(Author’s footnote: Shenzhou 9 flew into space, just as Tiangong 1 did. On the internet, and during leisure time this caused a great stir. As per usual, just like in most discussions, it was very easy to get caught up in mutual emotional slander. In order to increase the constructiveness of this discussion, and avoid a big brawl, maintain the status-quo by leaving the matter unsettled; for those immersed in the dream of having the world’s best high speed rail and turning a blind eye to the MOR’s large scale corruption, the 723 tragedy and many other man-made disasters, I’ll give a reminder by this special transcription of an interview conducted over a month ago. Given that the interview was aired in two parts, so this article is also divided in two, so as to correspond.)
Speaking of China ‘s scientific and technological development, governmental and popular views are not the same, in the official media we often see that Chinese science and technology is making an important leap, further closing the gap with mainstream innovative countries. Some fields have already entered the realms of cutting edge technology. Cases such as the launch of Shenzhou 5, the docking of Shenzhou 8 and Tiangong 1, the record-breaking high-speed rail, the launch of an aircraft carrier along with F-15 fighter jets demonstrate international presence. However, some Chinese academics are puzzled by these examples, wondering how in a period of 5-6 years the level of Chinese science and technology has managed to catch up with the standards set by other countries over 20-30 years. For today’s Chinese observation program, we invite renowned economist, and expert on China’s problems Mr. Cheng Xiaonong to talk about how Chinese science and technology has achieved this “high speed” development, and where it currently stands.
Host: Hello teacher Cheng!
Cheng Xiaonong: Hello, and hello to the listeners.
Host: Recently our station received a lot of audience feedback, hope you can talk about the development of Chinese science and technology and education. Because of the time, today let’s talk about China’s scientific and technological situation. Let’s talk about China’s scientific and technological development. As I understand it, most of China’s major scientific and technological achievements of the past five decades have focused on military aspects, such as nuclear warheads, guided missiles, man-made satellites. Also recently its common to see things, for example, about Shenzhou 5, 6, and 7, the launch of an aircraft carrier along with F-15 fighter jets, as well as a world-class high-speed rail and so on, on the local internet and in media reports. China has some scholars that are puzzled by the speed of the development of Chinese science and technology. It seems that in the past 5-6 years the standards achieved have caught up with those established by other countries over the last 20-30 years. How do you view this kind of development in Chinese science and technology?
Cheng Xiaonong: First, I think you can’t simply mix military applications of science and technology with those of civilian use. These two applications from the perspectives of research and development and investment are completely different, and so must be treated separately.
I’ll first talk about the military application of Chinese science and technology. If we talk about the rapid development of this in communist countries, this one point, then actually China really isn’t a leading country. Relatively speaking, it is lagging behind. In communist countries, the most successful one in the development of the military application of science and technology was the Soviet Union. In the 1970s, their military application of science and technology was considerably extensive, and in many fields, although it had completely separated from western technology, it was able overall through its independent research and development to rival that of western nations. For instance, with the exception of aircraft carriers, fighter planes, cruise missiles, tanks, heavy artillery, military communications, satellites etcetera, the difference between the Soviet Union and America isn’t much. So, if you want to choose a an example of a Communist party successfully developing their military application of science and technology, then the Soviet Union is the best example. It even launched a manned satellite into space before America. Today, people over fifty can perhaps remember back then the Soviet Union being the first, the world’s first astronaut was Yuri Gagarin, the first astronaut to fly in a manned spacecraft. If we take this standard into consideration, it would seem Communist countries also have their superiority, which is in the extraordinary speed at which the military application of science and technology is developed.
So, the next step is to ask two questions. First, how can it can develop so fast? Second, what is the basis of this superiority? Is this a robust foundation? I’ll first answer the former. The main reasons why communist countries are able to achieve rapid advancements in the military application of science and technology are very simple. They spare no effort, after investing in large amounts of manpower and physical resources, with no regard to the costs, they are able to achieve this result.
Communist countries have a feature, ordinary people can suffer hardship, like when China in the same year that it built an atomic bomb, millions of Chinese died from starvation. If the manufacture of the atomic bomb was halted, by taking the funds saved from this, by keeping the gold and precious foodstuffs that were exported, by exchanging pork for foreign currency, by not buying materials for atomic bombs, and by using these things to sustain the lives of the people, then China could have saved millions of lives. However, in terms of a communist regime this is a typical example. Taking what the then minister of foreign affairs Chen Yi said, we don’t need clothes we need to build atomic bombs. Of course, Chen Yi didn’t go without clothes to wear, but the ordinary people didn’t have any food to eat and so starved. So, in terms of the Communist Party, its biggest trait is that it can ruin the lives of ordinary people, and then focus all its power into investing to pursue developments like the military application of science and technology. So, whichever country, as long as it has this kind of large investment, a communistic system, following the same logic of China’s Olympic gold medals, it will naturally reap what it sows.
So from this perspective, countries with dictatorships from the standpoint of military research and development, and especially communistic countries I should say, have their unique characteristics. That is to say they can make all the institutions and resources of the country, comply with this point. So, the outcome from kind of system is that it takes all the talent from all walks of life and gathers them together, for example as in China’s research and development into atomic weapons, hydrogen bombs and cruise missiles. In the 1960s, this process was actually rather trying for China, and soon the people were unable to survive. However, at that time, the government took all the talented people from the universities, every advanced educational institution, and those involved in nuclear weapons, cruise missiles and satellites, gathered them all together, and then gave them special supplies, the best possible research conditions and capital, and let them undertake research.
