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US-Trained Chinese (Returned) Scientific Diaspora, the Transformation of Modern China, and the Evolution of Sino-American Relations from the Mid-19th Century to the Present

Le rôle de la diaspora scientifique chinoise (« de retour ») dans la transformation de la Chine moderne et l’évolution des relations sino-américaines de la seconde moitié du xixe siècle à nos jours
Caixia Tan

Résumés

Cet article s’intéresse à une petite mais non moins importante portion des diasporas chinoises, la diaspora chinoise scientifique et intellectuelle, éduquée aux États-Unis et/ou « rapatriée » (de retour) en Chine. Cette diaspora a exercé une influence significative à la fois sur la transformation de la Chine moderne et sur l’évolution des relations sino-américaines de la seconde moitié du xixe siècle jusqu’à nos jours. L’approche est plus historique que conceptuelle étant donné que nous adoptons une perspective de long-terme sur ce sujet. Au croisement des affaires domestiques et internationales de leur pays d’origine, les diasporas scientifiques peuvent être considérées comme une force sociale puissante. Elles exercent de l’influence sur les politiques étrangères de leur pays d’origine tout comme sur les décisions politiques orientées vers l’extérieur de leur terre d’accueil. Dans le cas de la diaspora chinoise scientifique et intellectuelle éduquée aux États-Unis et/ou « rapatriée » en Chine, ses membres ont été sur le front de batailles idéationnelles successives concernant le modèle chinois de développement ainsi que sa position vis-à-vis des États-Unis. D’une part, en tant que facilitateurs de la diffusion de connaissance et de transfert technologique, et en tant que porteurs des idées, des concepts, et des technologies plus « avancés », ils ont joué un rôle très important dans la (trans)formation des systèmes éducatif, politique, et technologique en Chine. D’autre part, ils ont aussi été des initiateurs et des acteurs majeurs dans la coopération transnationale entre les États-Unis et la Chine, notamment dans le domaine de la science et de la technologie. Notre analyse se déroule dans un ordre chronologique et se divise en deux principales parties historiques, la période antérieure à 1979, ou l’héritage du passé, suivie de la période postérieure à 1979 dans laquelle l’ampleur et l’impact de cette diaspora scientifique s’intensifient suite à l’établissement (en 1979) de relations diplomatiques entre les États-Unis et la République populaire de Chine.

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Introduction

  • 1 India’s diaspora was the largest in the world (18 million), followed by Mexico and the Russian Fed (...)
  • 2 According to 2018 Census Bureau tabulations, quoted in Carlos Echeverria-Estrada and Jeanne Batalo (...)

1In 2020, there were 10 million people from China living outside of their homeland, making China the fourth on the list of countries with the largest diasporas.1 In the United States, the Chinese diaspora, when defined more broadly to include those “who were either born in China or reported Chinese ancestry or race,” was comprised of approximately 5.5 million individuals in 2018,2 which was the largest overseas Chinese community outside Asia. This article focuses on a small but significant fraction of the Chinese diasporas, namely the US-trained Chinese (returned) intellectual and scientific diaspora, and it aims to examine the role that this subgroup has played in the transformation of modern China and in the shaping of US-China relations from the mid-19th century to the present.

  • 3 The concept of diaspora is descended from the Greek word diaspeirein, meaning “to scatter, spread (...)

2Traditionally, the notion of diaspora implies that only those who live outside of their countries of origin are concerned. However, given the aim of this article, it seems relevant to consider diaspora as an experience and identity, and scientific diaspora as transnational organizations and relational networks.3 In other words, it is their history of migration and being part of the Chinese diaspora as an (educational) experience that matters rather than their country of residence after the migration experience. Moreover, new technologies of information and communications have made circular exchange and international mobility a matter of fact and rendered geographical proximity a less determining factor. That is why the expression “Chinese scientific diaspora” is used here to refer to people of Chinese origin, who have a history of migration to the United States, and/or who are US-educated, trained and engaged in scientific or knowledge-intensive activities. It is mainly comprised of the scientific community (including students and scholars) and skilled technical and professional workers based in the United States or/and in China.

  • 4 A 2016 study shows that more than 80 percent of recent emigrants from China to the United States w (...)

3By and large, this subset of the Chinese diasporic community does not fall into the “victim paradigm” of the traditional concept of diaspora but pertains to the “opportunity paradigm” in that it is more about voluntary than forced displacement as they are in search of better educational and economic opportunities in the United States. This is especially true for those who are educated in the US in the post-1979 era. Because of their relatively high level of education and their subsequent privileged socio-economic and/or political positions,4 the scientific diaspora, as an elite group, tends to be more active in community and professional affairs and to be in a position to appeal for mobilization of the larger diaspora. Thus, we can expect this subgroup of the Chinese diaspora to be the core members within the diasporic community, who participate actively and are involved in homeland-related affairs.

4In light of the above, this article aims to empirically assess the nature, scope and magnitude of the impact of diasporic engagement in modern China’s transformation as well as the implications for Sino-US relations. To this end, the present paper relies on both micro- and macro-level data sources. By micro-level data sources, I mean information and sources related to notable individuals or groups as part of the Chinese scientific diaspora involved in the building of the modern state of China as well as US-China relations. This includes biographies, interviews with returnees in the existing literature, and historical accounts written or collected by other scholars. By macro-level data sources, I mean government and official sources, such as the Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China concerning the statistics of students studying abroad and the number of returnees, and the Institute of International Education concerning the evolution of the number of Chinese students in the US.

5The approach adopted is more historical than conceptual as I seek to take a long-term perspective on the subject. The analysis will follow a chronological order. It will focus on two main historical periods: the pre-1979 era, or the legacy of the past, followed by the post-1979 era in which both the size and the impact of the scientific diaspora have been increasing since the establishment (in 1979) of the bilateral diplomatic relationship between the US and the People’s Republic of China (PRC). In each historical period and subperiod, I try to present the main trends and key events of the period (at the macro level), accompanied by examples or case studies at the micro level. Due to the vast scope of this research, not every facet of the US-trained Chinese scientific diaspora’s impact on China’s transformation and Sino-American relations can be covered in an exhaustive way. For example, while I do briefly mention the demographic distribution of the scientific diaspora at a given time-period, I will not elaborate comprehensively on the evolution of the composition over time and across space: it can be the subject of another study especially given that there is little existing literature on this topic.

Legacy of the Past (1840-1978)

“Exile” at home

  • 5 Or Qing dynasty, also known as Manchu dynasty, was established by Manchus to designate their regim (...)
  • 6 Peter Buck, American Science and Modern China, 1876-1936, Cambridge; New York: Cambridge Universit (...)
  • 7 For example, Edmund James, who once served as the president of the University of Illinois, argued (...)
  • 8 The introduction of Western learning in China was done in four successive periods mainly through r (...)
  • 9 Guangxu Emperor was the eleventh emperor (1875–1908) of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912).
  • 10 The journal was founded in 1868 and edited by American missionaries. It covered a wide range of in (...)
  • 11 Zhenli Yao, “The Influence of American Missionaries on Modern Chinese Education,” in The 6th Moder (...)
  • 12 Peking (Beijing) University’s precursor was Jingshi Daxuetang, or the Imperial University of Pekin (...)
  • 13 John Leighton Stuart, Fifty Years in China, New York: Random House, 1946, 10. For Stuart, the peri (...)
  • 14 Some major Strengthening Movement leaders, such as Zeng Guofan, Li Hongzhang, and Kang Youwei, rec (...)
  • 15 The abolition of the Imperial Examination by the Qing government signaled the end of the cultural (...)

