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Arguments - Prediction Error
Science and Technology in Agriculture, Livestock Production, and the Food Industry
Will China's leaders continue to modernize the country's agricultural sector and food industry by further promoting (basic) science and technological development?

There are signs that China's government has given science and technology high priority. It is downsizing the old apparatus of mammoth, state-run research institutions with thousands of "lifetime" employees and supporting smaller, high-quality research groups. The National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC), established in 1985, is growing rapidly. It is modeled after the US National Science Foundation and provides funds to individual researchers or research groups. The NSFC also uses a peer-review procedure to judge the quality of proposals. Although the NSFC budget is minimal compared with the research funds of ministries and the Chinese Academy of Science, it has supported some of the most spectacular research in China. Even the Chinese Academy of Science, the dominant state-run research establishment with 123 institutes and 80,000 employees, will be reducing its staff by two-thirds to strengthen research capacities for the remaining scientists. It is obvious that China's leaders want to "revitalize China through science and education," as stated in their five-year plan (for 1996 to 2000). With this in mind, some Western analysts now expect China to become a world leader in science and technology within a few decades.

This conclusion might be premature. It is unlikely that China's government will abandon its tendency to interfere with science. It is also naive to believe that a golden age of intellectual and individual freedom has begun in China that will nurture an explosion in scientific creativity and excellence. While Chinese scientists and intellectuals now discuss many issues with remarkable frankness, there are still clear limits as to what is allowed in public. Criticism of government decisions - even when supported by scientific evidence - is risky or impossible, as in the case of the Three Gorges Dam project. The government also tries to restrict access to the Internet and certain financial information services.
On the other hand, there is a growing flow of information in and out of China. Although satellite dishes are officially forbidden, some 500,000 units were sold in 1993. It is estimated that in the early 1990s some six million homes were already watching Hong Kong TV - without the need for satellite dishes (Hornik, 1994, pp. 28-42). In 1989 China had some 267,000 subscribers to international direct dialing (IDD) telephone services, by 1996 there were 24.3 million subscribers (CSY, 1997, p. 540). Some 530,000 foreign tourists (excluding those from Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan) visited China in 1980; by 1996 there were more than 6.7 million tourists, mainly from Japan and the USA (CSY, 1997, 611).

It is very difficult to predict how science and technology will evolve in China. If the ruling class constrains its political and ideological influence in this sector, it is quite likely that the country's immensely talented and motivated scientists will drive China's modernization. Particularly in the field of science, however, it would be devastating, if China's rulers would choose loyalty over competence.

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Science & Technology:   Trends     Impact    Data Quality    Prediction Error    Intervention Possibilities    Intervention Costs