Science, Modernity and Political Behavior in Contemporary China (1949-1978)

Drittmittelfinanzierte Einzelförderung

Details zum Projekt

Prof. Dr. Marc Matten

Dr. Rui Kunze

Beteiligte FAU-Organisationseinheiten:
Lehrstuhl für Sinologie
Professur für die Zeitgeschichte Chinas

Mittelgeber: Stiftungen (Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation for International Scholarly Exchange (CCKF))
Projektstart: 01.08.2013
Projektende: 30.07.2015


Transnationale Wissensgeschichte
Professur für die Zeitgeschichte Chinas

Abstract (fachliche Beschreibung):

In 20th century, China has transformed itself from an agrarian state to one that is dominated by worship of science and technology, relentlessly pursuing the establishment of a scientific society. In his 2007 work, Wilson Keeley maintains that China is on the road to becoming the next scientific powerhouse, being more innovative and progressive than the current leading nations, may it be Europe or the United States. This fundamental change can be explained by the constantly rising investments in research and development, by state support for big engineer projects, and of course by efforts of the current ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to gain or maintain legitimacy by proving to be a successful modernizer. In this context, the dissemination of scientific thinking has been highly influential for the modernization process in 20th century China, yet existing research has failed so far to analyze its significance for political behavior. It is still unknown where the omnipresent blind faith in science and the more than obvious optimistic attitude towards an inevitably better future stems from. While it would be easy to dismiss the installment of scientific thinking as an ideological undertaking, it does not explain how the belief in the omnipotence in science gained firm ground among the population. For example, when the Fukushima catastrophe hit Japan, this was no reason for the Chinese government to stop the building of new nuclear power plants (with 25 new ones currently under construction), nor did significant public protest erupt. Likewise, despite the rise in environmental awareness (organic food is more and more popular, also due to the incessant food scandals), there is still no thorough critical assessment of genetically modified crops and plants. On the contrary, those crops and plants are – since the development of hybrid rice in the 1970s – seen as a viable (or scientific) way for providing sufficient food resources for the population. The purpose of this project is twofold. First, we want to find out the origin of and motivations for the belief in the omnipotence of science. This will be done by analyzing the genesis of scientific thinking in 20th century, ranging from intellectual discourse to the convictions among the population. An important aspect is here the effort of the Chinese government in the latter half of 20th century to disseminate scientific thinking and acting among the population. In the Maoist period (1949-1978), this was conceived as a way to modernize the country by raising productivity and improving living conditions. While the campaign on kepu (科普) has been in place since the 1950s, there has so far been no in-depth research on this issue. Second, the intention is to determine the consequences of the propagation of science in regard to society, politics, and the academic community. These issues range from legitimization of CCP rule, emphasis on science and especially natural sciences in the education system, trends in the development of new technologies to intellectual honesty (plagiarism, patent infringement). All these issues are of global concern considering the growing interdependence between China, its neighboring countries and Europe both in economic and science cooperation. By focusing on these two aspects, this project intends to make a valuable contribution to the research on the social and political transformation of the PRC influenced by the science discourse. It will further be able to shed light on how science is not only propagated successfully, but also what consequence result if science is used as a rationale for political behavior.

Externe Partner

Academia Sinica / 中央研究院


Matten, M. (2018). Coping with Invisible Threats: Nuclear Radiation and Science Dissemination in Maoist China. East Asian Science, Technology and Society, 3, 1-22.
Matten, M. (2018). "Do not Fear the Future! The Legacy of Confucian Optimism in Modern China: A Response to 'Science Fiction in North and South Korea'". East Asian Science, Technology and Society, 12(3), 327-329.

Zuletzt aktualisiert 2018-22-11 um 18:20