China - Science and Technology

Science and Technology

Main articles: Science and technology in the People's Republic of China and Chinese space program
History of science and
technology in China
By era
Han Dynasty
Tang Dynasty
Song Dynasty
People's Republic of China
Present-day China

China was a world leader in science and technology until the Ming Dynasty. Ancient Chinese discoveries and inventions, such as papermaking, printing, the compass, and gunpowder (the Four Great Inventions), contributed to the economic development of Asia and Europe. However, Chinese scientific activity entered a prolonged decline in the fourteenth century. Unlike the European scientists of the Scientific Revolution, medieval Chinese thinkers did not attempt to reduce observations of nature to mathematical laws, and they did not form a scholarly community offering peer review and progressive research. There was an increasing concentration on literature, the 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.

After repeated military defeats by 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 the Chinese Civil War in 1949, efforts were made to organize science and technology based on the model of the Soviet Union. However, Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution of 1966–76 had a catastrophic effect on Chinese research, as academics were persecuted and the training of scientists and engineers was severely curtailed for nearly a decade. After Mao's death in 1976, science and technology was established as one of the Four Modernizations, and the Soviet-inspired academic system was gradually reformed.

Since the end of the Cultural Revolution, China has become one of the world's leading technological powers, spending over US$100 billion on scientific research and development in 2011 alone. Science and technology are seen as vital for achieving economic and political goals, and are held as a source of national pride to a degree sometimes described as "techno-nationalism". Almost all of the members of the Politburo Standing Committee of the Communist Party of China have engineering degrees.

China is rapidly developing its education system with an emphasis on science, mathematics and engineering; in 2009, it produced over 10,000 Ph.D. engineering graduates, and as many as 500,000 BSc graduates, more than any other country. China is also the world's second-largest publisher of scientific papers, producing 121,500 in 2010 alone, including 5,200 in leading international scientific journals. Chinese technology companies such as Huawei and Lenovo have become world leaders in telecommunications and personal computing, and Chinese supercomputers are consistently ranked among the world's most powerful.

The Chinese space program is one of the world's most active, and is a major source of national pride. In 1970, China launched its first satellite, Dong Fang Hong I. In 2003, China became the third country to independently send humans into space, with Yang Liwei's spaceflight aboard Shenzhou 5; as of September 2012, eight Chinese nationals have journeyed into space. In 2008, China conducted its first spacewalk with the Shenzhou 7 mission. In 2011, China's first space station module, Tiangong-1, was launched, marking the first step in a project to assemble a large manned station by 2020. The Chinese Lunar Exploration Program includes a planned lunar rover launch in 2013, and possibly a manned lunar landing in 2025. Experience gained from the lunar program may be used for future programs such as the exploration of Mars and Venus. However, some foreign analysts have accused China of covertly using its civilian space missions for military purposes, such as the launch of surveillance satellites.

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