Emanuel Pastreich, director of the Asia Institute, with Ding Yifan, senior research fellow at the National Strategy Institute at Tsinghua University.
By Wu Jin
“The sounds of winds, rains and recitations are in no ways escaping my ear and the family, state and earthly affairs have never failed to draw my concern.”
This tenet, written by Gu Xiancheng, an ancient Chinese scholar at Donglin Academy, became an aspirational guideline among the intellectuals who had to put up with a corruption-riddled society and face a falling Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).
The academy, established in 1111 by famous Confucian philosophers Cheng Hao and Cheng Yi, fell apart only 18 years later. After studying his predecessors’ ideas and vision, Gu revived the academy a few decades before the collapse of the decadent Ming.
According to Emanuel Yi Pastreich, director of the Asia Institute and an American Sinologist, the Donglin Academy served as a prototype for contemporary Chinese think tanks, hundreds of years before the founding of many American think tanks at the end of World War II.
Pastreich made his remarks on Jan. 30 at a symposium held in Beijing. As part of the global release of the 11th edition of the “Go to Global Think Tank Index,” involving the efforts of the Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program (TTCSP) at the University of Pennsylvania, the symposium briefed the audience on the ranking of think tanks worldwide and was followed by a panel discussion on why think tanks matter.
According to the ranking, the Brookings Institution (United States), the French Institute of International Relations (France) and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (United States) were the top three think tanks around the world in terms of comprehensive research competence and influence.
The China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, ranked 29th, was the leading Chinese think tank, followed by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, which secured the 38th position on the top 100 list.
“The annual ranking is dedicated to improving the research capabilities of the think tanks while they are serving for policy makers in national, regional and theoretic dimensions,” said He Yuping, general manager of the Penn Wharton China Center.
During the symposium, TTCSP Director James G. McGann addressed the audience via video, saying he is grateful to partners around the world for the whole scene program, which helped make the global community of think tanks a reality.
The history of modern think tanks goes back to the end of WWII in the United States, when the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace played a pivotal role in passage of the 1948 U.N. Genocide Convention and the Brookings Institution put forward recommendations which helped shape the Marshall Plan.
In recent years, think tanks have been mushrooming in different countries with varying commitments. In Mexico, the think tank Ethos created a comic strip to highlight for younger generations the prevalent corruption that has affected the country.
In Africa, the think tank ACCORD, which became the first African NGO in history to address the U.N. Security Council, has played an integral role in conflict resolution and peacemaking activities across the continent.
During the outbreak of Ebola in 2014, the Institute of Development Studies from the U.K. led the development of the Ebola Response Anthropology Platform and was later rewarded with the Economic and Social Research Council’s Outstanding International Impact Prize for its rapid and effective response during the epidemic.
“Over 160 organizations in about 100 cities around the world join in together to host locally produced programs that is to explore why think tank matters,” said McGann. “I believe they are critically important.”
“But to remain relative and competitive, they need to adapt and transform their strategies, structures and operations, providing innovative and excellent ideas to remain the central mission of think tanks,” he added.
According to He, the world today is facing a host of serious crises, such as shortages of water and food as well as the many war-torn regions of the globe.
Moreover, He said, the rise of populism against globalization has introduced huge uncertainty for the future.
In dealing with these challenges, the voices of credible organizations count.
According to Ding Yifan, senior research fellow at the National Strategy Institute at Tsinghua University, these outbreaks of populism may bring people to realize the importance of think tanks.
His idea was echoed by Fang Jin, deputy secretary general of the China Development Research Foundation, saying that think tanks should be valued for their professionalism, neither flattering nor following suit, at a time when superficial and dubious reporting is supposedly sweeping across social media.
In this challenging media environment, people who are bewildered by the rumors of distorted news in cyberspace are searching for truth, so they have begun looking to prestigious media outlets, Fang said.
According to Liu Qian, managing director of the Greater China region at The Economist Group, the magazine’s content subscriptions are estimated to grow by 30 percent amid these mounting uncertainties and challenges.
A book named the “Global Think Tanks,” jointly written by Miao Lu, the deputy director and secretary-general of the Center for China and Globalization (CCG), a Beijing-based think tank, and Wang Huiyao, chairman of the CCG, was released during the symposium.