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China Table of Contents


Planning Scientific Research

Since 1949 China has attempted, with mixed success, to organize research and development according to a centralized national plan. The various plans for scientific development that China has adopted since 1957 have been broad--listing topics and areas of priority without going into much detail or attempting to issue targets or dates to specific research institutes. From the 1950s through the mid-1980s, the "iron rice bowl" (see Glossary) of guaranteed employment and funding applied to research institutes and researchers as much as to any other enterprises or state-sector workers (see Economic Policies, 1949-80 , ch. 5). No institute ever had its budget cut for failing to make a planned discovery, and no scientist was dismissed for failing to publish or to make progress in research.

Much of the initiative in research seems to have come from below, with institutes submitting proposals for projects and funding to the State Science and Technology Commission. The commission's plans were drawn up after conferences in which scientists and directors of institutes suggested work that seemed feasible and worthwhile. The Beijing headquarters of the commission had a staff of between 500 and 1,000, not all of whom had scientific or economic backgrounds. Some of their energies were devoted to communication and coordination with other elements of the central administration, such as the State Planning Commission and the State Economic Commission. The core of the responsibility and power of the State Science and Technology Commission was in its allocation of funds for research and approval of projects. It possessed neither the manpower nor the expertise to monitor the work of the several thousand research institutes it oversaw, and of necessity it concentrated on major projects and relied on the advice of expert scientists and the regional scientific and technological commissions, which processed reports and applications for new projects. Much of its work consisted of "balancing" the competing requests for limited funds, and its decisions often were made on grounds other than scientific merit. Although China's leaders have addressed the rhetoric of centralized planning to scientific research, research activities have been more decentralized and more subject to pressures from powerful ministries and provincial-level governments.

Data as of July 1987