The World Future Society has been talking frequently about China for years. But just this year, for the very first time, the Society now has an actual presence in China. As Kenneth Hunter, chair of the WFS Board of Directors, announced Friday in an opening plenary speech at the WorldFuture Conference 2012 in Toronto, Dr. Zhouying Jin founded earlier this year a first-ever China chapter of the World Future Society.
Dr. Jin, who is a Society member and a senior researcher in the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, looks forward to leading the new chapter in not only better acquainting Society members everywhere with China’s issues and perspectives, but also promoting foresight thinking throughout China’s public sectors, business circles, and local communities. She spoke about her hopes for China and her new Society chapter in this interview with Rick Docksai, associate editor for THE FUTURIST.
Dr. Jin presents in a session at WorldFuture 2012.
THE FUTURIST: When did you join the World Future Society? When did you start this new China chapter?
Zhouying Jin: I attended this conference first in 1998, and almost every year since then, I have attended. But a very sad thing is that very few people from China attend. Almost always, it’s just myself. So this time, we decided to establish the chapter of the World Future Society in China, and we now have almost 40 professional members.
THE FUTURIST: Who else is participating in the chapter now?
Jin: They come from universities, some from government agencies and institutions. Others are entrepreneurs.
THE FUTURIST: How would you characterize the Chinese government’s interest in foresight?
Jin: So far, most of the people, they pay attention to at least three years or five years three years. They have formal three-year and five-year plans. But as for long term perspective, they really lack attention. And we very much struggle for financial support for futures studies.
THE FUTURIST: China is in the midst of major change now—business growth and Web accessibility on the one hand; environmental challenges, economic difficulties, and political dissent on the other. What role do you see futurists in advising and directing developments in China toward the better?
Jin: This is our aim as futurists in China. We must show up for our crises and be a warning system on what problems they have. And our aim is to give them some design model for a good future. There is a good future that we want, and to get this good future, we need some road map. This I am doing as a systematic solution.
Science and technology are important, but they are not everything. Many people are very concerned about the engineering projects, but to change the development models, I think technology can have a role but not the main role. The important thing is how society—from the top leadership to the local officers—changes the thinking model from the traditional development model that everybody is pursing, based on money, to green development.
And it’s not just an environmental perspective. There are also the social and economic components that we must include if we are to have a harmonious society of smart growth.
And for that, government intervention is not enough. We must also include civic and local governance and researchers. But that is very difficult because, as a developing country, we’re in the stage of accumulating the primary assets. In government and business, they’re more interested in how to get the financial assets. But over 10 years we’re taking about the future. Most people don’t like talking about the future. They say we’re busy now.
Meanwhile, air pollution is very heavy. We just feel that the problem is not just the money. We need some comprehensive, systematic solution; not just more money, infrastructure, and technology. I’m talking about a systematic solution.
Governments, plus NGOs, and business community, they still mostly are more interested in economic profits. The central government realizes the long-term environmental crisis, but for many of the local governments, it’s a problem. Some local governments—we have 31 provinces—some local governments, they are more interested in economic development. They make economic development number one. That is understandable, but there is a huge social and environmental cost.
THE FUTURIST: What help can the World Future Society and related organizations give to your new chapter?
Jin: I really hope that the World Future Society can support China’s future studies and futures research, because we are in a very difficult position. But as for how to awaken the citizens and local officers, and even the central government, we need some deep research and forecasting to show how dangerous the situation is. We need long-term studies. But we have very few investments for them. It’s very hard to get the money.
I advocate to government officials, but my position is as a chapter leader. I want to remain an NGO leader, not a government leader.
THE FUTURIST: That is a position in which you have more independence, I imagine.
Jin: Yes, but independent means less money. So I really hope that the Society can help our work in China. I’ve been fighting this fight for almost 10 years.