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The Supply of Skilled Manpower

Research and development is a labor-intensive endeavor, in which the critical resource is the size and quality of the pool of trained manpower. China suffers both from an absolute shortage of scientists, engineers, and technicians and from maldistribution and misuse of those it has. Chinese statistics on the number and distribution of scientific personnel are neither complete nor consistent. According to the State Statistical Bureau, at the end of 1986 there were some 8.2 million personnel (out of 127.7 million workers) in the natural sciences working in state-owned enterprises, research institutes, and government offices. These numbers probably excluded military personnel and scientists in military research bodies, but they included support personnel in research institutes. "Scientific and technical personnel" comprised about 1.5 percent of all employed persons, but only about 350,000 of them were "research personnel." Their number had increased markedly from the 1970s as well-trained students began graduating from Chinese colleges and universities in substantial numbers and as postgraduates began returning from advanced training in foreign countries. Between 1979 and 1986, China sent over 35,000 students abroad, 23,000 of whom went to the United States.

More significant than sheer numbers of scientific personnel were their quality and distribution. The total numbers masked wide variations in educational background and quality, lumping together graduates of two-year institutions or those who had attended secondary or post secondary schools during periods of low standards with those who had graduated from major institutions in the early 1960s or the 1980s, that is, before or after the period of the Cultural Revolution. The Cultural Revolution had removed an entire generation from access to university and professional training, creating a gap in the age distribution of the scientific work force. The scientific community included a small number of elderly senior scientists, often trained abroad before 1949, a relatively small group of middle-aged personnel, and a large number of junior scientists who had graduated from Chinese universities after 1980 or returned from study abroad. In the mid-1980s many of the middleaged , middle-rank scientists had low educational and professional attainments, but generally they could be neither dismissed nor retired (because of China's practice of secure lifetime employment); nor could they be retrained, as colleges and universities allocated scarce places to younger people with much better qualifications. Scientists and engineers were concentrated in specialized research institutes, in heavy industry, and in the state's military research and military industrial facilities, which had the highest standards and the best-trained people. A very small proportion of scientists and engineers worked in light industry, consumer industry, small-scale collective enterprises, and small towns and rural areas.

Data as of July 1987