6The first generations of US-educated Chinese are special ones in that they were educated by their American counterparts while being at home. After the two Opium Wars (1839-1842 and 1856-1860), the Middle Kingdom came to recognize Western superiority for the first time, especially in terms of modern science and technology. Qing China5 hoped to learn and use Western technology as a way to reestablish the supremacy of its cultural and political traditions. China’s strategy of “learning from barbarians in order to control the barbarians” was met with the Americans’ desire to be the “architect of the Chinese future,”6 and to be able to “control the development of China.”7 Americans introduced to China the Western political system and modern theories of democracy, law, international politics, and so on, mainly through missionary educational activities, including translation and publication of books and journals. The latter attracted an audience interested in Western culture and customs while trying to make sense of the outside world. Many Qing officials are reported to have been faithful readers of this new pool of literature known as “Western learning” among the Chinese.8 Guangxu Emperor for example,9 was a faithful reader of Wan Kwoh Kung Pao, or the Review of the Times,10 considered at that time as the anthology or compilation of Western new knowledge. It became the main channel through which Chinese intellectuals learned about the outside world. After the Chinese defeat in the Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895), it was Guangxu who initiated, in 1898, the Hundred Days’ Reform which aimed to change the Chinese state and social system to base it on the Western model. Missionaries also established schools and medical institutions. By 1890, American missionaries had established 1,032 elementary schools (with 16,310 students) and 74 higher schools, colleges and universities (with 3,819 students).11 The missionary schools served as a model after which the Chinese elite aspired for establishing new schools. One of them became the precursor of today’s Peking University.12 Indeed, during the period of 1840-1949, American-educated Chinese individuals formed an intellectual elite power base which arguably became one of the most powerful agencies in silently dissolving the old order and largely assisting in China’s “awakening.”13 This ideational influence was clearly not without consequences for a series of reforms and political / social movements in China, including the Self-Strengthening Movement (1861-1895) aiming at mastering weapons and transportation technology to fend off foreigners,14 the Hundred Days’ Reform Movement (June 11 to September 21, 1898) undertaken by the young Guangxu Emperor, the abolition of the Imperial Examination in 1905,15 and the 1911 Revolution overthrowing the Qing Dynasty together with its political institutions that dated back to the Qin Dynasty (221-207 B.C.).

Go West, Young Man!

7Beyond the Chinese territory, the early 1900s saw the first wave of Chinese students sent to the United States in the hope that they would bring back technological skills to build a strong and prosperous China. Among them, it is worth mentioning the Chinese Educational Mission (CEM, from 1872 to 1881) and the American Boxer Indemnity fellowship program (1909-1930). The CEM was initiated by Yung Wing, the first-known Chinese to graduate from a US university (Yale) in 1854.16 He persuaded the Qing Court to send supervised groups of young Chinese to the United States to study Western science and engineering in the New England region of the United States (beginning in 1872). This bold experiment was aborted in 1881 due to a conservative intrigue in the imperial court, denouncing the Chinese students sent to the US for their adaptive behavior and for being denationalized or Christianized. In spite of this, many of the US-trained returnees became active in, and made significant contributions to, China’s telegraph, mining and railway sectors.17

  • 18 Xiaojuan Zhou, “The Influences of the American Boxer Indemnity Reparations Remissions on Chinese H (...)
  • 19 Ibidem., 37. Despite the thoroughness of this research on the students sent by the Program, it is (...)
  • 20 Ibid., 5 & 31.
  • 21 Ibid., 5.
  • 22 Ibid., 42-46.
  • 23 Id., 52.
  • 24 For example, thanks to the contribution of the students sent by the Program, Tien-Mo Wang and Shao (...)
  • 25 Weili Ye, Seeking Modernity in China’s Name: Chinese Students in the United States, 1900-1927, Sta (...)

8When it comes to the Boxer Scholarship Program, it brought hundreds of qualified Chinese students to the United States. Initially, the Qing government’s intention of sending students abroad was for them to study science, engineering, and agriculture in order to help develop engineering and agriculture once they would return to China.18 However, the percentage of the returnees who were engaged in higher education turned out to be surprisingly high (over 61%).19 Out of the approximately twelve hundred students sent by this Program from 1909 to 1929, which made up about a quarter of the total number of students in the US during the same period,20 there emerged some outstanding administrators, founders, teachers, pioneers, and textbook writers who made remarkable contributions to, or achievements in, Chinese higher education.21 The returnees were also credited with having created a number of “firsts”: the first Department of Geology at Peking University, the first Department of Biology at Nanjing Higher Normal School, the automatic engineering research class at National Central University which evolved into the first Department of Aeronautical Engineering, the first Department of Business at Fudan University, to name just a few.22 Besides, at least 35 students taught in the US after their graduation (either before returning to China or because they chose to settle down in the US).23 These scholars contributed to the development of Asian studies, such as Chinese linguistics, Chinese literature, Chinese philosophy, and Far Eastern studies in American universities and research institutions.24 From the Chinese perspective, the impact of the Boxer Scholarship Program was so prominent that it is considered to be “the most important scheme for educating Chinese students in America and arguably the most consequential and successful in the entire foreign-study movement of twentieth century China.”25 In addition, their contribution to the American institutions shows that their impact is a “two-way street” in that they also helped to set up a cultural bridge between China and the US.

  • 26 The first being the Provisional Government of the Republic of China founded after the 1911 Xinhai (...)
  • 27 In the Romanization of Chinese personal names and place names, Hanyu Pinyin spelling is used where (...)
  • 28 Sung is the Wade-Giles spelling of “Song”.
  • 29 As the wife of Chiang.

9In the political sphere, American influence was also remarkable in post-Imperial China, a period in which three governments were established before the founding of the PRC in 1949.26 The “Father of the Nation”, the first president of the Republic of China, Sun Yat-sun,27 received his education in Hawaii from the age of 13 and eventually became a Christian. Sun’s wife, Song Qingling, a member of the influential Sung Family,28 was also educated in the United States and assumed an active role in politics after her husband Sun’s death in 1925. Song Qingling’s father, Charlie Sung was educated in the United States and trained by the Methodists for missionary work among the Chinese. Her brother Sung Tzu-wen, or Song Ziwen, who graduated from Harvard University and returned to China in 1917, became active in banking and financial circles. He became finance minister in 1925 in the new Nationalist government, a position he held until 1949. A third member of the Sung Family was Song Meiling, also called Madame Chiang Kai-shek.29 Song Meiling was educated in the US and was said to be thoroughly Americanized. She married Chiang in 1927 and helped introduce him to Christianity, Western culture and ideas. She also became the first Chinese and only the second woman to address a joint session of the US Congress, where she sought increased support for China in its war against Japan. Her efforts resulted in substantial financial aid, and Song Meiling so impressed the American public that until 1967 her name appeared annually on the US list of the 10 most admired women in the world.

  • 30 The 1945 atomic bombing on Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the United States contributed to strengthen C (...)
  • 31 This number, however, doesn’t distinguish those who left before and after 1912. Ibidem.
  • 32 Until late Qing before the coming into existence of missionary universities, there were no institu (...)
  • 33 Dong Wang, The United States and China: A History from the Eighteenth Century to the Present, Asia (...)

