In the newly released proposal for China’s 14th Five-Year Plan, innovation has been placed at the core of the country’s continued modernization. Ability is a key component of innovation, especially when it comes to scientific research. Interestingly, many Chinese have dreamed of contributing to scientific research, especially in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s.
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As Children, Lots of Chinese Dreamed of Becoming Scientists
The comments of 61 Chinese citizens who wanted to be scientists as children — most of whom are now in their 30s — were compiled in a variety of publications, including the MIT Technology Review. Many used similar words and phrases to describe their early dreams. One of these words is “scientists.”
What made these children dream of being scientists in the first place?
At first, children may have thought scientists were remarkable people who could do anything. As they grew older, the heroic aura that had attracted them faded, and they realized their goal was not to become scientists but rather to continue to question, explore and innovate.
Dr. Zhong Nanshan, one of China’s most famous pulmonologists, once said that “if we present scientists as role models, it will help young people to learn to express their ideas, and to ask ‘why’ more often.”
In 2020, 3M, the U.S. technology and manufacturing company, surveyed science attitudes in more than ten countries. They found that 88% of Chinese believe that science will make their lives better, nine percentage points higher than the average level in other countries surveyed.
Behind the Chinese Science Dream: Revolutionizing Daily Life
This belief stems from the revolutionary changes to people’s lives wrought by the technologies derived from science.
In the early days of the People’s Republic of China, the rice yield was only 1,890kg per hectare, and there was an urgent need to increase production.
While doing some of the first field tests at the Anjiang Agricultural School in Hunan Province, Yuan Longping, then a young teacher, discovered natural hybrid rice, with an excellent shape and large ears, capable of producing more than 160 grains, far exceeding the yield of ordinary rice.
From then on, he researched hybrid rice, continuously seeking to improve its yield. In 2020, the double-season hybrid rice yield per hectare exceeded 22,500kg, and China’s per capita grain production exceeds 470kg, higher than the internationally recognized minimum of 400kg. Hybrid rice accounts for about 50 percent of the 30 million hectares of rice planted in China.
Diseases are the natural enemy of humankind. Trachoma, a chronic infectious inflammation of the cornea caused by chlamydia trachomatis, was the leading cause of blindness in China before the 1950s. At the time, the prevalence of trachoma was about 50 percent, and in some rural areas, it reached as high as 90 percent.
After a series of experiments, Tang Feifan, one of China’s first-generation medical virologists and microbiologists, successfully isolated chlamydia trachomatis. Risking blindness, he conducted experiments on himself to doublecheck his findings, which eventually led to a major change in the classification of microorganisms and reduced trachoma incidence from nearly 95 percent to just 10 percent.
Public Acceptance of Science Generally Increased After the COVID-19 Pandemic
It is because of scientists that science can benefit the public. Scientific guidance and a long-standing trust in science have helped China prevent and control epidemics efficiently.