Profile: Zhou Xiaochuan, controversial governor of China’s central bank

Born in 1948, Zhou Xiaochuan has come a long way from the rebellious teenager on a state farm during China’s Cultural Revolution; he is now the country’s longest serving, and arguably most radical, governor of the Chinese central bank.

It may be a new year, but all eyes are still on China – another shock devalution of the yuan earlier this week caused turmoil on markets globally. And Zhou Xiaochuan is the man behind the news – quietly recommending free-market economic policy to the State Councils that control Communist China.

The son of a an early Communist leader persecuted by the government then in power, Zhou was sent to a state farm for difficult teenagers in 1968, where he defied the powers that be by listening to banned classical music. His luck changed when President Jiang Zemin, a former protégé of his father, came to power in 1989 – and his career began to take off.

Xiaochuan landed a string of jobs in the upper echelons of China’s finance sector, from the president of China Construction Bank to the head of of the China Securities Regulatory Commission. His career has several impressive milestones; over-hauling the state-owned banks to encourage a more competitive market and persuading Beijing to devalue the yuan, paving the way for a free-floating currency that can challenge the US dollar, to name just a few.

Since 2002, Zhou has has served as the governor of the People’s Bank of China, but success rarely comes easily; over the years, he has been heavily criticised for ‘selling out to foreigners’, in the case of the modification of the state banks, and for disagreeing with the huge economic stimulus plan ordered in 2008 by Premier Wen Jiabao. Rumours have been abound that his time as head of the Bank may soon be over; however, he has so far outlived three administrations and his reign looks set to continue for a while longer.

Throughout his time as head of the central bank, Zhou has consistently pushed for a freer, globalized currency and is almost solely responsible for the rising international use of the yuan since 2005. Amongst friends and peers, he is well known for his excellent English, love of tennis and ability to mix easily with global economic figures. Over the last couple of months, however, China has been on something of a downward spiral – arguably, it is now that Zhou’s skills as an economic leader will be truly put to the test.

Miranda Wadham on 08/01/2016
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