China frees scientific research from the restraints of party line

Springtime has finally arrived for China's scientists. For many years the Chinese Communist leadership treated its scientists at best with something less than full trust, at worst with humiliating and cruel persecution. Today, when China's foremost goal is modernization within 20 years , the leadership wants to make amends.

"There can be no modernization without advanced science and technology," said Hu Yaobang, general secretary of the Communist Party, in his first published speech since assuming his position late in February.

And an editorial in the People's Daily says there must be no meddling in matters that properly fall within the jurisdiction of (scientific) experts and no attempt to turn scientific and technological associations into "appendages of administrative organs."

Both Mr. Hu's speech and the People's Daily editorial were occasioned by the second national congress of the Chinese Scientific and Technical Association -- umbrella organization of China's scientists. The association was suppressed during the 10 years of the socalled Cultural Revolution and the rule of the "gang of four" headed by Mao Tse-tung's widow, Jian Qing (Chiang Ching). Many of its members were jailed, or killed, or demoted to cleaners and elevator attendants.

An incident referred to by Mr. Hu expresses the atmosphere of those days. In 1974 a student from Liaoning Province handed in a blank sheet of paper instead of replying to examination questions. He did so, he said, to criticize the questions that were asked.

This attitude was highly praised by Jiang Qing and the student went all around the country making speeches. That is the atmosphere the party leadership wants to put forever behind it.

Scientists are to be honored as teachers and experts and to be assured that the policy of "let 100 schools of thought contend" is here to stay. "There are no forbidden zones in science. All men are equal before science," said the People's Daily editorial March (c) .

The scientists, for their part, have made their ritual obeisance to the leadership of the party. "The profoundest understanding we have gained from 30 years of work as scientific and technological associations is this," said Zhou Peiyuan, president of the association,"That not for one instant can we separate ourselves from the leadership of the party."

What the party wants of the scientists, clearly, is their enthusiasm, their knowledge, their creative and innovative skills. Mr. Hu's speech indicated the party was ready to go quite far to try to obtain these.

He lashed out at old party cadres who, he said, though often less competent than younger, better-educated, scientifically trained workers, were unwilling to trust them, unwilling to give them real responsibilities.

Even scientists who "were not good in leaderhip positions, but who loved scientific research and were good at it, should be boldly allowed to display their talents, and their opinions and proposals should be heard respectfully," Mr. Hu said.

As for those who combined skill in scientific research with real leadership abilities, Mr. Hu continued, "they should boldly and in a planned manner be placed in leaderhip positions in the party, government, economic enterprises, and scientific and education fields."

Mr. Hu's speech at the congress' closing session March 23 received top headline in all major newspapers the following day and was reprinted in full on March 25.

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