Who Is 'Silver Fox' Yi Gang? China Appoints U.S.-Trained Economist as Central Bank Governor

China has appointed U.S. college-educated Yi Gang, known as the “silver fox,” to be its next governor of the People's Bank of China (PBOC), the country’s central bank. He’ll replace Zhou Xiaochuan, governor of the PBOC for 15 years.

Yi, 60, has been deputy governor of the PBOC since 2008. He has worked at the central bank for over two decades, joining in 1997 as deputy secretary general of the Monetary Policy Committee after a career in academia.

His academic career flourished on American soil, according to his profile on the PBOC website. In the late 1970s, after the death of Chairman Mao, ruler of communist China for nearly 30 years, Yi attended Hamline University, a liberal arts college in Saint Paul, Minnesota, where he was awarded a B.A. in business administration.

Yi Gang Yi Gang (center), deputy governor of the People's Bank of China, talks to the media at the Great Hall of the People during the seventh plenary session of the National People's Congress in Beijing on March 19. REUTERS/Stringer

He went on to study for a Ph.D. in economics at the University of Illinois, achieving his doctorate in 1986. While Yi was there, the economics department hosted a guest lecture by Milton Friedman, the influential economist famed for his staunch advocacy of capitalism and the free market.

After completing his doctorate, Yi stayed in the United States for another eight years, teaching as an associate professor at the University of Indiana until 1994.

He left to return to China and co-founded the China Center for Economic Research (CCER) at Peking University, where he remains a professor alongside his work at the PBOC.

Yi earned his "silver fox" nickname in Chinese state media because of his gray hair and reputation for being suave, charming and tough, reported Reuters.

“I feel peaceful and solemn now, as the mission is holy and glorious,” Yi told journalists about his appointment, reported Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post. He said his monetary policy stance would be "prudent" and told China to expect a new wave of "reform and opening" policies from Beijing in the spring.

China is attempting to shift its economy from rapid growth reliant on vast injections of state money to a sustainable, low-growth model based more on private investment.

It is also starting to open up its closely guarded currency, renminbi, also called the yuan, allowing it to be traded in approved hubs such as London. In 2016, China chose London as the location for the first-ever renminbi-denominated sovereign bond to be issued outside its borders.

Yi takes over at the PBOC while it's the central bank with the world’s largest holding of financial assets, according to the investment consultancy Yardeni Research. The PBOC has $5.7 trillion in assets. European Central Bank, in second place, has $5.6 trillion. The U.S. Federal Reserve, in fourth place, has $4.4 trillion, below the Bank of Japan in third, with its $4.9 trillion in holdings.

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