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Ai Chunrong

Golden Phoenix from Luojia Mountain


September 2017

In recognition of their contributions to econometrics, the National Economics Foundation awards the China Economics Prize 2017 to Professor Zou Zhizhuang from Princeton University and Professor Chen Xiaohong from Yale University.


Chen Xiaohong is from Luojia Mountain in the city of Wuhan, Hubei Province, with educated parents. Unlike a prototypical aggressive and strong Wuhan woman, she is small and has fragile appearance, as if a gentle wind could blow her away. Under the gentle appearance lies her persistence and strength.


She was born and grew up in Luojia, a place full of nature beauty and with trees and flowers abound. It is an ideal place for dreaming and pursuing. Luojia used to be one of the leading reformers in China’s higher education. It did not play by the (flawed) rules, believing family background and diploma not equal to talent. It cherished academic freedom and persistence in the pursuit of truth. It believed the world is fair and gold will shine. This type of value and culture are responsible for the success of some distinguished scholars. The late economist, Dr.Yang Xiaokai, is one such scholar who was able to come through Luojia to become a well-known economist, even though he did not have a college diploma. Dr. Liu Chuanhai is another scholar went through Luojia without a college diploma to become accomplished statistician at Purdue University. Professor Yi Zhongtian is the third example scholar without college diploma went through Luojia to become well-known cultural celebrity. Their success stories are not random events. They are the products of Luojia culture and value. The same culture and value also shaped whom Chen Xiaohong is today. Like her predecessors, she likes to immerse herself in what she enjoys doing in a free environment, ignoring outside temptations and persevere in adversity.


Chen Xiaohong was selected to study economics in the Sino-U.S. Ford Training Center of Modern Economics at Renmin University, after graduating from Wuhan University with bachelor degree in mathematics. She then went to the University of Western Ontario in Canada to pursue a master degree in economics. After that, she went to the University California, San Diego to pursue a doctoral degree in economics. She obtained her Ph.D. in 1993.


It could be her mathematical skills led her to choose econometric theory as her dissertation field. Under the supervision of the famed theoretical econometrician, she completed a dissertation on neural network with applications in individual learning behavior. This was not a sexy subject at the time. In big data era, this becomes fashionable. Her exploratory research 25 years ago already touched on many important subjects in the popular deep learning.


Chen Xiaohong’s first job was an assistant professor in the economics department of the University of Chicago. She was one of the few Chinese scholars who were able to obtain a tenure track position in the top economics departments in North America universities right after obtaining Ph.D. in economics. To survive the rigor of tenure in the top economics department is very difficult even for native scholars, let alone Chinese scholars who face additional language and cultural barriers. The top economics departments normally do not keep their junior faculties but they will hire them back after they make exceptional achievements. Chen Xiaohong could not continue her job at the University of Chicago, but her time at Chicago allows her to start and complete her most significant work, which cements her status in the field of econometrics.


Chen Xiaohong moved to the London School of Economics (LSE) in UK from the University of Chicago. LSE is an academic paradise, just like Luojia in Wuhan. The setback from the University of Chicago did not discourage her academic pursuit. She stayed on her research program and enjoyed her academic freedom. Her efforts finally paid off. The work she did during her LSE time advanced her research and laid a foundation for her return to the international academic center, U.S. and for whom she is today.


Chen Xiaohong’s research is in the field of econometrics, an interdisciplinary area of economics and statistics. It is one of the three foundation disciplines in economic. The other two are macroeconomics and microeconomics. Macroeconomics and microeconomics provide a theoretical framework for analyzing economic observations, and qualitative guidance for economic decision-making. Econometrics offers models and methodologies for analyzing economic data and provides quantitative guidance for economic decision-making. The unique role of econometrics requires modeling of relationships between economic variables. In the early days, econometricians relied heavily on the parameterization of the models. However, parametric models are subject to specification errors. Mis-specified models usually produce inconsistent results, which in turn, lead to erroneous decisions. Building robust models to mitigate the specification errors has been a frontier research since 1980s. Econometricians started to introduce flexible specifications, such as semiparametric specifications that parameterize only the part of the model that researchers are interested in and the nonparametric specifications that does not parameterize the model at all.


Chen Xiaohong’s work provides a theoretical foundation for the estimation and inference of a class of flexible models. Her most influential and highly cited work is the co-authored paper on the semiparametric conditional moment restrictions models, published in a leading economics journal Econometrica in 2003. That work was completed in 1998 and was soon cited as one of the econometrics developments by Professor Daniel McFadden, winner of the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences in 2000, in his Nobel Prize lecture. Chen’s work extends Professor Lars Hansen’s work on the generalized method of moment restriction. Professor Hansen also cited the work in his 2013 Nobel lecture. Even today, Chen’s research is cutting age.


I met with Chen Xiaohong when both of us just started our career. Since then, common interest and pursuit has brought us together and formed lifetime friendship. I applauded every accomplishment she achieved, and congratulated on every honor she received. I give the National Economics Foundation thumbs up for awarding the China Economics Prize 2017 to Chen Xiaohong. Real gold eventually shines!

◆please indicate the source if authorized: National Economics Foundation

◆photo:National Economics Foundation