The following article was written by Yuanhang Wang (王远航) a Chinese collaborator of the collective. The text analyzes the factors that led the development process of modern China to success, which was only possible thanks to the unique bond uniting traditions, history and scientific-technological training that characterizes the country and let the People’s Republic of China make its “great leap forward”, conquering its place in the world.

-The editorial board of the Yizhong Collective

Nowadays, when we talk about China’s technological progress, we are always amazed that the country has achieved such huge step forward, or perhaps ask ourselves the question: “Why China?” To answer this question, we need to go back to the 1950s China, or even to the Sui and Tang dynasties, over 1,000 years ago.

It would be absurd to still believe the alleged conspiracy theories that the technological progress of the country was achieved through technology theft. In other words, with agencies like the CIA and the FBI, It would be almost impossible to steal technology.

Three things are needed for a country’s technological progress: a system of training for qualified personnel, scientific research institutions, national cohesion and ability of execution. The  system of training for qualified personnel is clearly the education system; what the term “scientific research institutions” denotes are the research systems of universities, academic institutes and enterprises. National cohesion and ability of execution are the driving force to gather people of talent and adjust the system constantly.

The system of training for qualified personnel of China can be understood as a nationally unified training: Elite education for all. High school students need to have advanced mathematical skills and master more than 4,000 foreign words. They need to be able to read Chinese literature of thousands of years ago without any problem.

Education is mainly public, with students spending almost no money, while there are special funds to support indigent students. As for getting into university, it is one of the most important things in China, and it’s called gaokao (“college entrance exam”). The test papers are top-secret documents and are escorted by the army. A variety of technology is used to prevent cheating, such as drone signal shielding equipment or equipment for security check. Factories and construction sites near the exam site locations stop working to prevent interference.

Chinese student while taking their Gaokao Test “College entrance exam”.

After the results are publicly announced, the students fill out an application form where they write down, in order, the schools they want to go and the desired major. The schools use computers to register and sort the students in the ranking lists to avoid any sort of manumission.

A mutual selection is then conducted (between the schools and the student) by confronting the student’s selected universities and the position of his grade in the ranking list. Here you can see how in China a method as impartial and transparent as possible for the admission to university, in order to minimize the influence that the family status, wealth and external appearance of the students may have on educational equity.

This system has been in use since the Sui Dynasty, 1,000 years ago. In the Tang Dynasty, it became a nationwide method for the selection of men of talent, and the reason for the prosperity of the Tang dynasty itself.

In the 1950s, following the example set by the soviet planned economy model, China set up research institutes and laboratories for all fields of science and technology, from industry to civil engineering and medicine. For each field, there exist more than one academy and these centers are evenly distributed throughout China. As for universities, there are more than 600 in the country; all of these have many laboratories and tens of thousands of student, the majority of whom attend a scientific faculty.

Tsinghua University (清华大学) in Beijing, one of the most prestigious public universities in China.

China has its own university ranking system. It would be unfair to judge Chinese universities using western ranking criteria. There are two models of scientific research in China: one is similar to the free research model in the West, the other is guided by a national plan. It should also be said that the majority of the best students of the country doesn’t go to the other countries’ top schools, but rather sticks with the Chinese education system. By the way, China has the largest student population in the world, with 8.74 million college graduates in 2020.

As a matter of fact, during the 20th century China didn’t lag behind in terms of technology. It took China two years to develop the hydrogen bomb, whereas in the United States, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and France it took a much longer time; by the 1970s, China could make its own chips and artificial satellites independently, and it also was the third nation to send a human being into space.

What triggers the stereotyped thought that China is technologically backward are the “Made in China” products made between 1990 and 2010. Because of its Reform and Opening (gaige kaifang 改革开放), and its entrance into the WTO, China has chosen to become the workshop of the world and produce goods for the entire world. But why China? There are many countries that have joined the WTO, and many with lots of young people, so why has China in particular become the factory of the world? To put it simple, it’s because of the specialized training it provided more than hundreds of millions of highly qualified workers with from 1949 to the 1980s.

There are high-level workers, and a large number of engineers; furthermore, the industrial system of China is complete and this reduces the cost greatly. We need to remember that the industrial system of a country is the productive structure and quality of products at a national scale. The most basic elements are the three acids and one alkali (the basic chemical raw material industry), petro-chemical, iron and steel smelting, they are the foundations of the industrial sector. The production of a simple lighter involves several fields such as petrochemical industry, steel, mechanical processing, etc. With a complete industrial system and a large number of high-quality workers, China has become the workshop of the world.

In other words, being the workshop of the world is not a sign of backwardness. Even though there might be many countries willing to become factories of the world, they encounter plenty of difficulties. As for why Made in China products are not so good, you should first ask buyers how much they are willing to pay for them. If the product does not meet the buyer’s requirements, it is impossible to complete the purchase. Moreover, in the two decades after becoming the workshop of the world, China’s educational and industrial systems have been further strengthened, and investments were made to propel them to the top of scientific development.

“Love science, study science, use science” poster of the first year of 70s

Since they are public, you can view the development objectives for each technology field in each five-year plan on the official website of the Chinese Government. State-led research can optimize efforts, reduce unnecessary competition, and has a long-term oriented perspective. China’s long-term plans are calibrated for even fifty years.

There are two modes of scientific research, the first is the resource-intensive one and the second is the time-intensive one. Both research patterns are exchangeable. “Resource-intensive” means that as long as you invest enough money, materials and qualified personnel in the research, you can get results very quickly, e.g. civil engineering, high-speed railways. China has basically reached or surpassed the other countries’ most advanced level in these kinds of technologies. The other kind of research is time-sensitive, which means you need to spend a certain amount of time on the research, only then you can get results from it, e.g. materials science, fine processing, microelectronics.

It takes a viable amount of time to complete a technical iteration, and during this span time a lot of money is constantly consumed. China is catching up on this type of technologies, but the time for them to be complete has not arrived yet. As regards technological transitions, it has to do with policies and genius.

Another big issue is that the overcoming of human theories seems to have stopped for a long time. Relativity and quantum mechanics are still relatively little known domains of human knowledge; the string theory has never been systematic, and the most complex computer chips and spaceships ever built are still based on long-ago theories. In such an environment, the future directions of technology development can be predicted to some extent, so China dares to make plans and complete it. As for theoretical research, China is also making great efforts: For example, a few years ago, the world’s largest radio telescope was built in China.

On the whole, Chinese technology is like an explosion after a long period of energy build-up. Thanks to its solid foundations, the pace of its development is fast as it is walking on a well-organized path with confidence. If anyone tried to suppress China, I think this would ironically lead to a new round of development. This civilization has existed for thousands of years now, its culture has not changed, and its rise is not simply the rise of a nation or an ethnic group, but of a civilization.

The Chinese people do not consider the present difficulties to be very great. They used to elaborate philosophical thought like the ancient Greeks also did (think of the debates among the hundred schools of thought before Common Era), and they once had a fleet of huge proportions like the Dutch people (think of Zheng He’s voyages); they once had as much land and as many troops as Rome. These civilizations are gone, but China is still here, and it has gone through a lot.

As regards communism and socialism, although I have not mentioned those in the text, but you can get an objective understanding of them through this article. Open your eyes and leave the cocoon of information that the media has created for you.