China's Techno-Warriors: National Security and Strategic Competition from the Nuclear to the Information Age (review)
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Reviewed by
Evan A. Feigenbaum, China's Techno-Warriors: National Security and Strategic Competition from the Nuclear to the Information Age. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2003. 339 pp. $55.00.

China's Techno-Warriors discusses the complex interaction of defense planning, technological development, and political-economic policymaking in China after the Communist Party's assumption of power in 1949. Drawing extensively on the memoirs of senior officials responsible for national defense, science policy, and economic planning, Evan Feigenbaum shows how technological issues repeatedly shaped upper-level policy deliberations within China. He asserts that the history and achievements [End Page 139] of the strategic nuclear weapons program—arguably the singular technological feat of the Maoist era—largely defined future patterns of scientific, economic, and weapons development.

Feigenbaum contends that pursuit of long-term technological autonomy and "a uniquely military approach to China's development" in service of the state (what he terms "technonationalism") have been dominant over the past half-century. He traces these phenomena through the careers and decisions of senior policymakers and the scientific and technical personnel favored by them. However, it is never clear in his account whether technonationalism is best regarded as a coherent set of beliefs animating the actions of China's scientific and military elites or a metaphor and political symbol invoked to legitimate research & development (R&D) goals and resource allocations. If the latter is the case, technonationalism succeeded brilliantly. If the former, the legacy is far more problematic.

Although Feigenbaum endeavors to write an integrated history, his book encompasses three separate periods with very different domestic and international characteristics: (1) deliberations and decisions on military R&D priorities during the late 1950s and early 1960s; (2) Deng Xiaoping's efforts to redirect China's defense and economic policies following the death of Mao Zedong; and (3) the maturation of science and technology policy in the 1980s and 1990s. The depth and detail in each of his case studies are admirable. Few scholars have been as diligent in mining the wealth of new primary sources published over the past two decades.

Nevertheless, Feigenbaum's reliance on memoir literature is both a strength and a liability. The reminiscences of various defense planners and scientists have enormously enriched our understanding of the decisions and policy conflicts in which they were involved. This literature also highlights the pivotal importance of personal relations (extending to the offspring of various leaders and to marriage ties) across the decades. But some of these accounts possess an air-brushed quality, and Feigenbaum often accepts them far too uncritically. The implications of various crises and controversies are often lacking (notably, the impact of the Tiananmen crisis on U.S. technology transfer policy), and some of the less endearing features of the system (including corruption, nepotism, and Chinese missile sales to the Third World) receive scant or no attention. At other times, Feigenbaum's account of various policy controversies seems much too seamless and orderly, with the winners of various bureaucratic and policy battles repeatedly overcoming the shortsightedness of their predecessors through organizational and conceptual fixes.

Two figures dominate Feigenbaum's account: Marshal Nie Rongzhen, who led China's nuclear weapons program from its infancy to its fruition; and Deng Xiaoping, who was primarily responsible for undoing much of the pathology of the Maoist era and again valuing scientific and intellectual expertise. Both were extraordinarily talented and determined leaders, and their single-mindedness no doubt accounts for much of their success. Feigenbaum admirably imparts how both Nie and Deng were able to overcome daunting obstacles, present their arguments, and recruit political allies. Somewhat puzzlingly, however, two major figures are either largely or totally absent [End Page 140] from the book: Mao Zedong and Jiang Zemin, China's paramount leaders for nearly three-quarters of China's post-1949 history. Mao dominated all major decisions in China for more than twenty-five years. He was one of the earliest and strongest advocates of nuclear weapons development (ensuring that the program received massive infusions of scarce resources and that key personnel were insulated as much as possible from China's wrenching internal upheavals), and he actively sought to undermine and then...


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