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A Diligent Educator in Modern Economics: through Professor Li’s Career of 30 years

Professor Zhengjun Li is the scholar who first introduced Gorden Tullock’s economic theory of rent-seeking into China during his graduate studies, which involves seeking to increase one’s share of existing wealth without creating new wealth. After graduation, Professor Li devoted himself to education. After 30 years of teaching, he accumulated a mountain of lecture notes about western economics, which he recently published as a textbook in economics.

(The textbooks edited by Professor Li; photo provided by China Renmin University Press)

When mentioning Professor Li’s elective course “An Exploration in Economics”, Xiuru Deng, a junior student from the School of Law, exclaimed “His course is demanding, but well-prepared. I took it in my freshman year, and now I can still recall the theory of surplus value. He delivered it in a very funny way”. Even during the self-quarantine time, there were still more than 300 people attending this elective course online, and half of them were teachers from different universities. All of them studied assiduously. Deng said, “It’s too hard to find another professor who teaches as diligently as him.”

“Absolutely, every student is interested in learning, so if teachers want to maintain their interest, they must have it first,” said Professor Li, when he talked about why his students were so active in his class. He advocated students to spontaneously participate in the class by incorporating the Flipped Classroom Model, and discussed academic questions with them in his spare time.” Sometimes, I ask myself, what kind of education do I want for my own children if they sit in my classroom. My confusion about teaching evaporated when thinking over this, then I willingly sacrificed a lot for teaching.”


(Professor Li is giving a lecture; photo provided by an anonymous student of his)

Professor Li is also a fan of Chinese literature. He combined Dream in the Red Chamber, a Chinese renowned classical novel, with his economic course, for he considered those two subjects shared a same research object – the society, but in different measures. In his course “Introduction to Economics”, he explained the term “economy” by asking students to reread Dream in the Red Chamber, where they could find a proper context for the term. In addition, “economy” means household management in ancient Greek, which is also the main theme of this book. Through reading, students could deepen their understanding of the consistency and difference in “household management” between the east and the west, and they also know how traditional societies solve economic problems. “It’s totally new for us to see Economics from such a special perspective,” said Xinzhu Zhang, a student from the School of Business.

(Professor Li is giving an online course for one Chinese and two Italian students; photo provided by Lizhi News )

Some foreign students also chose Professor Li as their graduate advisor, and this was a new challenge for him in his career. After several semesters’ exploration, he found out two common features of them: lack of a basic knowledge in economics and a poor foundation in the Chinese language. In order to help them overcome those difficulties, Professor Li required them to submit reading reports of an assigned economic theory book on a weekly basis. He inspected their reading through the online course and helped them to ensure every word made sense. “I’m looking forward to a new graduation standard for foreign graduates as soon as possible, for it will help us to improve education equality and avoid academic fraud,” Professor Li summarized.