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Experiments in Total Engagement Radical Science-Society Interactions in the People’s Republic of China Steven Robert Harris & Claudia Thiessen Science.

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Presentation on theme: "Experiments in Total Engagement Radical Science-Society Interactions in the People’s Republic of China Steven Robert Harris & Claudia Thiessen Science."— Presentation transcript:

1 Experiments in Total Engagement Radical Science-Society Interactions in the People’s Republic of China Steven Robert Harris & Claudia Thiessen Science Communication, Education and Engagement Research Unit University of Glamorgan, Wales, UK

2 Introduction UK and European science policy makers, funders and communicators are currently advocating dialogic models; public ‘engagement with’ rather than ‘understanding of’ science In the West attempts at ‘engagement’ involve complex issues around the power & status of science In the PRC of the 1950s and early 60s a large-scale experiment in “total engagement” radically departed from established Western (and emerging Soviet) models of the science-society relationship based on a ‘mobilization model’ of science This model was picked up again during the period 1966-71 This presentation discusses the early stages of work examining these periods of radical experimentation to discover what, if any, insights it offers for current attempts at PEST in the UK and beyond

3 Background 1949: Proclamation of the Chinese Republic peasants form 85% of population of around 548m; 90% of entire population illiterate 1950: 862 Chinese natural scientists, 174 of whom live abroad 1953-7: The First 5-year Plan Rapid growth of urban population, extreme pressure on resources, repatriation of émigré scientists, launch of nuclear programme 1958-1961: The ‘Great Leap Forward’ The goal: “to overtake all capitalist countries in a fairly short time and become one of the richest, most advanced and powerful countries in the world” (Mao, quoted in Chang & Halliday 2006, p. 444) “We are prepared to sacrifice 300m Chinese…” ( ibid., p.457 ) During the 3-year period of the ‘Great Leap’ starvation and overwork claim around 38m lives… Mao Zedong (1893-1976), Chinese Communist leader 1949-1976

4 Phase 1: SET on the Soviet Model Mass literacy, numeracy, agricultural and technical education programs on an unprecedented scale throughout this period (and to present day) Immediately following the revolution strategy to increase Chinese SET activity follows (Soviet) ‘professional-bureaucratic’ model and involves  ….inducing émigré scientists to return and allocating them to the Chinese Academy of Science ... sending selected graduates, scientists and technicians to the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe for advanced training ... promoting and expanding higher education  “Strive to Foster a Wide Column of Red Scientists and Technicians” (Reiitsu 1979, p. 198) At this stage Chinese science clearly involves a very small intellectual and political elite; communication takes place mostly at national and international level However, these mainly foreign-educated specialists regarded with great suspicion by sections of Party Leadership…

5 Phase 2: ‘Total Engagement?’ During the ‘Great Leap’ socio-economic, political and ideological factors combine to produce a complete re-evaluation of the organisation and conduct of Chinese SET activity – “administration by political campaign” following a ‘The Mobilization Model’ (Suttmeir, 1975, pp. 217-219) of the role of science in Chinese society Technological change and scientific innovation become explicitly linked (from top-down) to collective labour rather than elite activity – emphasis shifts from supporting ‘top intellectuals’ to nurturing ‘the worker scientist’ Science and technology to some extent evaluated not by scientific establishment but by working people involved in production Peasants and industrial workers allowed and encouraged to enter scientific research centres Scientists and technologists forced to work alongside peasants and labourers in regional and local research centres All these activities based on a ‘mobilization model’

6 The Mobilization Model (after Suttmeir 1975, p. 219) 1. Scientific development is a function of social and economic factors external to science itself 2. Knowledge is the product of the unity of theory and practice 3. Science must serve production 4. The ultimate source of discovery and verification within science rests with the labouring masses 5. Science can be, and must be, led by the CCP, the representative of the masses 6. The establishment of a unique Chinese scientific tradition rests with the younger generation of scientists who must be prepared to rebel against the older generation if necessary

7 The ‘Peasant Scientists’ Example: Wang Bao-Jing, 28, leader of Fenghuo People’s Commune, Lichuan County, Shenxi Province His plant breeding experiments lead to 400% increase in corn yield and create 8 varieties of wheat and a new strain of cotton Illiterate or semi-literate, attended only one half-year of primary school 1955, North-West Agricultural College sends scholars to study Fenghuo methods 1958, Wang Bao-Jing lectures at College and appointed special researcher at the Shenxi branch of the Agricultural Academy

8 ‘Worker-Origin Engineers’ & ‘Peasant Inventors’ In 1958-9 more that 3m new style small rural factories created, many run by communes; approx. 1m technical workers emerge from the ranks of the peasantry Xio Gong-Zi, a ‘peasant inventor’ produces conveyor belts, motorised sailing boats and milling machines and is held up as a model in campaigns for learning technology In Shanxi, 3m workers participate in waterworks construction: 90% enrol in on-site literacy and technology training; in Jiangxi province, c. 1m workers and peasants study science and conduct rudimentary experiments By 1959 Academy of Agricultural Science alone has established c. 7, 690 Commune Research Institutes or Experimental Stations

9 Further Developments “Total engagement” abandoned in mid-60s - many after-work and part-time schools close, expansion of local and regional research centres halts and number of workers and peasants involved dwindles Continuing development of the ‘professional- bureaucratic’ model is disrupted by the “radical destruction and reconstruction” (Suttmeir 1975, p. 225) of the Cultural Revolution (1966-71) which sees a partial return to the Mobilization model followed by increasing convergence with Western modes of organization

10 “The Chinese themselves have been unable to decide how science should be integrated with society and social change. As a result they have experimented with competing models and have incorporated what has been learned from these experiments into the design of subsequent models. In the process they have both advanced indigenous research capabilities and contributed to the creation of a society that appears to favour innovation and be prepared to utilize modern science and technology.”  Richard P. Suttmeir (1975). `Science Policy Shifts, Organizational Change and China's Development'. The China Quarterly (62): 207-241.

11 Discussion Since the revolution Chinese SET activity has expanded from almost nothing to become a major world force - For example, much advancement apparently achieved in early 60s by ‘worker-technicians’ in the oil and chemical industries as well as agriculture (cf. Soviet failures in the latter regard) Actual impact of the two phases of development in which the Mobilization Model played a part extremely hard to determine – history highly complex and contemporary analyses heavily influenced by ideologies From the science communication viewpoint, should these episodes be dismissed as irrelevant aberrations or are there lessons to be learned for the developing countries? …and in the light of global sustainability challenges – from this attempt to radically reconfigure science-society relationships?

12 References Chang, J. & Halliday, J. (2006). Mao: The Unknown Story. London: Vintage. Glassman, J. (1977). `Educational Reform and Manpower Policy in China, 1955-1958'. Modern China 3(3): 259-290. Lindbeck, J. M. H. (1961).`The Organisation and Development of Science'. The China Quarterly (6): 98-132. Reiitsu, K. (1979). `The Bearers of Science and Technology Have Changed'. Modern China 5(2): 187-230. Suttmeier, R. P. (1970). `Party Views of Science: The Record from the First Decade'. The China Quarterly (44): 146-168. (1975). `Science Policy Shifts, Organizational Change and China's Development'. The China Quarterly (62): 207-241.


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