Yu Guangyuan (于光远), Chinese economist

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    Yu Guangyuan (于光远) (5 July 1915 – 23 September 2013) was a leading Chinese economist and government official who played a critical role during the early Reform and Opening period.

    Yu was responsible for advocating the theory of the “Primary Stage of Socialism,” and is considered one of the main authors of the concept of Socialism with Chinese characteristics.

    He served as a key adviser and speech-writer to Deng Xiaoping following the latter’s ascent to power in the late 1970’s.

    Yu was born in Shanghai in 1915, into one of the city’s oldest and most influential families. The Yu family first established its fortunes during the 19th century, as operators of the “sand ships” that serviced the city’s thriving port.

    Yu enrolled in Shanghai Datong University in 1932, before transferring to Beijing’s Tsinghua University in 1934, where he studied theoretical physics and graduated in 1936.

    Chinese physicist Zhou Peiyuan was one of Yu’s supervisor’s at Tsinghua, and presented Yu’s dissertation on theoretical physic to Albert Einstein for review during the latter’s time at the Institute for Advanced Study.

    In 1935 Yu took part in the December 9th Movement, which called for the Chinese government to more aggressively resist the depredations of Imperial Japan.

    In 1936 Yu helped to organise and lead the Chinese National Liberation Vanguard (中华民族解放先锋队) – a youth organization created with the assistance of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

    Yu joined the CCP in March 1937, and was dispatched from Beijing to the revolutionary hub of Yan’an in 1939, where he pursued research into agricultural economics.

    In 1954, just five years following the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, Yu became a fellow of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), and in 1956 was appointed representative to the CCP’s 8th National People’s Congress.

    Yu subsequently assumed the position of Executive Deputy Chair of the State Science and Technology Commission (国家科学技术委员会) in 1964 – the body which preceded the Ministry of Science and Technology.

    The Cultural Revolution (1966 – 1976) saw Yu ousted from his official posts and barred from the publication of his writings. His personal memoirs are considered a key primary source by historians of the period.

    In 1975 Yu became a senior official with the State Council’s Policy Research Office, as well as Director of Economic Research at the State Planning Commission (国家计划委员会) – the predecessor of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC).

    In 1979 Yu became head of CASS’s Marxist-Leninist Mao Zedong Research institute, and in 1982 he was appointed an advisor to CASS.

    He was a close associate and advisor of Deng Xiaoping during the latter’s ascent to power at the turn of the 1980’s.

    Yu was responsible for drafting Deng’s landmark speech on“Lib­er­a­tion of Thought, Seek­ing Truth from Facts, Uni­fi­ca­tion and Look­ing For­ward” (解放思想,实事求是,团结一致向前看) at the Third Plenary Session in December 1978, which is considered to mark the start of China’s Reform and Opening period.

    Yu is considered one of the key authors of the concept of Socialism with Chinese characteristics, and was the first to advocate the notion of the Primary Stage of Socialism.

    Starting from 1981 Yu began promoting the theory of the Primary Stage of Socialism, and advocating for its inclusion in central government documents.

    Yu also played a key role in plans to develop Shenzhen as a trial economic zone, and Hainan as a southern economic hub.

    Yu passed away in Beijing on 23 September 2013 at the age of 98.

    Key works

    Yu was a highly prolific author, who was renowned for his immense erudition in both the natural and social sciences.

    • “Political Economy” (政治经济学) (1952)
    • “Discussion on the Allocation of the Products of Semi-Socialist Agricultural Productive Cooperatives” (论半社会主义的农业生产合作社的产品分配) (1955)
    • “Political Economy Socialism Section Explorations” (政治经济学社会主义部分探索) (1958)
    • “Political Economy (Capitalism Section)” (政治经济学(资本主义部分)) (1977 – 1978)
    • “Conversations on Socialist Public Ownership and Labour-based Allocation Issues” (谈谈社会主义公有制和按劳分配问题) (1978)
    • “Economic and Social Development Strategies” (经济、社会发展战略) (1982)
    • “Discussing China’s Economic System Reforms” (论我国的经济体制改革) (1985)
    • “Philosophical Essays, Lectures and Records” (哲学论文演讲和笔记)