Will the real China please stand up?

National Synchrotron Radiation Laboratory (NSRL), one of two national laboraties in China
Two articles in the latest issue of Nature prompted this note. The first claims that China’s historical culture inhibits science:

“Two cultural genes have passed through generations of Chinese intellectuals for more than 2,000 years. The first is the thoughts of Confucius, who proposed that intellectuals should become loyal administrators. The second is the writings of Zhuang Zhou, who said that a harmonious society would come from isolating families so as to avoid exchange and conflict, and by shunning technology to avoid greed. Together, these cultures have encouraged small-scale and self-sufficient practices in Chinese society, but discouraged curiosity, commercialization and technology. They helped to produce a scientific void in Chinese society that persisted for millennia. And they continue to be relevant today.”

The second article is titled, Research in Asia Heats Up: US Indicators Reveal Challenges and Opportunities as Science Momentum Shifts to China. It reports that:

“Asia, led by China, is on track to displace the United States as the world’s science and technology powerhouse. That message is loud and clear in the 2012 edition of Science and Engineering Indicators, a nearly 600-page snapshot of the state of global research that looks at education, academic infrastructure, the knowledge-based workforce and international markets.”

So what has happened to the two “cultural genes” of Confucius and Zhuang in China? And what is going on with what one might caricature as the U.S. “cultural genes” of curiosity, commercialization, and technology? Just thinking.

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