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China: Soviet Influence in the 1950s
Country Study > Chapter 9 > Science and Technology > Historical Development of Science and Technology Policy > Soviet Influence in the 1950s


After the establishment of the People's Republic in 1949, China reorganized its science establishment along Soviet lines -- a system that remained in force until the late 1970s, when China's leaders called for major reforms. The Soviet model is characterized by a bureaucratic rather than a professional principle of organization, the separation of research from production, the establishment of a set of specialized research institutes, and a high priority on applied science and technology, which includes military technology.

The government's view of the purpose of scientific work was set forth in the September 1949 Common Program of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference. In March 1951 the government directed the academy to determine the requirements of the production sector of the economy and to adjust scientific research to meet those requirements. Scientists were to engage in research with significant and fairly immediate benefits to society and to work as members of collectives rather than as individuals seeking personal fame and recognition.

The Chinese Academy of Sciences was explicitly modeled on the Soviet Academy of Sciences, whose director, Sergei I. Vavilov, was consulted on the proper way to reorganize Chinese science. His book Thirty Years of Soviet Science was translated into Chinese to serve as a guide. Soviet influence also was realized through large-scale personnel exchanges. During the 1950s China sent about 38,000 people to the Soviet Union for training and study. Most of these (28,000) were technicians from key industries, but the total cohort included 7,500 students and 2,500 college and university teachers and postgraduate scientists. The Soviet Union dispatched some 11,000 scientific and technical aid personnel to China. An estimated 850 of these worked in the scientific research sector, about 1,000 in education and public health, and the rest in heavy industry. In 1954 China and the Soviet Union set up the Joint Commission for Cooperation in Science and Technology, which met annually until 1963 and arranged cooperation on over 100 major scientific projects, including those in nuclear science. When the Chinese Academy of Sciences completed a draft twelve-year plan for scientific development in 1956, it was referred to the Soviet Academy of Sciences for review. In October 1957 a high-level delegation of Chinese scientists accompanied Mao Zedong to Moscow to negotiate an agreement for Soviet cooperation on 100 of the 582 research projects outlined in the twelve-year plan.

The Soviet aid program of the 1950s was intended to develop China's economy and to organize it along Soviet lines. As part of its First Five-Year Plan (1953-57), China was the recipient of the most comprehensive technology transfer in modern industrial history. The Soviet Union provided aid for 156 major industrial projects concentrated in mining, power generation, and heavy industry. Following the Soviet model of economic development, these were large-scale, capital-intensive projects. By the late 1950s, China had made substantial progress in such fields as electric power, steel production, basic chemicals, and machine tools, as well as in production of military equipment such as artillery, tanks, and jet aircraft. The purpose of the program was to increase China's production of such basic commodities as coal and steel and to teach Chinese workers to operate imported or duplicated Soviet factories. These goals were met and, as a side effect, Soviet standards for materials, engineering practice, and factory management were adopted. In a move whose full costs would not become apparent for twenty-five years, Chinese industry also adopted the Soviet separation of research from production.

The adoption of the Soviet model meant that the organization of Chinese science was based on bureaucratic rather than professional principles. Under the bureaucratic model, leadership is in the hands ofnonscientists, who assign research tasks in accordance with a centrally determined plan. The administrators, not the scientists, control recruitment and personnel mobility. The primary rewards are administratively controlled salary increases, bonuses, and prizes. Individual scientists, seen as skilled workers and as employees of their institutions, are expected to work as components of collective units. Information is controlled, is expected to flow only through authorized channels, and is often considered proprietary or secret. Scientific achievements are regarded as the result primarily of "external" factors such as the overall economic and political structure of the society, the sheer numbers of personnel, and adequate levels of funding. Under professional principles, which predominate in Western countries, scientists regard themselves as members of an international professional community that recruits and rewards its members according to its own standards of professional excellence. The primary reward is recognition by professional peers, and scientists participate in an elaborate network of communication, which includes published articles, grant proposals, conferences, and news of current and planned research carried by scientists who circulate from one research center to another.

Data as of July 1987

Last Updated: July 1987

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for China was first published in 1987. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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