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Science and technology have long preoccupied China's leaders; indeed, the People's Republic of China's third and fourth generations of leaders come almost exclusively from technical backgrounds—both Jiang Zemin and Zhu Rongji were trained as electric power engineers—have a great reverence for science. Hu Jintao was trained as a hydraulic engineer. Deng Xiaoping called it "the first productive force." Distortions in the economy and society created by Communist Party of China rule traditionally has hurt Chinese science, according to some Chinese science policy experts. Before the 1990s, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, modeled on the Soviet system, placed much of China's greatest scientific talent in a large, under-funded apparatus that remains largely isolated from industry. However, as a result of Chinese economic reform, most Chinese scientific institutions have been encouraged to commercialize their activities, and Chinese scientists have increasing began to xia hai (enter the sea) or go into business.
Chinese science strategists see Mainland China's greatest opportunities in newly emerging fields such as biotechnology and computers where there is still a chance for the PRC to become a significant player. Most Chinese students who went abroad have not returned, but they have built a dense network of transpacific contacts that will greatly facilitate U.S.-China scientific cooperation in coming years. The United States is often held up as the standard of modernity in the PRC. Indeed, photos of the Space Shuttle often appear in Chinese advertisements as a symbol of advanced technology. The PRC's small but growing space program, whose Shenzhou spacecraft had carried the first human taikonaut safely into space from PRC on October 15 2003, is a focus of national pride.
The U.S.-P.R.C. Science and Technology Agreement remains the framework for bilateral cooperation in this field. A 5-year agreement to extend the S&T Agreement was signed in April 2001. There are currently over 30 active protocols under the Agreement, covering cooperation in areas such as marine conservation, renewable energy, and health. Japan and the European Union also have high profile science and technology cooperative relationships with the People's Republic of China. Biennial Joint Commission Meetings on Science and Technology bring together policymakers from both sides to coordinate joint S&T cooperation. Executive Secretaries meetings are held each year to implement specific cooperation programs.
For more information see:
- US - China Cooperation in Environment, Science and Technology
- China Science and Technology Information Center (in Chinese)
- PRC Ministry of Science and Technology (in English)
- PRC Academy of Sciences (in English)
History of Science and Technology in China
Much of the Western work in the history of science in China has been done by Joseph Needham. Among the scientific accomplishments of China were the invention of paper, the compass, gunpowder, and the observation of supernova.
One question that has be the subject of debate among historians has been why China did not develop a scientific revolution and why Chinese technology fell behind that of Europe in the 19th century.
Many hypothesis have been proposed ranging from cultural to political to economic. John Fairbanks argued that the Chinese political system was hostile to scientific progress. More recent explanations have questioned political and cultural explanations and have focused on economic ones. Examples of the latter include Benjamin Elman's high level equilibrium trap and Kenneth Pommeranz argument that resources from the New World were the crucial difference between European and Chinese development.