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close this bookTechnological Independence The Asian experience (UNU, 1994, 372 pages)
close this folder7. The lessons from Asia: From past experience to the future
View the document(introductory text...)
View the documentChina
View the documentIndia
View the documentRepublic of Korea
View the documentThailand
View the documentPhilippines
View the documentJapan
View the documentThe geopolitical environment and the local socio-economic situation
View the documentFormal S&T structure and industry
View the documentThe rural-urban relationship
View the documentInformal and formal sectors
View the documentNew generic technologies
View the documentSocial shaping of technology
View the documentConscious shaping of the technology
View the documentExisting agendas for shaping technology
View the documentConcluding remarks
View the documentNotes


The Chinese communists, during the years of their guerrilla struggle,1 had managed to achieve some manufacturing output. By the time they took power, therefore, they had by force of circumstances developed an implicit industrial policy. Yet in the years immediately following the revolution, they followed the Soviet model, although modifying it as a result of their own unique experiences. The Soviet formal system of science and technology, with its very rigid structure, was thus transplanted to China. Soviet technology was also transferred, largely through complete sets of equipment from the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. After the break with the Soviet Union in the 1960s, the small number of imports of technology that then occurred came from Japan and Western European countries.

In the late 1950s, China attempted, through its "Great Leap Forward,"2 a mass mobilization in technology acquisition, to catch up with some of the advanced countries. This partially involved "backyard" technology, and was reminiscent of the period of guerrilla struggle. During the period following the break with the Soviet Union, a policy of "Walking on Two Legs," amounting to near-autarky, was strongly emphasized. Although this latter emphasis was later modified after the 1970s, the basic strategy of combining traditional labour-intensive methods with modern technology remained a part of general Chinese technological strategy.

After 1978, with the opening to the outside world, a major transfer of technology from abroad was attempted.3 But the earlier, relatively rigid, Soviet-inspired formal system of S&T, which lacked active and organic linkages with the economy, still persisted. The R&D system lacked horizontal linkages with the economy, and the organization of the R&D institutes was over-centralized; consequently they could not develop their full potential. The system emphasized a technology "push" in the economy and was not generally responsive to demand. By the 1980s, the Chinese authorities were admitting that they were not only behind the developed countries, but also behind some of the NIEs.

The S&T system has consequently been considerably reformed in recent years, the new reforms aiming at developing organic linkages between the S&T system and the economy. These reforms have varied from changes in organization to personnel development.

By the early 1990s, at a time when new technologies such as information technology and biotechnology were beginning to transform the available technology spectrum in developed countries, China had gone through several learning phases in technology acquisition and had built up a considerable technology infrastructure. It was allocating roughly 1 per cent of its GDP to R&D, which, though low by developed-country standards, was high by developing-country standards, and by 1985 it had nearly 800,000 scientific and technical personnel.