He Lian, a well-known economist, was born in Shaoyang, Hunan Province. He took the post of acting president of Nankai University in 1948.
In 1919, he went abroad to study in America and received a Doctor's degree from Yale University. In 1926, he came back and taught as a professor in the School of Economics at Nankai University. The next year, he took part in founding the Social and Economic Research Committee (later renamed the Economic Research Institute). In 1931, he became president of the School of Economics.
In the late 1930s, he worked in the Executive of National Government while he was still in charge of the research work of the Economic Institute of Nankai University. After victory in the Anti-Japanese War, he actively participated in rebuilding Nankai University. In 1947, he went to the US again as a visiting scholar at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University and served as a professor at Columbia University.