- Mr. Science and Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution: Science and Technology in Modern China ed. by Chunjuan Nancy Wei and Darryl E. Brock
Was the Cultural Revolution (1966–76) an absolute calamity for Chinese science and technology or was it actually beneficial at a certain level and in some areas? While the former verdict has been widely accepted around the world in the past three decades, some researchers have challenged this total-failure narrative and begun to explore the Cultural Revolution’s true impact on Chinese developments. Chunjuan Wei, a political scientist at the [End Page 270] University of Bridgeport, and Darryl Brock, a Ph.D. candidate in modern history at Fordham University, have joined these challengers and edited this volume to advance two propositions. The first is best summarized by Joseph Dauben in his foreword, namely “despite the difficulties and denunciations many suffered during the Cultural Revolution, there were important areas of science and technology that nevertheless continued to receive support and in fact achieved substantial results during the Cultural Revolution” (p. xvi). The second claims that there are “potential continuities” between the tradition of the May Fourth Movement and that of the Cultural Revolution, with “influences from the former to the latter” (p. 5).
The first thesis is significant and thought-provoking but, unfortunately, has not been effectively supported by the enclosed contributions. Among the eleven essays, five actually contradict this thesis and one concerning post-Mao population policy is irrelevant; only five papers are more or less supportive. Among the dissenters, Cong Cao examines the impact of the Cultural Revolution and concludes that its influence on “China’s scientific enterprise and scientists” was uniquely “long and devastating” (p. 119); Michael Mikita argues that “the ways in which the Cultural Revolution brought science and technology closer to the people,” depicted in the 1975 propaganda movie Breaking with Old Ideas, was merely “a utopian vision of an egalitarian future” (p. 161); Yibao Xu investigates how “ideology dramatically affected mathematicians during the Cultural Revolution” (p. 167) and demonstrates that “[the] dialectical approach to understanding the origins of calculus, in the end, proved unable to withstand scrutiny” (p. 186); Yinghong Cheng analyzes “the intense and enduring Maoist interest in and discussion on cosmology” and argues that the discussion was “essential” for justifying “the [Cultural] Revolution and similar political campaigns in scientific terms” (p. 197); and Rudi Volti assesses worker innovation—a Maoist approach to technological development—during the Cultural Revolution and concludes that instead of “elevating China’s technological prowess,” “the encouragement of shop-floor and grass-roots technological innovation” in fact “further debilitated” the country (p. 343).
Among the supporters of the first thesis, Darryl Brock theorizes and concludes that “in many ways, Chairman Mao’s science policy did have benefits to scientific innovation and that the mass line emerged better prepared to meet a technological future in the final decades of the twentieth century” (p. 110). However, Brock does not distinguish between the accomplishments during the Cultural Revolution and those due to it; he utilizes almost no primary sources, especially those in Chinese, except a few pieces from Peking Review and Hongqi (Red Flag), two of the main propagandist organs of the Chinese authorities at the time! He has too easily accepted the face value of the contemporary Chinese and Western reports, which hardly tell the whole truth. As a result, his arguments are far from convincing. Stacey Solomone explores the Cultural Revolution’s impacts [End Page 271] on China’s aerospace industry and attempts to “demonstrate that Mao quite successfully utilized the nascent industry for his military and political goals” (p. 234); this is based mostly on secondary materials and media reports and makes no reference to two very relevant and significant books by Li Chengzhi (Zhongguo hangtian jishu fazhan shigao [A Draft History of Space Technology in China], 2006) and Liu Jifeng (Liang dan yi xing gongcheng yu da kexue [The Project of “Two Bombs, One Satellite”: A Model of...