China honors most influential foreigners

China recently released a list of the 15 foreigners who have had the biggest influence on China since its economic reforms 30 years ago. It’s no surprise that the government — led by its arch-technocrats, hydraulic engineer President Hu Jintao and geological engineer Premier Wen Jiabao — chose to shine the spotlight primarily on Nobel ...

591318_081205_pei5.jpg
591318_081205_pei5.jpg

China recently released a list of the 15 foreigners who have had the biggest influence on China since its economic reforms 30 years ago. It's no surprise that the government -- led by its arch-technocrats, hydraulic engineer President Hu Jintao and geological engineer Premier Wen Jiabao -- chose to shine the spotlight primarily on Nobel winners, scientists, and bureaucratic heads.

Those honored include Chinese-American physicist Franklin Yang Chen-ning, who helped restore China's research community after the bleak years of the Cultural Revolution; Hein Verbruggen, the International Olympic Committee member who helped bring the Olympics to Beijing; and Seiei Toyama, a Japanese environmental expert who "worked on reforestation projects in regions subject to desertification," according to the Wall Street Journal.

China recently released a list of the 15 foreigners who have had the biggest influence on China since its economic reforms 30 years ago. It’s no surprise that the government — led by its arch-technocrats, hydraulic engineer President Hu Jintao and geological engineer Premier Wen Jiabao — chose to shine the spotlight primarily on Nobel winners, scientists, and bureaucratic heads.

Those honored include Chinese-American physicist Franklin Yang Chen-ning, who helped restore China’s research community after the bleak years of the Cultural Revolution; Hein Verbruggen, the International Olympic Committee member who helped bring the Olympics to Beijing; and Seiei Toyama, a Japanese environmental expert who “worked on reforestation projects in regions subject to desertification,” according to the Wall Street Journal.

If that list leaves you scratching your head, you aren’t alone. It does contain one “big name” though: starchitect I.M. Pei, who was actually born in Guangzhou before he moved to Hong Kong as a child and later the United States.

It’s surely right to honor these people for their work, particularly when they otherwise might be overlooked. But the list leaves me wondering: Which other foreigners might make the list? Michael Jordan? Kobe Bryant? After all, basketball is now the most popular sport in China. Bill Gates? Gorbachev? As long as it’s not Ronald McDonald.

Photo by Paul Hawthorne/Getty Images

Jerome Chen is a researcher at Foreign Policy.

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