10The Republic of China (1912-1949) also sent a significant number of students to study in the United States, with a majority specializing in Science and Engineering (S&E), notably to learn how to make atomic bombs.30 It is estimated that until 1949, there were over 6,200 Chinese students who went to study in the United States, with about 80% majoring in natural sciences and engineering.31 Most of the Nationalist government ministers between 1927 and 1949 were educated in the US, and they looked to American liberal arts education for designing Chinese higher education.32 America’s role as China’s teacher was also magnified in the case of the National Trade Commission in China – an organization that controlled both public and private trading enterprises in the Nanjing government between 1937 and 1945: 42 out of the 95 senior members of the Commission had received degrees, mostly masters and doctorates, from American universities or from St. John’s University in Shanghai, which was established by an American missionary organization. 33

  • 34 See note 7.

11While the US-educated Chinese elite made significant contribution to China’s modernization and catching-up, from the American perspective, the US also reaped returns in moral, intellectual, political, and commercial influence in China, as envisioned by Edmund James.34

Through Closed Gates

  • 35 Most of these students went to study abroad between 1946 and 1948. Among them, 3500 (63%) were in (...)
  • 36 Zuoyue Wang, “Transnational Science During the Cold War: The Case of Chinese American Scientists,” (...)
  • 37 It is even said that “the Chinese government decided to launch its missile program in large part d (...)
  • 38 “2011 Person of the Year: Nuclear Pioneer – Zhu Guangya” [in Chinese], CCTV, February 12, 2012, <h (...)
  • 39 Zuoyue Wang, “Transnational Science During the Cold War,” op. cit., 374.
  • 40 Id., 373.

12With the establishment of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1949 and the US policy of non-recognition of the PRC, the number of Chinese students dropped dramatically. Meanwhile, some 1039 US-trained Chinese scientists returned to China as a response to Premier Zhou Enlai’s call for Chinese overseas students’ contribution to New China’s national construction. 1,000 was a significant number at a time when there were only 5,541 Chinese overseas students with a majority of them (3,500) living in the United States.35 The returnees’ contribution to China’s catching-up process is officially recognized, highly regarded and praised by the government. For example, half of the leaders of the Chinese nuclear weapons projects were those who returned from the US in 1958, shortly after his return to China, Qian Xueshen, a famous returnee, helped to found the elite University of Science and Technology of China. It was part of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), which was reportedly based on the model of California Institute of Technology.36 Later, Qian became the director of the Institute of Mechanics of the Academy and later organized the Chinese rocket and missile programs.37 Another returnee, Zhu Guangya, led the development of China’s atomic bomb and hydrogen bomb programs after his graduation from the University of Michigan where he obtained his doctoral degree in physics in 1949. Zhu also founded the Department of Physics at Northeast Renmin University and is considered as the “father of two bombs and one satellite.” Zhu’s impact is so significant that he was one of the “Top Ten People Who Moved China” in 2011.38 Similarly, Nie Rongzhen, the military-administrative head of the Chinese nuclear weapons complex during the Cold War, has been widely credited with the creation of a flexible research and development management system. Qian, Zhu, and Nie, together with other US-trained returnee Chinese scientists, are considered to have played a key part in the conceptualization and implementation of the system in China.39 Altogether, 129 of these returned students went to work in the elite CAS, and 109 of them obtained the senior status of associate research fellow (25% of all such positions in the Academy).40

  • 41 The Semiconductor Research Team was formed following the 1956-1967 Twelve-Year Science and Technol (...)
  • 42 Lin returned to China in January 1957 with some research material hidden in her baggage. Even duri (...)

13In the field of semiconductor research, a handful of US returnees became founding members and the backbone of the Chinese Semiconductor Research Team,41 which was the precursor of the Institute of Semiconductors established in 1960. Of particular importance were their vision and determination to develop cutting-edge and emerging technologies at a time when it was Soviet experts who defined China’s scientific agenda. For instance, research work to develop monocrystalline silicon as a semiconductor was initially planned not to be carried out until 1968. However, with the Chinese government’s support to advance this research agenda, a US returnee, Lin Lanying, together with her colleagues in the Team, succeeded in making China’s first monocrystalline silicon in 1958, just four years after the United States.42

  • 43 Xiaoming Jin, “The China-US Relationship in Science and Technology,” paper presented at “China’s E (...)
  • 44 Li Zhengdao, whose grandfather (Li Zhongtan) was the first Chinese Methodist Episcopal senior past (...)
  • 45 In a book tracing the history of CUSPEA, there are around 15 correspondences between Li and differ (...)

14Chinese scientists and engineers who had been educated in the US prior to 1949 represented also “an important resource for building mutual understanding and trust during the initial phase” of the US-China rapprochement, and the reopening of the China-US scientific relations.43 This was best shown in the case of the Chinese American community and U.S-educated Chinese scientists in high energy physics. An often-cited example was the program called the China-US Physics Examination and Application (CUSPEA) initiated by Chinese American physicist and Nobel laureate Li Zhengdao (or Lee Tsung-Dao) of Columbia University.44 A good friend of Zhu Guangya who became the “father of two bombs and one satellite” in China (as previously discussed), Li maintained frequent contact with scientists, research institutions (in particular the Chinese Academy of Sciences, or CAS), and government officials in China while teaching and doing research in the US45 In the Spring of 1979, Li was invited to give a series of lectures to the graduate students at the CAS, and he suggested that some of the very talented students could be selected and sent to the US for doctoral programs, hence the initiative of CUSPEA.

  • 46 Ibidem., 14.
  • 47 Ibid., 4.
  • 48 Ibid. See also Richard P. Suttmeier, “State, Self-Organization, and Identity in the Building of Si (...)

15Initially, Li conducted a written test by using the qualifying exam questions of the Department of Physics at Columbia University, and an interview for a small number of graduate students at the Graduate School of the CAS. Five graduate students were admitted to Columbia University in the Autumn of 1979, their expenses being provided by the latter.46 It is worth noting that back in 1979, there was little contact between universities in China and in the US, and they lacked mutual understanding. Moreover, China had not yet established GRE and TOEFL test centers. CUSPEA opened a new pathway for sending graduate students from China to the US. Starting from February 1980, Li sent invitation letters to Professors of Physics of 53 American universities. Largely because of Li’s efforts, all those 53 universities eventually agreed to participate in the Program.47 Under the CUSPEA, more than 1,000 of China’s best and brightest young physicists were placed in the premier US physics programs over a period of ten years.48

  • 49 Zuoyue Wang, “Chinese/American Scientists: A Transnational History,” presentation at Cal. State Po (...)
  • 50 Zuoyue Wang, “Transnational Science During the Cold War,” op. cit., 377.

16Scientists of the time became politically privileged in China not only because of their prestigious role in the modernization drive, but also because of their perceived importance in China’s international relations, especially with the US. Deng Xiaoping repeatedly consulted with outstanding Chinese-American scientists, such as the Nobel Prize winners Lee Tsung-Dao, Yang Zhenning, and Ding Zhaozhong (Samuel Ting) in order to figure out what China could do to upgrade its scientific level. In the absence of official US-Chinese diplomatic relations, the Soviet Union de facto replaced the United States as China’s tutor in advanced science and technology. However, China’s S&T development depended heavily on the employment of a mainly Western-trained, especially American-educated scientific and technological workforce, so much so that Wang Zuoyue, a Chinese American scholar, called this period the “Americanization of Chinese science with Soviet influence and Chinese local conditions.”49 As for other Chinese scientists who decided to stay in the United States, they contributed to a dramatic and then steady change in the “ethnic makeup of the American scientific community” and helped “further the process of Americanization of international science as these scientists played influential roles in science and education policy of their countries of origin [China].”50

Through Open Doors: The Post-1978 Era

Increasing Numbers of the Scientific Diaspora

  • 51 Phrased by Mary Brown Bullock, president emerita of Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia and Fo (...)

