“Dr. Yuan, what do you think are some misconceptions of China today?”
The question was posed on a cloudy Monday afternoon as students, faculty, and staff gathered in the Ken Olsen Science Center Chairman’s Room for Gordon College President D. Michael Lindsay’s conversation with Chinese pollster Dr. Victor Yuan Yue. It was the year’s first event in the Conversations with the President series, a forum that enables the entire campus to hear from talented leaders from across the globe. (Think Late Night with David Letterman but with a much younger host.)
Dr. Yuan responded, “I think there is still a misunderstanding about the opportunities in China. If you are looking for them, it is very possible to climb the social ladder.”
Dr. Yuan is chairman, founder, and president of Horizon Research Consultancy Group, the leading public policy polling firm in China. He started Horizon in 1992, in the adolescence of China's market economy. Safe to say, he’s now in the China mainstream in one of the best possible ways—so much so that on Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, he has 2.4 million followers and adds tens of thousands more each day.
In his conversation with President Lindsay, Dr. Yuan attributed his entrepreneurial success to his lifelong desire to follow through on his own ideas and ambitions—which he noted was unusual in his childhood years, in a culture in which traditionally, parents make many choices for their children, including what college to attend, and what vocation to pursue. When asked what his greatest achievement was, Dr. Yuan responded, “I never lost my identity.” Unlike many of his peers, he was able to cultivate his own interests as a young adult.
Dr. Yuan with President Lindsay
During his college years, Dr. Yuan decided, on his own initiative, to conduct a survey in his community. “It was through this that I finally realized my passion for research,” he recalled. When word began to spread that China was pushing for a marketing economy, he looked for an opportunity. “I saw companies like Gallup in the U.S. and thought, ‘This is the type of thing I want to do here. Not only can I pursue my interest in research at a large scale, but I can also make a profit!’”
The youngest of 12 children and the only member of his family to attend college, Dr. Yuan received his Ph.D. in sociology from Peking University and a master's in public administration from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. (He serves as vice president of the Harvard Club Beijing.) He was a Yale Visiting Scholar in 2007. Over more than 20 years of professional experience in social research and policy analysis, he has published more than 400 research pieces across various fields and more than 20 books on topics in economics, sociology and political science. He also is the host of Brainstorm, China's most popular business-focused TV talk show.