如何评价中国的科技现状?(上) – Evaluating Chinese Science and Technology (1) – English

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(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。

而在财力物力支配方面,它损害了其它部门的需要。所以它是一种很典型计划经济的特点。就是保重点,舍其它。那么短期内,保重点的时候,重点是可能突出了,也取得进展了,但其它的可能都扔掉了。但是,一个国家的经济发展,从长期来看,你是不能靠保重点的。首先,政府判断的重点是不是最必要的,这本身是个问题。第二,政府指挥的这个重点的选择它是有阶段性的,等过了这个阶段,它想换下一个重点的时候,发现其它的很多领域由于长期缺乏人力物力,已经远远落后了。那个时候,这个科研资源分布的不平衡,会产生长期的不利的后果。

我这里举一个日本方面的例子吧,就是政府插手和指挥科研方向的一个失败的例子。就是日本在七十年代,日本政府里面有一个通商产业省,它是日本经济起飞当中扮演很重要角色的叫做政府指导型的经济发展。那么通商产业省曾经在七十年代有专门的研究。因为但是电脑产业刚刚开始,半导体刚刚开始大规模发展,日本的公司不太清楚到底需要在哪方面投资,而当时日本的通商产业省做了一个错误的决定,他们认为应该朝着一个后来被世界电脑产业淘汰的一个方向,他们认为往那个方向投资,而忽略了当时被他们认为不看好的一个方向,结果事后证明,正是这个政府错误指导,导致日本的电脑产业从此在国际市场上落后。到现在为止,日本仍然没有翻过身来。这个例子说明,在科技领域本来也需要竞争的,就是研究发展本身,科技人员创新的结果。创新的过程是互相激励,互相竞争。如果资源能够比较自然的分配,那么不同的人都会有机会做研究。这个情况就会不一样。如果政府规定,这个资源只许在这几个领域,如果政府指挥错了,那么,这个投资就全部打水漂了。这是一个问题。

还有一个问题,科研人员在政府主导的科研体系里头,他们个人的活力和创造力严重的收到压抑,因为他们是为政府工作,而不是为了所谓的科学研究服务。科学研究有自己的规律,它需要学者对自己某一个领域感兴趣,热爱这个领域,愿意对此献身,这样的话,它可以长期的在这个领域投入进去,没日没夜的工作,那是因为他热爱这个研究。觉得自己在这个领域里有长处,有可能取得某些研究成果。同时,这些学者需要要有相当的活动空间,就是自由的活动空间,包括自由思想,自由讨论,自由交流,这是通过学术会议,学术交流等等形式实现的。如果这些研究人员都处在保密状态,只关起门来做研究,那么他们这种交流就没有了,而没有交流,他们在学术方面的创造性会受到压抑,也就是很多研究人员成了研究工具,而不是出于自我兴趣在那里充分发挥创造力和想象力。所以这样一来,结果就是中国的科学专家,也就是军用科学领域的专家,知识面窄,兴趣小,就集中在政府给的任务方面,然后也缺乏同行之间的交流。但最重要的,中国的这种制度,包括前苏联也是这样,它的科技人员大量被从大学里挖走,集中到了军用科技里。一个国家的科技人才数量是有限的,按人口的比率来讲不会很高。就是每年考进工科院校,理科院系的学生当中,真正将来可能成为出色的科学家的人数是非常有限的。那么这些人如果说不能在大学这样比较自由的学术环境里从事科学研究,那么他们对每个学科的创造这方面的作用就会明显的削弱。他们顶多是被用在军事科技研究当中的一个螺丝钉。在这方面,中国可以找到无数这样的科技专家。有人只是研究导弹的一个部件,有人只是研究卫星的某个部件,等等等等。而且是师傅带徒弟,这么一代一代往下传。所以它的眼界,创作力,活力都受到很大限制。