This is the kind of practice that democratic countries can’t do. That is democratic countries absolutely can’t sacrifice the daily living standards of its people in order to pursue investment into the military application of science and technology. Consequently, it brings about a particular result. That is its possible for communist countries to completely disregard the cost of investment into military technology in order to pursue some particular gains. This is why the Soviet Union was able to make progress with various aspects of military technology. However on the other hand, this kind of system in itself causes a problem, which is that it neglects the civilian use of technology. To maintain secrecy, these research institutions are often state-owned, which are confidential government research organisations. Therefore they just concentrate on researching military technology. For instance, China had a defence department with five sections, which specialised in research into nuclear weapons, cruise missiles and satellites. Later, the defence department had twenty research departments, which also gathered together a large number of Chinese military technology specialists. The result was that people were nurtured from the start of university to specialise in this kind of research, and after graduation they were all transferred to military technology research institutes. Behind closed doors, any time left over after eating and sleeping is completely spent doing military research and development. The result is that it causes these institutions to gather together the whole country’s talent. That is the power of the whole nation. It also focuses all the required resources, stopping ordinary manufacturing if need be, in order to satisfy the demands of military technology.
However at the same time, because this mechanism in itself half-militarised, because the government manages this system, all these work personnel to a large extent work for the government. The primary goal isn’t to be innovative in science and technology or to take interest or pleasure in research and development, but to complete the tasks given by superiors. So, during this time, the only thing that is able to inspire them is patriotism, being able to do something for the country, to build bombs and satellites, or to launch an aircraft carrier. There will be a large number of scientific and technological staff working day and night to the utmost of their abilities, but this at the same time is a form of pressure from the government. The keen personal interests of many research personnel won’t for certain be a priority. As soon as they enter this mechanism, they become a cog in the machine, and their personal creativity is no longer that important. The important thing is how workers are deployed within the large military research and development machine, so with regards to this mechanism, the important thing is command, and after that its mobilisation. Then there are the logistics to consider. After these things are taken care of, communist countries can research and develop technological products in a shorter space of time than is normal. This is because other countries don’t have this kind of mechanism.
Taking America, a military power, as an example, it doesn’t have this kind of research system that is run by specialist federal offices. Furthermore, in the small number of federal research organisations that they do have, such as NASA or the nuclear physics laboratory in Los Alamos, New Mexico, there are many experts in theoretical research, whose purpose isn’t purely for military technology, but for pure theoretical physics, theoretical space research and such. So, talking about democratic countries, very few have specialist military technology research organisations that are established by government and who bring together the whole country’s science and technology specialists on a large scale. Therefore, from the number of people, use of funding etcetera in democratic countries, the strength of military research that is supported by government isn’t strong. So, democratic countries don’t have strong federal research. However, in communist countries, the governments focus the whole countries strength into researching a small number of projects. China is known as a Gongguan, the meaning of this is to overcome difficulty. Namely, the set purpose of government is to achieve any goal within 3 years, to bring together all talented individuals to succeed under time constraints, assignment constraints, to take responsibility, to not eat, drink or sleep and to triumph with the task at hand. This kind of situation rarely occurs in democratic countries. So the result is that democratic countries, unlike communist ones, can’t focus financial, human or physical resources to succeed in a select number of military technology projects.
After you understand this system, you won’t think it’s strange. Talking about a communist country’s military technology sometimes is very straightforward. Indeed, if any country is like China or the Soviet Union in the sense of bringing together most of the people involved in science and technology, and makes breakthroughs in a small number of specialised technologies, naturally it’s possible to achieve success. 但这种做法本身，它违反了两个东西，一个就是它违反了资源的自然配置，就是说当一个国家把大量的 科技人员集中在几个少数几个攻关项目的时候，他实际上是破坏了在科学研究的正常的体系内，力量的自然的分布的均衡，比方讲，当中国重视两弹一星的时候，中 国在其它方面的很多科技就削弱了，因为资金没有了，人也被调走了，但是等到两弹一星完成，其它方面突然发现就跟不上了，因为科技人员的黄金年代很短的，只 有十几年，从二十几岁到四十岁左右，以后的创新能力就不够了，所以在这种情况下，它的代价就是在科研体制领域本身它损害了其它领域的科技发达。
Interviewer: So, what it has learnt, is it the most advanced technology from Western countries?
Cheng Xiaonong: When it comes to Western technology, particularly military technology, the most mature developments are not for sale. For instance, the latest US fighter jet is not for sale. Usually, it’s only when its turn comes to be eliminated, to be replaced by the next generation, that it goes on sale. What’s more, to start with, it’s only on sale to trusted countries and allies. So China often cooperates and exchanges with American allies, it lets them buy a few aircraft, then sell them secretly to the Chinese communist party. Israel, for instance, has done this. But later, China broke up this model, and it’s now more than two decades behind. And so only after we’ve understood this do we know that, when we say that the Chinese communist party with catch up, this is a very unrealistic description, it is constantly running behind.
Dear listeners, due to time limits, we have to stop our ‘China watch’ program at this point today. In the next part of our program, we will continue to ask Professor Cheng to tell us about the status of Chinese science and technology. Thank you Professor.
Cheng Xiaonong: Thank you friends in the audience!
Dear listeners, this was our program for ‘China watch’ today, I am Yu Shan. Thank you for listening, and we’ll meet again for our next program.
(To be continued)
- 9 February, 2015 @ 6:13 [Current Revision] by julien.leyre
- 9 February, 2015 @ 6:04 by julien.leyre
- 9 February, 2015 @ 6:03 by julien.leyre
- 9 February, 2015 @ 6:02 by julien.leyre
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- 9 February, 2015 @ 6:01 by julien.leyre
- 10 February, 2014 @ 21:39 by julien.leyre