Science and technology in China
Science and technology in China
Science and technology in China have developed rapidly during the 1980s to 2010s, and major scientific and technological achievements have been made since the 1980s. From the 1980s to the 1990s, the Chinese government successively launched the "863 Plan" and the "Strategy for Rejuvenating the Country through Science and Education", which greatly promoted the development and progress of China's science and technology.
The Chinese government has placed emphasis through funding, reform, and societal status on science and technology as a fundamental part of the socio-economic development of the country as well as for national prestige.
China has made rapid advances in areas such as education, infrastructure, high-tech manufacturing, academic publishing, patents, and commercial applications and is now in some areas and by some measures a world leader. China is now increasingly targeting indigenous innovation and aims to reform remaining weaknesses. Per the Global Innovation Index in 2022, China was considered one of the most competitive in the world, ranking 11th in the world, 3rd in the Asia & Oceania region and 2nd for countries with a population of over 100 million.
China was a world leader in science and technology until the early years of the Ming dynasty. Chinese discoveries and Chinese innovations such as papermaking, printing, the compass, and gunpowder (the Four Great Inventions) contributed to the economic development in East Asia, the Middle East and Europe. Chinese scientific activity started to decline in the fourteenth century. Unlike in Europe, scientists did not attempt to reduce observations of nature to mathematical laws and they did not form a scholarly community with criticisms and progressive research. There was an increasing concentration on literature, arts, and public administration while science and technology were seen as trivial or restricted to limited practical applications.
The causes of this Great Divergence continue to be debated. One factor is argued to be the imperial examination system which removed the incentives for Chinese intellectuals to learn mathematics or to conduct experimentation. By the 17th century, Europe and the Western world surpassed China in scientific and technological advancement.
The causes of this early modern Great Divergence continue to be debated by scholars to this day. After being defeated repeatedly by Japan and Western nations in the 19th century, Chinese reformers began promoting modern science and technology as part of the Self-Strengthening Movement. After the Communist victory in 1949 science and technology research was organized based on the model of the Soviet Union. It was characterized by a bureaucratic organization led by non-scientists, research according to the goals of central plans, separation of research from production, specialized research institutes, concentration on practical applications, and restrictions on information flows. Researchers should work as collectives for society rather than as individuals seeking recognition. Many studied in the Soviet Union which also transferred technology. The Cultural Revolution, which sought to remove perceived "bourgeois" influences and attitudes, caused large negative effects and disruptions. Among other measures it saw the scientific community and formal education attacked, intellectuals were sent to do manual labor, universities and academic journals were closed, and most research ceased, and for nearly a decade China trained no new scientists and engineers.
After Mao Zedong's death, S&T was established as one of the Four Modernizations in 1976. The new leader Deng Xiaoping, and architect of the Chinese economic reform, was a strong promoter of S&T and reversed the policies of the Cultural Revolution. The Soviet inspired system was then gradually reformed. Media began promoting the value of S&T, scientific thinking, and scientific achievement.
The third and fourth generations of leaders came almost exclusively from technical backgrounds.
The State Council of the People's Republic of China in 1995 issued the "Decision on Accelerating S&T Development" which described planned Science & Technology development for the coming decades. It described S&T as the chief productive force and affecting economic development, social progress, national strength, and living standards. S&T should become closely associated with market needs. Not only Soviet style institutes should do research but also universities and private industries. State institutions should form joint ventures with Chinese or foreign venture capital in order for S&T developments to reach the industry. S&T personal should become more occupationally mobile, pay should be linked to economic results, and age and seniority should become less important for personal decisions. Intellectual property rights should be respected. Information exchange should improve and there should be competition and open bidding on projects.
The environment should be protected. Chinese indigenous S&T in certain key areas should be especially promoted. Public officials should improve their understanding of S&T and incorporate S&T in decision making. Society, including Communist Party youth organizations, labor unions and the mass media, should actively promote respect for knowledge and human talents.
During the last 30 years China concentrated on building physical infrastructure such as roads and ports. One policy during the last decade has been to ask for technology transfer in order for foreign companies to gain access to the Chinese market. China is now increasingly targeting indigenous innovation.
During this period China has succeeded in developing an innovation infrastructure, founded on the establishment of over 100 science and technology parks in many parts of the country, along with encouragement of entrepreneurship outside the state-owned sector. Yip and McKern argue that Chinese firms have evolved through three phases as their innovation capabilities have matured and that by 2017 many of them are of world standard.
They are now strong competitors in the China market and increasingly in foreign markets, where they are establishing local operations.
While the term "techno-nationalism" was originally applied to the United States in the 1980s, it has since been used to describe nationalistic technology policies in many countries, particularly in Asia. Chinese techno-nationalism is rooted in the country's humiliation at the hands of more advanced countries in the 19th century. Indeed, China's leaders (like those of other countries) have long seen scientific and technological development as vital for achieving economic affluence, national security, and national prestige.
Lacking indigenous technological intellectual property and innovation are seen as key national problems. The 21st century has thus seen a series of central government initiatives designed to promote "indigenous innovation" and technological development more generally in China. These include the National Medium- and Long-Term Program for Science and Technology Development (2006–20), the Strategic Emerging Industries initiative, the Internet Plus initiative, and the Made in China 2025 Program, among others.
Through these initiatives, the Chinese state has intervened in the economy in a variety of ways to promote national technological development and reduce reliance on other countries. Prioritized industries and firms are protected and guided. There are systematic efforts to replace foreign technology and intellectual properties with indigenous technology. Foreign companies are given many incentives for technology transfer and for moving R&D to China.
At the same time the technological abilities of domestic companies are supported in various ways.
Such policies have generated considerable conflict between China and developed countries, particularly the United States, although China has often proven flexible when its policies have been challenged. Nationalism and nationalistic achievements have been seen as becoming the main ideological justifications and societal glue for the regime as Marxism loses influence.
Some science and technology mega-projects has been seen as questionable trophy projects done for propaganda purposes with Chinese state-controlled media being filled with reports of Chinese achievements.
In 2019, reports surfaced stating that the Chinese government has ordered all foreign PC hardware and operating systems that are installed in government offices to be replaced in the next three years.
Other reports stated that the Chinese government would be increasing subsidies for tech firms.