The Stakes of Engagement: Borders and Exchanges in Late Imperial and Modern China
Opening and Reform before 1978? The Hua Guofeng Transition and China’s Scientific Opening to the United States
Saturday, March 26, 2022
10:30am – 12:00pm EST
Virtual Paper Presenter(s)
University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong
This paper contributes to a growing historiography that questions the narrative of 1978 as a dividing line in Chinese history. It does so in two interrelated ways. First, it further reveals how the transitional Hua Guofeng era saw the implementation of precursor policies to those of Reform and Opening: in this case, a scientific opening to the outside world and an enthusiasm for importing foreign advanced technology, at almost any cost. Second, the paper shows how this scientific opening to the outside was deeply connected to another area of PRC policymaking often believed to have fundamentally changed in 1978: relations with the United States. The paper reveals how the origins of the achievements of that year—diplomatic normalization and a deepening of societal contacts between China and the United States—can be traced to a shift in Sino-American ties from the triangular diplomacy of the Mao-Nixon era to a focus on what the two countries could gain from the other in scientific interactions that was already evident in the mid-1970s. The paper employs Chinese and US archival and published sources. Published Chinese documents reveal how arguments for drawing on knowledge and technology from outside to support Chinese modernization emerged far earlier than 1978. These published sources are combined with Chinese archival records of hosting American scientific exchange delegations that show how shifting Chinese science policy was felt in interactions with American scientists. Finally, documents from the US government and from American non-governmental scientific institutions reveal how US actors increasingly saw the scientific and diplomatic relationship with China as being closely, interactively linked—and how this made them so.