Harvard China Forum was founded in 1997 as Harvard China Review by Lee Zhang (Zhang Ligang), then a graduate student at Harvard, as an English-language magazine dedicated to China. Zhang’s goal was to introduce to an American audience “a real picture of China and its changes”, thus influencing policymakers on both sides of the Pacific. The initiative was supported by the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, where HCR was registered as a student organization.
The Forum was started in order to finance Harvard China Review’s publication. The original idea was attributed to Hugo Shong, who at the time was working as a journalist for International Data Group in Boston. The Forum was spearheaded by Lee Zhang, Faith Huang (Huang Feiyan, Hugo Shong’s assistant) and then Harvard Law School student Li Bo. The team managed to secure sponsorship deals from companies including John Hancock Insurance Company and Microsoft. The first Harvard China Forum commenced on May 1998 at the Kennedy School of Government, where attendees from around the world gathered to interact with speakers such as Zhou Xiaochuan, then CEO of China Construction Bank and Li Zhaoxing, then Chinese Ambassador to the US. Funded by a successful Forum, the first edition of Harvard China Review was published, with Zhang Yong as editor in chief and Jin Jun as chief designer.
Since the Forum’s founding in 1997, it has grown continuously along with its alumni as well as speakers, many of whom are now celebrated for their extraordinary achievements after Harvard. Lee Zhang, after laying the foundation for Harvard China Forum, returned to China and founded two publicly listed companies. iKang Guobin, his other brainchild, has become the country’s leading health management platform. Hugo Shong, who envisioned the Forum, became founding partner at IDG Capital Partners; Faith Huang, Hugo’s assistant who secured Microsoft’s sponsorship by reaching out directly to Steve Ballmer, married Zhang Ligang, her colleague at HCF; HCR Chief Designer Jin Jun is now deputy dean at the Central Academy of Fine Arts School of Design. Zhou Xiaochuan, CEO of China Construction Bank when he came to speak at Harvard in 1998, went on to pilot the country’s monetary policy as Governor of the People’s Bank of China; Ambassador Li, who also spoke to hundreds of attendees that year, was appointed five years later as Minister of Foreign Affairs.
More than a decade after Zhang Ligang left Harvard, two undergraduate students He Yiming and Shen Yichen took over as Co-Presidents of the Forum. During their tenure Harvard China Forum began its transition to an affiliate of Harvard College, a task to be completed by their successor, Jack Chen. Chen facilitated the formation of a strategic partnership between HCF and the Yabuli China Entrepreneur Conference, an association of Chinese business leaders. These initiatives instilled renewed momentum in Harvard China Forum, which grew to become the largest, most influential, and longest-existing student-run China-related Forum in the Americas. The Forum has become an annual gathering of more than one thousand delegates from the US and China – a truly diverse group of people from various industries brought together by their interest in China. These include entrepreneurs, finance and consulting professionals, investors, academics specializing in China-related studies, and students from Ivy League universities. Panel topics have also been constantly evolving to respond to trends in China and interests of delegates; some popular topics in recent years are finance, healthcare, entertainment, education, and international relations, among others. Last fall, the Forum rolled out Harvard China Focus, an initiative aimed at facilitating dialogues through social media posts, articles and multimedia content – both a tribute to Harvard China Review and an amplifier of Harvard China Forum’s influence in the digital age. As of February 2017, HCFocus has published more than 30 posts in the last five months, reaching more than one hundred thousand readers and viewers across the globe.