since they’re still young, they have a great deal of potential to accomplish even more and that’s why I think they’re worthy of attention.



NEF now is awarding the China Economics Prize, do you think it is meaningful at present and is in the right time? What issues do you like to talk and discuss with Chinese scholars?


It is very meaningful to award the China Economics Prize and the timing is good. I witness that many Chinese students have tremendous raw talent. Many of them have already taken PhD-level courses before they enroll into top PhD programs in North America or Europe. When provided with proper inspirations and motivations, many of them can achieve greatness. I think young Chinese scholars should believe in themselves and aspire to become global leading scholars. By recognize top Chinese scholars in Economics, NEF helps identify role models for young scholars. These role models can provide young scholars the needed inspiration and motivation.

Regarding the last part of your question, one issue I am very interested in is the concern for food safety in China. A great deal of economic value is destroyed because of consumers’ lack of trust of Chinese food products. I would like to see a good economic theory being developed to address this pressing economic and social issue.




◆please indicate the source if authorized: National Economics Foundation

◆photo:National Economics Foundation