Chinese Nuclear History
Documents on the history of Chinese nuclear development. See also Nuclear Proliferation, and the related collections in the Nuclear Proliferation International History Project. (Image, Model of the first Chinese nuclear bomb)
January 31, 1955
Address by Zhou Enlai at the Plenary Session of the Fourth Meeting of the State Council
Zhou Enlai addresses the State Council citing a need for China to "master atomic energy." The Chinese program is far behind in this area, but plans to catch up with the help of Soviet technical assistance.
January 15, 1956
Request by the Chinese leadership to the Soviet leadership for help in establishing a Chinese Nuclear Program
Request by Chinese leaders to the Soviet leadership for technical and scientific aid in establishing a nuclear program in the People's Republic of China, including exchange programs for Chinese scientists, building of scientific labs in China, and providing specialized education for Chinese students.
April 23, 1956
Chinese Communist Party Central Committee Circular Concerning the Transfer of Cadres and Workers to Participate in Atomic Energy Development Work (extract)
A Chinese Central Committee circular stresses the need for China to develop a healthy uranium prospecting and mining industry, and to transfer technical and administrative cadres to work with Soviet experts.
April 25, 1956
Talk by Mao Zedong at an Enlarged Meeting of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee Politburo (excerpt)
Mao speaks to the Central Committee Politburo about the need to develop an atomic bomb to avoid being "bullied," but stresses that this can only happen if economic development increases simultaneously.
March 22, 1957
Memorandum from the Soviet Government to the Chinese Government on the Arms Reduction Issue
A memorandum from the Soviet government to the Chinese updating them on the arms reduction talks, a key component of which was a prohibition of the testing of atomic and hydrogen weapons. The Soviet proposal also called for reductions in conventional weapons and the prohibition of installing nuclear weapons outside their territorial borders.
July 11, 1957
Letter from Nie Rongzhen to Zhou Enlai on the Development of the Atomic Energy Industry (handwritten manuscript)
A letter to Zhou Enlai informing him that the industrial development plan for China's atomic energy program has not been finalized and that the technical agreement with the Soviet Union must be delayed.
August 12, 1957
Letter from [First Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs] Zhang Wentian to the Soviet Chargé Concerning the Development of the Atomic Energy Industry
A letter from the Chinese Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs to the Soviet Chargé informing him that revisions must be made to the “Agreement on the Provision of Technical Assistance from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics to the People’s Republic of China in Establishing an Atomic Energy Industry,” and that until it is revised the delivery of technical equipment should be delayed.
February 28, 1958
Conversation of Mao Zedong with Soviet Ambassador [Pavel] Yudin (extract)
In a conversation with Soviet ambassador Yudin, Mao sees a prohibition of the use of hydrogen weapons as very likely, as the capitalist countries "[fear] fighting this kind of war." Further, he notes that the socialist countries have an advantage over Western ones in terms of conventional army size.
June 21, 1958
Address by Mao Zedong to the Enlarged Meeting of the Central Military Commission (excerpt)
Mao addresses the Central Military Commission to report on China's steel production, which he believes will surpass the Soviet Union's capability in seven years and the United States' in ten. He also makes it known that China will build "atom bombs, hydrogen bombs and inter-continental missiles," and believes this can be done in as few as ten years.
June 20, 1959
Letter from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Central Committee to the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee on the Temporary Halt in Nuclear Assistance
The Soviet Central Committee informs their Chinese counterparts that, in light of the arms reduction talks taking place in Geneva, Soviet nuclear assistance must cease. The Chinese had requested a sample atomic bomb and technical data, but the Soviet feared that doing so would imperil the efforts of the socialist countries in Geneva.
July 03, 1960
Report by Nie Rongzhen to Mao Zedong Regarding Science and Technology (abbreviated version)
Nie Rongzhen reports to Mao on scientific and technical issues and Soviet assistance and cooperation in the area of nuclear development. The Chinese were becoming frustrated by what they called the Soviet "stranglehold" on key technical data, and led to an unwanted feeling of dependence on their Soviet comrades.
July 11, 1960
Some Remarks by Zhou Enlai on a Report by Nie Rongzhen
In the wake of a deepening Sino-Soviet split, Zhou Enlai explains how to manage Chinese bilateral technological and educational exchanges. Above all, Zhou emphasizes the importance of Chinese self-reliance in innovation and education as the country moves forward.
July 16, 1961
Chinese Communist Party Central Committee Decision with respect to Several Issues Concerning Strengthening Atomic Energy Industrial Infrastructure
In order to rapidly strengthen its atomic energy industry, the Central Committee proclaims that China must dedicate further resources exclusively to nuclear-related activities. For this purpose, the report calls for the mobilization of students, scientists, public health officials, and industrial laborers; and the provision of factories, equipment, medicine, and hospitals.
September 05, 1963
Zhou Enlai’s Discussion with a Kenyan African National Federation Delegation (excerpt)
Zhou Enlai criticizes the Three-Nation Treaty (Limited Test Ban Treaty) of 1963, arguing that it signifies an attempt by the US, UK, and USSR to monopolize nuclear weapons. Enlai warns that the agreement will allow larger nuclear countries to commit “nuclear blackmail” against smaller, non-nuclear countries.
October 11, 1964
Letter from Zhou Enlai to Mao Zedong, et al. on the Nuclear Explosion
Zhou Enlai notifies Mao Zedong and other prominent political and military officials that preparations have been made to detonate the explosion between October 15 and 20, depending on weather conditions. Attention is also given to the high level of secrecy surrounding the explosion, methods of data collection, publicity, and the political consequences of the explosion.
October 21, 1964
National Intelligence Estimate Number 4-2-64, “Prospects for a Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Over the Next Decade”
This US analysis of the likelihood of nuclear proliferation during the next decade was finished only days after the first Chinese nuclear test on 16 October. The report analyses the implications of this test, as well as programs in India, Israel, Sweden, West Germany, Italy, Japan, Canada, and others. The National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) argued that India was the only new state likely to develop nuclear weapons, concluding that “there will not be a widespread proliferation …over the next decade.”
November 03, 1964
Record of Zhou Enlai’s Discussion with British Minister [President of the Board of Trade] [Douglas] Jay
Having successfully executed a nuclear test explosion, Zhou Enlai describes the Chinese government’s motivation for pursuing atomic weapons capabilities. Zhou argues that the Three-Nation Treaty (Limited Test Ban Treaty) is insufficient, that the United States remains committed to nuclear proliferation despite the agreement, and that China seeks to end the monopoly that other nuclear powers have thus far exploited. Zhou also calls for the organization of a global, truly equal summit at which to discuss the issue of nuclear weapons testing and proliferation.