因此,从长期来看,这种军用科技,它的代价非常大。前苏联垮台,有两个因素很重要,一个因素,它的民用科技严重被军用科技发展拖累,就是民用科技得不到足够的资源,也得不到足够的发展。我记得印象很深的是在赫鲁晓夫当总书记期间,美国的副总统尼克松曾经去访问过,当时美国作了一个厨房展览,就是说带了一些美国家庭常用的厨房设备,烘面包机和洗碗机等等,这些小型的家用的,在美国已经普及的电器,做了一个厨房展览在莫斯科。同时,免费提供给参观者可口可乐做饮料,结果在整个莫斯科引起巨大的轰动。因为苏联人几十年了,根本就不知道厨房里还有这么多家用得很好的设备。因此,这个厨房展览本来只不过是一个配合外交访问的一个亲善型的,却在苏联国内带来了一个很大的冲击。就是很多老百姓发现我们现在很落后,说美国人家里都有的东西,我们全都没有。我们除了有卫星上天,飞机大炮,坦克,我们在日常生活当中,那是和西方国家的民用科技的发展和应用差别和距离是非常非常之大。这个现象其实是从57年苏联邀请美国作了这么一个展览之后到1990年代,苏联垮台以后都没有根本改变。也就是说在一个强调军用科技的共产党国家,它是不可能民用军用兼顾,它做不到。那只能顾一头,顾了军用肯定顾不了民用。那么结果是,苏联到了九十年代中期时候,它们当时已经没有能力制造能够和西方产品竞争的家用电器。比方举一个例子,彩色电视机,在西方国家,已经普及了二三十年的这个彩色电视机,是晶体管的,而不是用电子管的,在苏联从来都没生产出来过。它有能力去搞太空研发,但是没能力去造晶体管的彩色电视机,所以我在莫斯科,在彼得堡这两个城市,在90年代中期,看到大部分苏联家里的所谓的彩色电视都还是电子管的。所以从这个小例子看出来,连电视机造不出来的国家,你说军用科技发展的,能给国家带来什么呢?我们现在不谈军用科技除了给政府脸上增光以外,到底有多少实用价值。浪费了多少资源,这个问题可以是好好讨论。毫无疑问它是损害了民用科技发展的。

另外,如果是把苏联撇开,单谈中共,那么中共的军用发展其实有两个阶段,或者说三个阶段。第一个阶段是五十年代初,就是中苏尚且友好的阶段,那个阶段中国的军用科技基本是建立在苏联援助基础上的,从图纸到设备,全部都是苏联专家带来的然后手把手教出来的,所以那个时候中国的军用科技,就是中国最早的一批飞机,战斗机,炮、坦克这些武器的生产,基本上是用苏联的设备,苏联的图纸原封不动仿造出来的。这个做法一直维持到六十年代。但是那个时候,中苏关系已经恶化了,苏联已不再提供这方面的帮助了。

所以,从六十年代到文革结束,中国基本上是在关门瞎子摸象,中国最早的两弹一星的技术,基本上是苏联的技术为主,加上少数几个在西方留学回国的人,他们个人的一些努力和贡献。但是在其他的军用科技上,如飞机,坦克和炮这些方面,中国基本上没有多大的进步。无非在仿造苏联留下来的那些技术。比方举一个例子,中国的坦克制造,一直到八十年代初期的时候,中国制造的坦克一直是苏联二战时期的坦克,因为那是苏联给中国唯一的坦克技术。后来珍宝岛冲突之后,苏联有辆坦克被打沉在江里头,中国要把那个坦克给捞上来,然后运到北京把那辆坦克给拆了,然后根据那辆坦克的样子,做了一个中国山寨版的,叫做69—2,就是中国第一个模仿来的突破了二战的模型新技术,那还是仿制的山寨版。那个从八十年代初,中国从对外开放以后,中国又开始从西方引进技术。在中国所谓的引进很大程度上就是山寨版的制造。比方讲,中国最早的红箭73反坦克导弹,是从以色列引进了一部分导弹以后,拆开了模仿仿制的。中国的大口径火炮,是从美国引进的,买了几门炮,然后把它拆了以后,按照它的设计出图纸来仿制。换句话讲,中国的国防科技很多东西方面,基本上走的是这条路。

