Science and State Power in China

In May 2018, Chinese President Xi Jinping placed an ambitious proposition before the leaders of the country’s scientific community. He called on them to “aim for the frontiers of science and technology” and emerge as the “vanguards in innovation in the new era.” The overarching objective, he said, was for China to become a “major world centre for science and innovation.” This, for Xi, is one of the “responsibilities bestowed by history” upon China’s scientific community. For him, the development of science and technology is a strategic imperative. It’s what will drive future growth and ensure China’s security, overall competitiveness and global standing.

At the heart of Xi’s emphasis on and investment in science and technology, therefore, is the goal of enhancing state power. This perspective is not exclusive to the current Chinese leadership. It is the product of historical debate over the role of science and technology in Chinese society. The origins of this conversation can be dated back to the last few decades of the Qing Dynasty, which ended in 1912. Since then, while strengthening state power has remained the core objective of the pursuit of scientific advancement, each generation of leaders has adopted a different pathway. [Read More…]