17Starting from the end of 1978, a series of bilateral cooperative agreements, including the Understanding on Cooperation in Space Technology and the Agreement on the Exchange of Students and Scholars, were signed in preparation for the normalization of diplomatic relations between the United States and China. This was followed by the famous bilateral Agreement on Cooperation in Science and Technology, serving as the formal institutional framework for promoting science and technology exchanges. That was a significant move, as these early government-to-government agreements played a crucial role in setting the stage for the rapid growth of US-China educational exchange, which was to become the “DNA of US-China relations.”51

  • 52 See Xiaoming Jin, “The China-US Relationship in Science and Technology”, 4.
  • 53 Institute of International Education, “Open Doors Fact Sheet [2017]: China,” <https://p.widencdn.n (...)
  • 54 Institute of International Education (IIE), “Leading Places of Origin of International Students, 2 (...)
  • 55 Richard P. Suttmeier, “State, Self-Organization, and Identity in the Building of Sino-US Cooperati (...)

18While no Chinese students were sent to the US from the 1950s until 1974/75, their number grew dramatically, from 52 in 1978 to 78,000 in 2001, the total number of Chinese students in the US from 1978 to 2001 being 189,000.52 Over the past two decades, the number of Chinese students in the US has continued to increase, showing a two-digit growth rate over the period 2007-2015 (see Table 1).53 In the 2019/20 academic year, 372,532 students from China studied in the United States, accounting for 34.6% of all international students in the US.54 China also surpassed India in 2009/10 and consistently ranked number one as the leading place of origin of international students in the US. One characteristic of the China-born scientific diaspora is that a large number of them have pursued university degrees in so-called STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields. As Richard Suttmeier points out, the growth of the US-China educational exchange was fueled symbiotically, by a combination of factors, including “the high absorptive capacity of the US university system,” “the flexible ways in which [US] government research funding could be used to support Chinese graduate students,” and finally “the abundant supply of Chinese candidates for research and training opportunities in the United States”.55

Table 1. Number of Students from China (to the US) (2000/01-2019/20)

Academic year Number of students from China % Change from previous year % of total international students in the US Rank among leading places of origin of international students
2019/20 372,532 8.1% 34.6% 1
2018/19 369,548 1.8% 33.7% 1
2017/18 363,341 3.6% 33.2% 1
2016/17 350,755 6.8% 32.5% 1
2015/16 328,547 8.1% 31.5% 1
2014/15 304,040 10.8% 31.2% 1
2013/14 274,439 16.5% 31.0% 1
2012/13 235,597 21.4% 28.7% 1
2011/12 194,029 23.1% 25.4% 1
2010/11 157,558 23.5% 21.8% 1
2009/10 127,628 29.9% 18.5% 1
2008/09 98,235 21.1% 14.6% 2
2007/08 81,127 19.8% 13.0% 2
2006/07 67,723 8.2% 14.4% 2
2005/06 62,582 0.1% 11.1% 2
2004/05 62,523 1.2% 11.1% 2
2003/04 61,765 -4.6% 10.8% 2
2002/03 64,757 2.4% 11.0% 2
2001/02 63,211 5.5% 10.8% 2
2000/01 59,939 10% 10.9% 1
1999/00 54,466 6.8% N/A N/A
TOTAL 3,699,876
  • 56 See Institute of International Education (IIE), “Leading Places of Origin of International Student (...)

Source: Based on historical data from the Institute of International Education (IIE)56

  • 57 Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China, “Statistics of Students Studying Abroad i (...)
  • 58 The former began in 1998 and offered the scientists incentives that were mostly on a short-term vi (...)
  • 59 By April 2012, the Thousand Talent Program had succeeded in attracting 2,263 scientists to work in (...)

19On the international level, over the period of 1978-2019, the number of Chinese students trained abroad reached 6,560,600; of which over 703,500 went abroad in 2019.57 With this significant number of Chinese nationals educated abroad, China has been concerned with whether overseas students would return to China once they finish their studies. Compared to the pre-1978 era in which overseas students were encouraged to return in order to build a New China, emphasis in the post-1978 era has been on maximizing the number of students studying abroad and then incentivizing them to come back. To achieve that end, a range of incentive programs have been put into place especially from the 1990s onwards. These programs include the Changjiang Scholars Program, the Yangtze River Scholars Award Program which began in 1998 offering short-term visiting incentives,58 and the Thousand Talent Program or the Recruitment Program of Global Experts launched in 2008, providing competitive salaries, research funds, housing, etc. to attract senior-level overseas scientists.59 Special policies have also been implemented by many local governments and research institutions aiming to attract overseas Chinese students.

  • 60 Here, the term “heat” is to be understood as a new trend or wave of increasing number of returnees (...)

20In quantitative terms, China’s proactive policy towards the Chinese scientific diaspora did send out a positive signal and contributed to attracting overseas students back home. Moreover, those proactive measures were taken in the context of China’s rapid economic growth in the past decades, which created multiple opportunities in China and consequently resulted in overseas students’ “return-to-China heat”.60 According to statistics published by the Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China, as the number of students studying abroad continued to increase, the percentage of returnees among overseas Chinese students also kept growing (see Table 2). While the return rate (the percentage of returnees among the Chinese students who have finished their studies abroad) was 62.3% in 2009, this rate reached 86.28% in 2019.

Table 2. Cumulated Number of Chinese Overseas Students, Returnees and Return Rates

Period Cumulated number of overseas students Cumulated number of returnees % of returnees (cumulated number of returnees / cumulated number of overseas students) Return rate of those who have finished their studies
1978-2005 933,400 232,900 24.95% N/A
1978-2008 1,391,500 389,100 27.96% N/A
1978-2009 1,620,700 497,400 30.69% 62.3%
1978-2010 1,905,400 632,200 33.18% N/A
1978-2015 4,042,100 2,218,600 54.89% 79.87%
1978-2019 6,560,600 4,231,700 64.5% 86.28%
  • 61 Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China, “The Ministry of Education Announced the (...)

Source: calculation based on numerous sources available on the website of the Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China61

  • 62 National Development and Reform Commission, “[Expert Opinion] Big Data Analysis: In 2021, the numb (...)
  • 63 Ibidem.
  • 64 Ibid.

21The Covid-19 pandemic constitutes another pull factor attracting overseas Chinese students to return to China after their graduation, as shown in a more recent report published by the Chinese National Development and Reform Commission.62 In 2020, 56.8% of those who intended to return to China were primarily motivated by the fact that China had been more “effective in controlling the pandemic.”63 Indeed, in 2021 alone, the number of returnees exceeded 1 million for the first time, of which 84.74% were overseas Chinese students.64

  • 65 Michael G. Finn, “Stay Rates of Foreign Doctorate Recipients from US Universities, 2011,” Science (...)

