25 Under 25: Interview with Julian Gewirtz

By Dhruv Aggarwal

“There is so much at stake for our generation to develop a deeper understanding of China,” Julian Gewirtz, a Harvard graduate and current Rhodes Scholar tells us. As he talked to China Hands from England, he explained his interest in the role that Western economists played during the time of China’s market reforms, the topic of his senior thesis in history at Harvard. Julian focused on how the Communist party leadership looked abroad for ideas and expertise from foreigners, and used them to transform the ideas put forward by Deng Xiaoping and other top leaders into policies and ideology for the socialist market economy.

“I was interested in the way the party develops its policies and in part how the party and the Chinese state relate to the international community,” Gewirtz says. “I was also interested in how [the Chinese state and leadership] relate to individual countries in what we call ‘the West’.” At Oxford he will be completing a book manuscript looking at the role of North American and European economists during China’s economic reforms of the 1980s.

Gewirtz has worked at two of the hottest start-ups on either side of the Pacific. In 2011, he interned for Facebook, where he focused on global expansion. A year later, he reported directly to Alibaba’s General Counsel in Hong Kong, where he focused on privacy and data use policies. An accomplished writer, he has interned with Beijing’s Caijing magazine and written for The Huffington Post and The Atlantic’s online outlets.

Gewirtz, who has been to China ten times since 2005, and started studying Chinese at eight, advises students not to think of China as being a monolithic society – in fact, he cites the remarkable variation seen in China as the reason why it is a fabulous place to visit. Substantial people-to-people contact, according to him, could resolve the “elite strategic mistrust” between the leaders of the countries over the long term. The benefits of that would not just be diplomatic or geopolitical, but in business and academic exchange as well.

“Learn Chinese, go to China, go to many different parts of China – not just Beijing or Shanghai, go to south and rural China, go to tier two and three cities, don’t be embarrassed to practice your Chinese and ask questions that get mixed reactions, and lastly, follow the news about China closely and read widely.”

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