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Biography of Sun Yefang

Sun Yefang (1908-1983), formerly known as Xue Eguo, was born in Wuxi, Jiangsu Province. Sun was a renowned Chinese economist. He joined the Communist Party of China in 1924 and studied economics at the Sun Yat-sen University in Moscow. After graduation he worked at the university as a translator for the Course in Political Economy. In 1930, Sun returned to China and soon he joined the Social Sciences Institute of the Central Research Academy. He worked under Dr. Chen Hansheng studying the rural economy. He was a key member of the Chinese Society of Rural Economic Research, a left-wing economic research organization. After the Anti- Japanese war broke out, Sun assumed a teaching post at the Party School of the Central China Bureau and a number of other institutions.


After 1949, Sun became a Vice Minister of Industries at the East China Military and Political Committee and the Dean of Shanghai College of Finance and Economics. In 1954, he was appointed Deputy Director of the State Statistics Bureau involved in building a statistical and accounting system for the new People’s Republic. After 1957, Sun became the Director of the Economic Research Institute at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the most senior academic research institution in China. In this position, he established his reputation as one of the preeminent academic leaders of the economics circle by facilitating the nexus between economics research and economics work, introducing new research methodologies and tools, creating an accommodating environment for research activities and chairing the fortnightly research debate on economic issues.


Starting 1956, recognizing the inherent flaws of the Stalin system, Sun wrote a number of famous papers and reports including Planning and Statistics Based on the Law of Value, On Gross Output Value and On the Fiscal System within an Economy with Ownership by the Entire People. From the perspective of market socialism, his works proposed a systematic solution to institutional reform. Those ideas became highly influential in the Chinese economics circle and academia of the time.


Sun’s pioneering research attracted wide attention and debate in the early days, but after 1964, given the harsh political reality, Sun was accused of being “the biggest revisionist in China’s economics circle” and was subjected to political criticism and later imprisonment of 7 years during the Cultural Revolution. The jail experience further solidified Sun’s academic beliefs and led him to write a long paper entitled My Debate with Some Economic Figures. He wrote from memory the Theories of Socialist Economy for 85 times. When he was released, he proclaimed that he would “not change my beliefs, or my actions or my opinions”.


Sun became a member of the 5 th CPPCC, an advisor to CASS and a member of the Central Committee of Advisors after the 3 rd Plenum of the 11 th CPC Central Committee. Despite his failing health and various illnesses, Sun finished drafting the outline of the Theories of Socialist Economy and published 22 papers to actively drive reforms of China’s political and economic system.


For his efforts in promoting academic progress and institutional change in China, Sun commanded great respect among the Chinese. He showed great courage in upholding the integrity of rules and protecting the truth while remaining attentive to practicalities. His pursuit of rigor and precision in academic research, his fortitude in always speaking up for justice, his constant readiness to take responsibility, his sense of tolerance for different views, his indifference to fame or money and his unpretentious character stands as an eternal beacon to all scholars.


On 22 February 1983, when Sun passed away in Beijing at the age of 75, China lost one of the greatest economists of our time.

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