所以中共和以色列,巴基斯坦的很多合作是建立在提供从这些国家转手弄来的西方的军事科技产品,然后把它山寨化了以后,变成了中国的所谓自主创新。所以山寨版这个做法,在中共国防工业里头,是一个长期以来的既定方针。你很少找到不是山寨版的东西。但它缺点是其实它不是自主研发,因为它没有自己的基础研究体系。因为政府主导的军事发展通常是有现实目标的,就是盯着产品的输出。但是一般来讲,往往会严重的忽略基础科研。因为基础科研是长期的大量投资实验而没有成效可能失败比例很高。政府舍不得花这笔钱。所以,中共走的通常就是所谓走捷径,也就是山寨。

那么除了这以外,还有一条路就是中共想办法从国外偷。比方讲凤凰卫视的技术总监从美国海军实验室里偷这个美国海军潜艇的防噪音技术用在中共的潜艇上。这个例子因为被破获了,所以现在知道了。但是中国国内不会讲,这是我偷来的技术。其实前苏联和中国在这一点上是一致的。克格勃当年的一个重要任务就是从外国偷技术。因对他们来讲,偷到一项技术,虽然花点小钱,但是比自己研发好多了。缺点是偷来的技术永远只能是应用模仿,而没有基础根基。比方说中国现在的战斗机,迄今为止,中国讲的歼十全都是模仿的。中国缺乏自己空气动力学的设计能力。就是如果不模仿,中国甚至开发不出来一种完全和其它发达国家的战斗机的设计可以并驾齐驱的这种设计技术,因为空气动力学方面的基础研究中国从来都没有过过关。所以它只能摹仿。这种情况就是能造成一个最后的结果,就是科技成果从表面上看似乎西方有什么,共产党国家过段时间也造出来了。但是不见得真能用。更谈不上大规模的普及。因为这涉及到第二个问题,和民用科技有关了。那就是军工产品的生产它其实和民用产品有相似的地方,就是它对工艺要求,对材料的要求非常之高的。一个国家的民用科技如果不行的话,它的工艺材料都过不了关,因此它的军用产品也不可能有高质量。所以就会出现军用产品的次品率非常高。

主持人:那它学到的是不是西方国家最先进的技术了哪?

程晓农:西方国家的科技产品是特别是军用产品,一开始它成熟了以后始终它是不会卖出去的。比方美国最新战斗机它是不卖的。一般是等到即将被淘汰,被下一个战斗机替代的时候,它才开始卖。而且一开始卖给它认为信得过的国家,它的盟国。那么中国通常是和盟国合作、交换,让盟国买几架,然后偷偷卖一架给中共。比方以色列就干过这个事。然后中国把它拆了,所以这个时候它其实已经落后二十年以上,所以了解这点以后就知道了,中共的赶超,这个超字其实是永远不现实的,中共只是永远在赶。

主持人:如果是这样的话,您觉得中共军事方面的科技发展跟美国比相差多少?

程晓农:那这点个中共军方也承认,一般来讲,都是几十年的差距。就是最小,也是二十年以上,原因其实很简单。因为西方这个产品的研制,它有很强的这个基础研究的根底在那。比方说,此时此刻它正在研究的已经是二十年以后的产品了。而中国没有这样的基础研究。所以中国只能当对方把一个新产品开发出来以后,先是买样机,拆了以后好模仿,如果买不到样机,那么就想办法偷。偷也不能是每次都偷得到。如果偷不到那就只好搁那了。所以这种结果是导致它永远落在后头。永远赶不上。因为它没有基础研究,不是自己真正的独自研发。所以中共在九十年代有一次阅兵,苏联驻中共大使馆的武官看了以后好像有句评价说,我怎么看这些东西,好像每样都挺熟啊。就是大部分都是从苏联模仿来的。从俄罗斯模仿来的。都是俄罗斯的山寨版。这个问题我们在谈民用科技会谈到。

听众朋友,由于时间的关系,今天的《中国观察》节目就到这里,下期节目我们继续请程老师来谈谈中国的科技发展现状,谢谢程老师!

程晓农:谢谢各位听众朋友!

听众朋友今天的《中国观察》节目就到这里,我是俞珊,感谢您的收听,我们下次节目时间再会。

(待续)

链接:http://blog.sina.com.cn/s/blog_60d1dff6010127w6.html

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French-Australian writer, educator, sinophile. Any question? Contact [email protected]