22In the same vein, although students from China having received doctorates in Science and Engineering (S&E) are known to have the highest stay rate in the US after their graduation, a 2014 study shows that the stay rate of Chinese students who gained S&E doctorates in 2006 actually decreased slightly over the period of 2007 and 2011. Indeed, while 92% of the doctorate recipients from China in 2006 chose to stay in the United States in 2007, the rate was 85% in 2011 (see Table 3).65

Table 3. Percentage of Temporary Residents Receiving S/E Doctorates in 2006 Who Were in the United States, 2007-2011, by Country of Origin (selected countries)

Country of Origin Doctorate Recipients Percent in the United States
2007 2008 2009 2010 2011
China 4,121 92 91 89 87 85
Taiwan 452 56 48 44 41 38
Japan 194 53 50 45 43 38
South Korea 1,197 58 52 48 45 42
India 1,496 89 88 85 83 82
Thailand 218 27 24 20 19 19
Other East Asia 188 59 57 57 57 58
Jordan 89 44 42 37 37 37
Iran 125 91 90 89 92 92
Israel 55 53 44 38 38 41
Turkey 321 66 63 58 56 56
Other West Asia 318 74 70 72 72 68
Pacific/Australasia 112 70 69 61 60 55
Egypt 113 65 58 55 48 48
Other Africa 269 71 68 65 65 64
Greece 110 60 55 53 53 47
United Kingdom 84 74 67 69 66 64
Germany 130 67 66 61 56 53
Italy 126 64 61 59 59 57
France 107 64 62 62 56 62

Source: Michael G. Finn, 2014, op. cit., p. 6.

  • 66 Jeff Tollefson, “Chinese American Scientists Uneasy Amid Crackdown on Foreign Influence,” Nature, (...)
  • 67 Yu Xie et al., “Caught in the Crossfire: Fears of Chinese-American Scientists,” The Proceedings of (...)

23Admittedly, China’s rapid economic development and the new opportunities that it provides, coupled with China’s proactive policy towards the Chinese scientific diaspora, constitute strong incentives or pull factors for overseas Chinese to consider returning to China. Meanwhile, the evolving US-China relationship, especially the more hostile US stance and policy towards scholars and researchers of Chinese origin, represents a push factor for them to leave the US Naturally, one can think of the more recent China Initiative, a national security program that was launched in 2018 by the Trump administration aiming to counter Beijing’s theft of American intellectual property. The Initiative mostly targeted US-based scientists and scholars of Chinese origin for “research integrity” issues, the most prominent being failure to disclose relationships with Chinese institutions on federal grant applications. In June 2019, government-instigated investigations led US research institutions to “seek the dismissal of at least five ethnically Chinese scientists,” amid crackdown including reduced access to visas and tougher export controls, leaving research institutions “struggling to balance legitimate government concerns with academic openness.”66 It is also reported that, by Autumn 2022, the China Initiative “openly investigated about 150 academic scientists and prosecuted two dozen of them with criminal charges, with many more investigated in secret.”67

  • 68 Or Zhu Song-Chun (朱松纯)
  • 69 Yu Xie, et al., op. cit.
  • 70 See this article on Chinese social media, “Top Chinese-origin Scientists Returning to China, Thank (...)

24The Initiative created a climate of widespread fear among scientists of Chinese descent in the United States, or more broadly, Chinese and Asian Americans, and contributed to the departure of some leading US-based academic researchers of Chinese origin. A case in point is Zhu Songchun’s return to China. As an accomplished computer scientist and artificial intelligence researcher, Zhu was the director of the Center for Vision, Cognition, Learning, and Autonomy (VCLA) at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). He announced his intention to return to China in 2019, which he did in September 2020 when he joined Peking University to lead its Institute for Artificial Intelligence after 28 years in the United States.68 Although it is a tricky task to determine whether Zhu’s decision was largely attributable to his greater career opportunities in China or (at least partly) due to the China Initiative, his case does illustrate that geopolitical tensions between the US and China constitute a push factor leading to brain drains from the American perspective, yet brain gains from the Chinese perspective.69 Indeed, for the Chinese, Zhu’s move was something to be celebrated and to be proud of, and they thanked Trump and the China Initiative for sending top Chinese American scientists like Zhu back to China.70

  • 71 Yu Xie, et al., op. cit.
  • 72 Id.
  • 73 Ryan Lucas, “The Justice Department is Ending its Controversial China Initiative,” NPR, February 2 (...)

25A 2023 quantitative analysis based on the bibliometric data showed that Zhu’s case is not an isolated one. Indeed, after the China Initiative implemented in 2018, the return rate increased for experienced life scientists, although it slowed for junior life scientists.71 The authors concluded that this finding was “consistent with the reported sharp fall in dual affiliations and collaborations between the United States and China by 2021 due to scholars’ fears of the federal government’s suspicion,” and that similar trends were observed among scientists of Chinese descent when the analysis was extended to those migrating out of the United States to other countries, including China, with an increasing fraction relocating to China.72 This Initiative was brought to an end in February 2022 by the US Justice Department, concluding that this initiative was “not the right approach”.73

The Growing Impact of the Scientific Diaspora

  • 74 The origin of the foundation goes back to May 1981, when the CAS Academy Affairs Committee suggest (...)
  • 75 Chen Chunxian’s initiative was discussed by Hu Yaobang and other members of the Chinese Communist (...)

26In addition to diaspora remittances and investment which are not the focus of this article, the “talent pool” trained in the United States has had a significant impact on China’s domestic reform initiatives, including institutional modeling. They brought back both ideational and technical resources for China’s domestic reform and economic development and gradually emerged as a distinguished elite class. They tended to work in coastal provinces and to advance their careers in strategic fields such as university administration, science and technology, foreign trade, banking, and finance where the influence of the American model could be found. In the 1980s for example, China’s S&T-related institutional (re)configuration and agenda-setting were very much inspired by the American model and its practices which they deemed best. The establishment of the Chinese Academy of Science (CAS) Foundation and the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC)74 was modeled on the US National Science Foundation in order to finance basic research. In 1980, the creation of the Service Department for the Development of Advanced Technology by a group at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, led by Chen Chunxian from the Institute of Physics, was also inspired by visits to the Silicon Valley and Route 128 in the US.75

  • 76 See Erik Baark and Suying Liu, “Science and Technology Policy Reforms in China  a Critical Assess (...)
  • 77 The Five-Year Plans (FYP) refer to a series of national long-term economic and social development (...)
  • 78 The Program funded both basic and applied research. An update was made during the period of the Te (...)
  • 79 Deng responded immediately by appointing a committee of 200 scientists to set strategy for basic s (...)

27Moreover, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Central Committee’s “Decision on the Reform of the Science and Technology Management System” of March 1985 (known as the 863 Program, or the National High-tech R&D Program) was to a large degree, “a victory for the economistic position with its new radical program and such ideas were inspired – literally, it turns out, through overseas Chinese scientists – by the liberalist image of the driving forces of innovation in the United States.”76 The 863 Program, implemented during the Seventh Five-Year Plan (FYP) (1986-1990),77 originated in a proposal from four leading scientists in 1986 to focus on the development of basic science and high technology.78 The 863 approach adapted methods pioneered by America’s National Institutes of Health and Department of Defense: most projects were in basic or applied science; planners selected researchers for each topic, and firms were encouraged to participate in specific projects.79

  • 80 See AnnaLee Saxenian, The New Argonauts: Regional Advantage in A Global Economy, Harvard Universit (...)

