For the first time in its 26-year history, China's august Academy of Sciences will be run mainly by scientists instead of by Communist Party and government officials.
The academy's new president, Lu Jiaxi, is a scientist, as are four of its five vice-presidents. Dr. Lu was trained at London University and the California Institute of Technology. The academy's supreme decisionmaking organ is the 400-member Scientific Council, composed of various specialists from all over the country.
Leading scientists like Zhou Peiyuan, former president of Peking University, are reported to be delighted with the changes. They had long pressed for party officials to withdraw from day-to-day interference in areas where they had little competence.
The academy's Scientific Council closed its 10-day session May 20, after an effusively complimentary speech by Communist Party General Secretary Hu Yaobang and a tour of the late Chairman Mao Tse-tung's residence in the Forbidden City.
"Books were everywhere," said one scientist, who said he had seen books scattered across one side of the great double bed in which the late chairman slept, as well as one book, open, on a stool in front of the Western-style toilet. The chairman's quarters apparently have been preserved just as he left them at his death.
This scientist was surprised at the heavy preponderance of Chinese classics among Mao's books. "They were so musty, so old," he said, "from the Ming Dynasty and before. No Western books, nothing on science and technology. How could he expect to run a modern country steeping himself in such old books?" Unspoken, but very much on the minds of the scientists at the sessions and on the tour of Chairman Mao's premises, were memories of the Cultural Revolution of 1966 and the antirightist campaign of 1957, both launched by Chairman Mao himself.These campaigns, especially the Cultural Revolution, caused untold sufferings to tens of thousands of intellectuals.
Today, under the leadership of Vice-Chairman Deng Xiaoping, Premier Zhao Ziyang and General Secretary Hu, the party and government have tried to make amends to the scientists, whose expertise they need to modernize China's backward economy.
The scientists seem ready to respond. Almost every council member would have a story to tell of persecution during the Cultural Revolution, said one member who had spent three years in jail.
"But we are taking our cue from people like Su Buqing," he said. Mr. Su, the 79-year-old president of Fudan University in Shanghai, refused all posts in the academy, saying he was too old and younger people should be given a chance. He has been outspoken in his criticisms of whatever needs to be corrected in China's lumbering bureaucratic establishment. But he never refers to his personal tribulations, notably one incident at the height of the Cultural Revolution, when ranting Red Guards threw him into a garbage can full of offal.
The scientists also warmly applauded outgoing president Fang Yi, a high party and government official who took office in 1977 and guided the academy through a difficult time of transition. Mr. Fang, a deputy premier and a member both of the Politburo and the Secretariat, gave a frank assessment of current problems, saying that the primary question was one of changing the system. There were too many bureaucrats snapping at each other like crabs in a basket, and even when the top leadership gave a firm order, one bureaucrat down the line could hold it up for as long as three months.
Mr. Fang refused to run for reelection, saying it was time a scientist was elected to the post. The academy has had just two presidents: Mr. Fang, and before him for 22 years Guo Moruo, who was more a scholar and literary figure than he was a scientist. Under the new Constitution, officeholders are chosen for four years by a 29-member presidium and may be reelected only once.
Party and government interests continue to be safeguarded because one-third of the presidium members come from science-related government offices or from the academy's own party branch, like Vice-President Hu Keshi. Scientists like Mr. Zhou have said they recognize the need for the party to be in overall control. What they resented was having nonscientists making day-to-day decisions on matters about which they had no competence. The new Constitution remedies this defect and could serve as a model f or other organizations.