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 3, 1960
Report by Nie Rongzhen to Mao Zedong Regarding Science and Technology (Abridged)
This document was made possible with support from Carnegie Corporation of New York (CCNY)
Central Committee and Chairman [Mao Zedong]:
Under the new circumstances in Chinese-Soviet relations, there needs to be new policies and practices with respect to several scientific and technical issues. Over the last year and more, Soviet assistance and cooperation in our country’s science and technology [endeavors] has tightened across-the-board, especially in defense science and technology, where the door has already been shut. It has also already done all it can to control new technology in the [Chinese] economy. Though there are a lot of bilateral signed agreements, the Soviet Union, has adopted the tactic of 1) delaying, 2) putting off, and 3) ignoring, that is, withholding. It goes without saying that there is no use discussing unfinished agreements or [in cases] where we have made new requests. Quite clearly, before we resolve Chinese-Soviet political ideological differences, we should not suppose that we can achieve assistance in this area.
1) The Soviet side’s stranglehold on us on the crucial issue of key technology is really infuriating. But indignation is useless. We are just going to have to show them. Maybe this kind of pressure will instead become the impetus for developing our science and technology so we strive even more resolutely for independence and autonomy and self-reliance in science and technology, rather than counting on foreign assistance. [Taiwanese Defense Minister] He Yingqin held back 300,000 yuan in military funds from us, not even giving us one fen, trying to starve us to death. As a consequence, we organized a great production movement, and both our troops and people were well-fed and well-clothed. Though these two things cannot be entirely compared, what is the same is that we must bring credit on ourselves and rely on ourselves. During the first five-year plan, important [infrastructure] construction was all basically Soviet-designed, and most equipment and technology was imported in sets. This period was very helpful for us, allowing us to quickly master technology. But, on the other hand, it also entailed a certain psychology of scientific and technological dependence, of blindly holding out our hands. Since proposing a general line on constructing scientific socialism in 1958, the Central Committee and Chairman Mao have repeatedly directed that in science and technology we must liberate our minds and eradicate superstitions. For the past two years and more we have started to do this, to great effect. For the most part, we are now able to resolve ourselves common technological issues affecting the national economy. There are still some important sectors [where there are issues that] await resolution, but, if we work hard, these can also be resolved. Though we are still behind in advanced technology, we have come from zero to having some level of achievement, and have put down a foundation. In science and technology we have already found our own approaches. Consequently, it is now possible to propose independence, autonomy and self-reliance.
A big country like ours, which has its own general line for building socialism, and a whole set of policies for walking on our own two legs, must have science and technology that is appropriate to our political and economic needs and natural resources. In resolving scientific and technological issues, we must depend on our own domestic [resources], and, only in this way, can we then keep total initiative and not wind up under the control of others in defense and economic development. We need ambition and tenacity, and on any difficult scientific and technological questions, we need go all out to mobilize the masses to experiment and research, do things ourselves and never to rely on others. In this respect, we may have to spend some more money, and in some cases we may have to spend some more time, but this will bring a reward. We can cultivate our own strength and train up real abilities. Man-made satellites were launched into the sky forty years after the Soviet revolution. If we start from now, and are able to quietly put our shoulder to the wheel for ten years and then get into space, we’ll make it in half the time they did and more quickly than they did.
2) We need to adopt a new way of doing things in our future scientific and technological dealings with the Soviet Union. When the time comes to do so, we should inquire about and still request all assistance that is set out in agreement. But if the other side won’t give [us the assistance], we certainly won’t press [the issue]; we’ll just keep account. In the last few months, staff members of our office in the Soviet Union have repeatedly pressed their inquiries, encountering many rebuffs, leaving the impression that we are in a desperate situation without Soviet assistance and, in this way, making the other side even more cocky and more controlling. We have already told these comrades that they should only ask lightly and just forget it if assistance is not forthcoming. Don’t raise any new requests now not covered by agreements. It is also best not to raise scheduled annual Chinese-Soviet technical cooperation. As for responsibilities that our side has signed and taken on, such as the provision of technical data to the Soviet side, the reception of study teams to China, etc., we should carry out commitments in our agreements to the letter.
Of the Soviet experts working in China, some have good attitudes, others are not quite up to the mark, and a few individuals are quite bad. We must implement the policy of upholding principles, upholding unity and working harder as outlined by the Central Committee. Since we have invited them, we must fully exploit their strong points and, to the extent possible, attain something [useful], and help them politically and unite with them. As for experts who have finished their term [of assignment], it will be very hard to hire [back] the good ones, and we don’t need to keep average ones. As for newly hired experts, the Soviets have been unwilling to send [experts] in important technical fields, or new arrivals are only [in China] in the role of “observers.” In addition, since there are also numerous limitations, it is very hard [for them] to be of any help to us, rather they cause a lot of difficulties for us. Therefore, to the extent possible, make few if any demands [on them].
Recently, we also have had to reconsider our policy regarding sending of students to the Soviet Union. First, the other side does not admit them or places lots of limitations on them, so they don’t study any new technology. Second, given their insufficient political maturity, young people are exposed to the corrupting influence of revisionist thought. As a consequence, now we should send very few. Of course, we should not have a complete cutoff. We will send them when there is a need and it’s possible to study something. After [further] study, we will issue another report about what we ought to do.
3) Independence and self-reliance does not at all imply that we will isolate ourselves. On the contrary, we have to study and master all internationally advanced science and technology based on our country’s particular conditions. To be self-reliant, we need to strengthen scientific and technical intelligence work. We should study as much as we can from the Soviet Union. But the Soviet road in the period ahead will be narrower and narrower. Therefore, we must vigorously pursue scientific and technical intelligence work toward the capitalist countries. American imperialism is also now deeply engaged in scientific and technical intelligence. Although the number of countries with which we have established diplomatic relations is fewer than that of the Soviet Union, it is entirely possible that if we are serious, through various means, we can abundantly collect the results and directions of international advanced science and technology.
I am awaiting your comment on the appropriateness of the ideas expressed above.
3 July 1960
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.
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