28In the private sector, especially in the high-tech industry, US-educated returnees as well as the diasporic linkage created by a transnational community of industrial technologists, or “new argonauts” (with frequent trips between the two countries),80 were instrumental in technology transfers from the “center” to the “periphery”, with a significant spillover effect that promoted innovation in China. An emblematic example of this was the development of Beijing Zhongguancun Science Park, modeled on the innovation ecosystem of the Silicon Valley area, following a group of Chinese scientists’ visit to the Silicon Valley and the Boston Route 128 area, both built on the “triple helix model” of innovation favoring interactions between academia, industry and government.

  • 81 See AnnaLee Saxenian, Silicon Valley’s New Immigrant Entrepreneurs, Public Policy Institute of Cal (...)
  • 82 See William R. Kerr, “Ethnic Scientific Communities and International Technology Diffusion,” The R (...)
  • 83 See “Zhongguancun Supports Overseas Returnees,” <http://bjzpark.spotlightbeijing.com/2021-03/26/c_607555.htm >, accessed on January 20, 2023.
  • 84 Rémi Barré et al., (eds), “Chapitre 11. The Chinese Intellectual Diasporas,” Marseille: IRD Éditio (...)
  • 85 See Zhenzhen Li, Jiuchun Zhang, Ke Wen et al. “Health Biotechnology in China – Reawakening of A Gi (...)
  • 86 Igor Filatotchev, Xiaohui Liu, Jiangyong Lu, Mike Wright, “Knowledge Spillovers through Human Mobi (...)
  • 87 As the American China-focused academic Edward Steinfeld noted with acute insight, the real story b (...)

29As mentioned, this diasporic population constitutes a transnational community facilitating skills and technology spillover as well as industrial linkage. Indeed, their role in facilitating transnational collaboration has already been highlighted by some scholars. AnnaLee Saxenian, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, shows that in the late 1990s, nearly three in ten Silicon Valley start-ups were run by immigrants, mostly from India and China. Having become global entrepreneurs, some of these immigrants remained based in Silicon Valley, while tapping low-cost technical talent and financing in their home countries. Others returned home to start businesses but continued working with customers and partners in Silicon Valley.81 In one way or another, immigrant scientists and engineers network and collaborate with their peers at home, thus contributing to the spread of tacit knowledge in the processes of technological diffusion.82 Meanwhile, Zhongguancun Science Park also attracted returned entrepreneurs who have become the main force of entrepreneurship: more than 30 percent of the entrepreneurs in Zhongguancun had studied or worked overseas.83 At the national level, by 2002, China had built more than 60 Pioneering Parks for Overseas Chinese Students.84 In Shanghai alone and in 2004, more than 1,700 firms (including health biotechnology firms) were established by returnees.85 Returnee entrepreneurs also created a significant spillover effect that promoted innovation in other local high-tech firms.86 In the process of institutional and knowledge diffusion, China’s approaches to intellectual property, venture capital, and foreign investment regimes are also becoming more aligned with the West, if not mainly with the United States.87

  • 88 Semiconductor material is commonly used in solar cells.

30The case of China’s solar photovoltaic (PV) industry was emblematic and illustrates well the crucial role that foreign and especially US – educated returnees played in the emergence and the growth of this new technological and industrial sector in China. As mentioned previously, US-educated returnees in the immediate post-liberation period constituted the backbone of the semiconductor-related research team and played an important role in the designing and production of the first self-designed solar cell.88 With China’s Open-Door Policy and then the formulation of China’s long-term strategy to “foster indigenous innovation capacities” across technology sectors, the government provided incentives to attract global talents and R&D investment, striving to make China “an innovation nation.” Chinese solar PV companies benefited strongly from the arrival of highly skilled executives, foreign-trained Chinese scientists and engineers, as well as researchers and other personnel from foreign countries and firms, who brought to China capital, professional networks, and technology acquired in foreign companies or universities.

  • 89 Trina’s senior management team includes, among others, Feng ZhiQiang who received his PhD degree f (...)
  • 90 See Paulson Institute, A Chinese Solar Company’s Fleeting Run in the Arizona Sun, Chicago, Septemb (...)
  • 91 Arnaud de la Tour, Matthieu Glachant, and Yann Ménière, “Innovation and International Technology T (...)

31During the formative phase of China’s solar PV manufacturing industry in the 2000s, the dynamics of the labor market in this sector were remarkable. For example, in the case of Trina Solar, although the company was founded (in 1997) by a Chinese solar pioneer, Gao Jifan, who had neither studied nor worked overseas, its senior management team’s overseas connection was obvious.89 The establishment of Suntech Power in 2001 further created the spill-over effect in China’s solar PV industry. Indeed, Suntech, founded by Shi Zhengrong, is considered to be the “root firm” from which the industry grew, in the same way as Fairchild Semiconductor was to the development of the Silicon Valley area in California. Shi is a Chinese Australian who obtained his Ph.D. in PV at the University of New South Wales (UNSW). He subsequently gained management experience as Deputy Research Director of UNSW spin-off – Pacific Solar – before going back to China and establishing Suntech with the support of the Wuxi local government.90 In 2011, four out of the six members of the Suntech Board had studied or worked in the US or the U.K. The CEO of the second largest company, Yingli, had also studied abroad. In Trina Solar, half of the 12-person management team had studied or worked abroad: four in the US, two in Singapore. At Solarfun, the figure was seven out of ten. On average, 61% of the board members of the three largest Chinese PV firms had studied or worked abroad.91

  • 92 Jeffrey Ball et al., The New Solar System: China’s Evolving Solar Industry and Its Implications fo (...)

32To some extent, the prevalence of executives with foreign training was the result of active recruitment strategies pursued by Chinese firms in a context of scarce skilled labor available locally. Those returned research and technical experts contributed in different ways and fields to narrow China’s gap with the world record in terms of solar cell efficiency. Xiao Xudong, for example, returned to China in 2004 under the Thousand-Talent Program after obtaining his doctoral degree from the University of California, Berkeley, and a subsequent postdoctoral experience at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. He joined the Solar Research Institute of Shenzhen Institutes of Advanced Technology in 2008 after his initial faculty position at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. In 2013, Xiao’s group produced “a CIGS cell with a 19.42% efficiency, about two percentage points lower than the then world record.”92

  • 93 Kelly Sims Gallagher and Fang Zhang, “Innovation and Technology Transfer across Global Value Chain (...)

33At the firm level, Chinese companies were also eager to invite competent researchers and engineers from outside the country. Suntech had a special program for recruiting foreign Chinese, while Trina Solar created special “international staffing teams.” The experts’ assets, including a global education background, cross-cultural understanding, language skills and networks that they built with foreign researchers and institutions, have proven instrumental in building global R&D cooperation between China and other parts of the world. JA Solar, for example, signed an agreement with Innovalight, a firm based in Sunnyvale, California, to co-develop solar cells with conversion efficiencies exceeding 20%, and also for Innovalight to provide silicon nanoparticle ink, a necessary component for this type of solar cells.93

  • 94 Chen served as China’s Minister of Education from 1998 to 2003 and afterwards as State Councilor i (...)
  • 95 Zhou served as China’s Minister of Education from 2003 to 2009 and President of the Chinese Academ (...)

34In academia, returned scholars who were equipped with global insight in addition to their acquired knowledge and expertise, often occupied leading positions in Chinese research institutions and universities. As a matter of fact, two previous Ministers of Education, Chen Zhili94 and Zhou Ji,95 are both returnees from the United States in the 1980s. So is the Vice President of the Supreme Court Wan Exiang (Master of Laws, Yale University, 1987).

