Science for the People: Science in the Making of Modern China

Shellen Wu, University of Tennessee

Miriam Gross. Farewell to the God of Plague: Chairman Mao’s Campaign to Deworm China. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2016. 376 pp. $70 (cloth/e-book).

Sigrid Schmalzer. Red Revolution, Green Revolution: Scientific Farming in Socialist China. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2016. 320 pp. $40 (cloth/e-book).

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Despite its importance, science remains an understudied aspect of PRC history. The recent provenance of the field underscores its deeply politicized history. In China, historians of science, particularly those at the Institute for the History of Natural Science (IHNS) within the Chinese Academy of Sciences, only began to broach modern science in China as a topic of study in the 1980s. The rapidly shifting political winds of the previous era had kept the topic largely off-limits (Wang 2007). Yet many of the signal achievements of the Communist Party prominently featured science. At the same time, the state—from the late Qing imperial bureaucracy to the Communist Party regime—both shaped the development of science and technology and benefited from the authority conferred by breakthroughs in science.

Right on cue, two excellent new works reveal the multifaceted and complex nature of science in the PRC. In Farewell to the God of the Plague, Miriam Gross examines how the Communist Party deployed public health campaigns as a form of “scientific consolidation,” by using science as a means to extend its control over the population. Sigrid Schmalzer’s Red Revolution, Green Revolution looks at agricultural science and the unique and distinctive trajectory of the Chinese green revolution.... Both works demonstrate the manifold ways science filtered into the countryside and became the basis of the party’s interactions with the rural populace...