35In 1999 for example, returnees represented:

  • 80.6% (507 out of 629) academicians of the Chinese Academy of Sciences;
  • 53.7% (227 out of 423) academicians of the Chinese Academy of Engineering;
  • 2/3 of the award winners “Cross-Century Excellent Talents Program” set up by the Ministry of Education;
  • More than half of the research leaders of the “Hundred, Thousand and Ten Thousand Talents Program” sponsored by the Ministry of Personnel, the “China National Young Scientists Award” funded by China’s Communist Youth League, the “Hundred Talents Program” set up by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the “State Outstanding Youth Scientific Funds” funded by the Natural Science Foundation of China, and the “863 Hi- Technology Research and Development Project” funded by the Ministry of Science and Technology.
  • Over 80% of university academic backbones, chairpersons and directors of national key laboratories;
  • The majority of presidents and vice presidents of universities and colleges have overseas experience.96
  • 97 See Cheng Li, “Bringing China’s Best and Brightest Back Home: Regional Disparities and Political T (...)
  • 98 Ibidem.
  • 99 Amber Ziye Wang, “Fewer Chinese to stay abroad after graduation – Survey,” University World News, (...)

36Another study shows that, as of 2004, more than 50% of university-level administrators in the institutions directly overseen by the Ministry of Education were returnees.97 In addition, 81% of members of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), 54 percent of members of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, and 72% of team leaders of national technological research projects were returnees.98 It was also reported that, as of 2017, more than 70% of project leaders in key national research projects were overseas returnees, while a large number of academics at top institutions such as the Chinese Academy of Sciences also had overseas experience.99

37As China invests enormous resources into its graduate education capacity across thousands of universities, an increasing proportion of the professors at those universities are returnees from the United States and other foreign countries. A 2018 survey based on the profiles of 810 newly appointed professors (recruited between 2011 and 2017) at the universities of Tsinghua (Qinghua) and Peking (Beijing) also demonstrated that returned scholars played key roles in China’s educational sector. This survey shows that nearly half of them had received their Ph.D. degrees abroad (See Table 4), over 40% of whom returned to China within the framework of various recruitment programs of global experts implemented in China.

Table 4. Educational Background of Newly Appointed Professors at Peking and Tsinghua Universities

Domestic Ph.D. Overseas Ph.D. Joint Ph.D. programs Total
Peking University 178 49.44% 174 48.33% 8 2.22% 360
Tsinghua University 235 52.22% 207 46.00% 8 1.78% 450
Total 413 50.99% 381 47.04% 16 1.98% 810
  • 100 Li Xiaoxiao, Zuo Yue, and Shen Wenqin, “Who Got Faculty Positions in Elite Universities – a Survey (...)

Source: Li Xiaoxiao, Zuo Yue, and Shen Wenqin, 2018100

  • 101 Ibidem.
  • 102 Jeffrey Mervis, “Data Check: Why Do Chinese and Indian Students Come to US Universities,” Science, (...)

38Among foreign-trained Ph.D. holders, the American-trained returnees constituted the majority of those who obtained a faculty position at Peking and Tsinghua universities, accounting for 69.5% and 64.7% of the total respectively. This means that 33.6% and 29.8% of all newly-appointed faculty positions at the two Chinese elite universities, Peking and Tsinghua universities respectively, were Ph.D. graduates from American universities and institutions. Moreover, nearly half (47.8%) of these new professors had overseas postdoctoral experience, and again, a vast majority (74.4%) did their post-doc research in an American institution.101 Upon their return, it is very likely that they implemented Western research methods and practices. As Jeffrey Mervis commented, “they are beginning to teach more like we do, publish like we do, and operate their labs like we do.”102

  • 103 For discussion in this regard, see Cheng Li, “Bringing China’s Best and Brightest Back Home,” op.  (...)
  • 104 “Survey Shows: Returned Graduates No Longer Concentrating in First-Tier Cities, High Demand in Fiv (...)
  • 105 Cheng Li, “Bringing China’s Best and Brightest Back Home,” op. cit.,7.
  • 106 Id. Natives of these regions are usually unwilling to work in China’s poorer inland or western reg (...)
  • 107 In the 1930s, 8 of the 15 national universities and 17 of 27 private universities were located in (...)

39To be sure, returnees don’t contribute to China’s modernization and development in an even manner. While it is beyond the scope of this study to give a more detailed and nuanced analysis on the geographical or historical distribution of the returnees as well as their impact on China’s uneven regional development,103 it suffices to say that, motivated mostly by domestic job and business opportunities in their home country, returnees are attracted by more economically developed coastal cities where they can work in large (multinational) companies, foreign-invested enterprises, or well-funded universities and research institutions. In 2017 for example, the first four destinations were Shanghai (18.6%), Beijing (15.6%), Guangzhou (13.4%), and Shenzhen (12%), although cities such as Hangzhou, Wuhan, Nanjing, Chengdu, and Suzhou were becoming more and more popular for the returnees.104 The phenomenon of uneven regional distribution of returnees is not new. Indeed, a 1925 survey of 584 US-trained Chinese showed that 34% of the returnees lived in Shanghai, and a similar survey of 1,152 US-trained returnees conducted in 1937 showed that 28% resided in that city.105 This can be explained by the fact that a majority of Chinese students who went to study abroad in the first half of the 20th century were natives of rich coastal regions – in fact, between 1900 and 1949, 60% of them were natives of the three coastal provinces of Guangdong, Zhejiang, and Jiangsu, provinces more open to the outside world with seaports and merchant traditions.106 Unsurprisingly, coastal cities were also where a disproportionate number of China’s institutions of higher education were concentrated.107

  • 108 Ibid., 8.
  • 109 Ibid.
  • 110 Ibid. 9. Some may continue to hold a teaching or research position at another university outside Q (...)

40Another set of data shows that the same trend persisted in the 2000s in both Shanghai and Beijing. By the end of 2002, Shanghai had attracted approximately 50,000 returnees, accounting for one third of the total number of returnees in the whole country.108 By the end of 2003, of the approximately 110,000 students and scholars from Beijing who had studied abroad, about 40,000 returned to work in Beijing, accounting for almost one fourth of the country’s total number of returnees. Together, Shanghai and Beijing hosted approximately 58% of the total number of returnees in the country at the time.109 By contrast, few returnees chose to work at universities in China’s western (inland) regions. Among the 2,500 state-sponsored students and scholars sent to study abroad in 2002, for example, only three were from Qinghai Province. In fact, the entire province of Qinghai was home to twelve doctorate holders (either foreign-trained or domestically trained), only eight of whom actually worked and lived in the province.110

41Beyond these numbers and other quantitative measures, how can we provide a more qualitative interpretation and thus make sense of this “web of relationships” that has been developed between China and the US over 40 years? One way to do that is to focus on the ideational level which is subtler and less evident. According a 2015 survey conducted by the magazine Foreign Policy (US) on the question of whether years of studying in America change Chinese hearts and minds,

  • 111 Tea Leaf Nation, “Do Years Studying in America Change Chinese Hearts and Minds?” Foreign Policy, D (...)

Chinese students in the United States learn much from the contrasts between America’s education system, media, and social and intellectual life and those they find at home. And they often emerge with more admiration for the United States as a result. But they also gain more respect for the enormity of the task involved in running China – and learn that America’s streets aren’t exactly paved with gold.111

42If US-educated Chinese returnees emerged with “more admiration” for the United States, the longer-term scientific, commercial, and political significance of the educational exchange merits reiteration. As Wendy Frieman noted in a recent commentary on US educational exchanges not only with China but more broadly with Asia,

  • 112 Quoted in Richard P. Suttmeier, “Scientific Cooperation and Conflict Management in US-China Relati (...)

International education promotes and supports virtually all major US foreign policy and business objectives, often in subtle and undocumented ways. US businessmen, military commanders, or government officials who are trying to navigate a foreign country frequently use relationships with former classmates to short circuit what could be a lengthy and expensive process. Scientists and engineers, in particular, seem to form long lasting ties that transcend distance, language and politics. American engineers who visit Thailand or China or Indonesia and contact their former classmates, post-docs, graduate students or lab partners from those countries can tap into special relationships. They sometimes have an entrée with unique access to a country’s science and technology infrastructure that is essential for success in collaborative research, joint production and marketing, and even market intelligence. Often the American scientists and engineers involved in this process do not themselves realize the value of these connections. Without them, however, American business would spend considerable time meeting with senior business executives of Asian companies before getting access to the technical staff. Asian firms tend to be more formally and hierarchically managed than most US high technology firms; a preexisting relationship among scientists and engineers is often a way to cut through layers of the system.112

43When one considers the large number of Chinese students and scholars who have graduated from American universities since the end of the 1970s, and given the previously mentioned fact that a reverse brain drain has brought talented Chinese scientists and engineers back to China for academic leadership positions and as high-tech professionals, the potential for long-term cooperation and conflict management through the mechanisms pointed out by Frieman can be very significant. This is especially true in the Chinese context where personal relationships (guanxi, one of the most well-known elements of Chinese culture in the Western world) play such an important role in facilitating interactions and collective action.

  • 113 See Suttmeier, “The Building of Sino-US Cooperation in Science and Technology,” 19-20. The author (...)
  • 114 See Bihui Jin, et al, “The Role of Ethnic Ties in International Collaboration: the Overseas Chines (...)

44The transnational ethnic ties have also been important in US-Chinese scientific collaboration. If we look at patterns of co-authorship between ethnic Chinese researchers in the United States and those in China, indicators show that there has been a fairly robust pattern of co-authoring between China and the United States.113 A 2007 survey of Chinese-American collaborative papers in about one hundred periodicals also indicated that among 3,603 such papers, 72.3% had at least one author working in the US who is either a Chinese scientist or a scientist of Chinese descent.114

45Concerning those who decided to stay in the United States, the US-based Chinese students, scholars and professionals have also been growing in numbers and influence in American society, especially after former President Bush issued the Chinese Student Protection Act in 1992. They have formed (co-ethnic) academic and professional associations and societies, often in major metropolitan cities and hi-tech developed areas such as Washington, DC, New York City, Chicago, and San Francisco. Whether they are defined by academic field (e.g. Chinese Bioscientists in America), or Chinese alma mater (e.g. Peking university Alumni Association of Greater New York), or geographical origin (e.g. Cantonese Association USA), these networks have served as a bridge between the United States and China and have played a unique role in developing US-China scientific cooperation and economic links. In the words of Guo Yugui, their roles fall mainly into four areas, beyond their role of “inheritor and spreader of the Chinese language and culture” and of promoting cross-cultural exchanges:

1. Providing channels through which to establish and strengthen the relationship between Chinese students and scholars in the US, corresponding institutions and scholars in the international academic community, and particularly their colleagues back in China;

2. Mobilizing and coordinating collective as well as individual research focused on important Chinese issues and problems;

3. Providing valuable experience for their members to learn how to organize and independently run an academic organization;

  • 115 See Yugui Guo, “Chapitre 11. The Chinese Intellectual Diasporas”, op. cit., 7.

4. […] some organizers of these associations, using their connections with the Chinese government, industry and academic community, have been providing channels and information for their members to go back home to be employed, open a business or make investments.115

Conclusion

46From the Chinese perspective, just as China’s modernization process goes hand in hand with Westernization, where modern science and technology have played a central role, the US-educated Chinese elite group has been and is still the most prominent force in the transformation of China in its ideational, educational, political, economic, scientific and technological spheres. As seen from the above discussion, the pre-1979 period was characterized by significant asymmetries between the United States and China, notably in economic development and advances in science and technology. It was a time when China was far from being a “threat” to the US and when technology transfer was not yet a serious strategic concern for America. The early growth of the US-educated Chinese scientific diasporic population reflected both China’s determination to learn from advanced Western countries, with the United States at the top of the list, and America’s desire to educate China’s elite in order to influence China’s development path. The US-educated Chinese scientific diaspora contributed to modern China’s transformation, especially in the educational and political realms. The case of CUSPEA shows that US-based scientists of Chinese origin, as non-returnees, can also play an important role in establishing cultural bridges as well as strengthening mutual understanding and bilateral cooperation between the two countries.

47In the decades following the normalization of diplomatic relations with the United States, the Chinese scientific diasporic community consistently grew in size, and their members brought back to China technical resources and “best practices”. This influence was so significant that China’s institutional (re)configuration was primarily modeled on American institutions. In the private sector, especially in the high-tech industry, US-educated returnees and the diasporic linkage created by a transnational community of industrial technologists, played a crucial role in technology transfers from the “center” to the “periphery”. This had a notable spillover effect, promoting innovation in China, as demonstrated by the case of the solar PV development path. As facilitators of technology adoption and knowledge/institutional diffusion in China, the returnees’ contribution to China’s academic system and research was also crucial, as they often occupied leading and strategic positions in prestigious Chinese research institutions and universities.

48Meanwhile, the US welcomed Chinese students, viewing it as a means to diffuse American soft power by embracing China’s political and economic opening-up. The substantial presence of the Chinese scientific and professional diaspora in the United States also enriched the US research enterprise, creating new opportunities for mutually beneficial relations. They acted as catalysts for bilateral cooperation between the United States and China, fostering closer ties in academia and business, thereby weaving the fabrics of the two countries’ economic and scientific lives even more closely.

  • 116 The China Initiative is not a completely new phenomenon. It is worth recalling that some Chinese s (...)

49However, it is necessary to recognize that neither cooperation nor positive influence is the only reality. The asymmetry, once served as a major “soft power” resource in US engagement with China, has been gradually reduced as a result of Chinese S&T development, which was largely due to China’s own domestic policy initiatives. These initiatives included efforts to attract and recruit the best and brightest overseas Chinese, and strategic exploitation of international cooperative opportunities, especially those offered by relations with the United States. As China’s economic rise and its goal to make China a knowledge-intensive economy and an innovation nation create uneasiness to the United States which considers China as a potential competitor, the Chinese scientific diaspora, especially those living abroad, has been a target of scrutiny during periods of heightened geopolitical tensions.116 While challenges lie ahead, it will be up to the United States and China to maximize the positive contributions of the Chinese scientific diaspora while striving to build a constructive cooperative partnership, even in the midst of adversity, as was the case in the period between 1949 to 1979.

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Notes

1 India’s diaspora was the largest in the world (18 million), followed by Mexico and the Russian Federation (11 million each). See United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, International Migration 2020 Highlights, January 15, 2021, <https://www.un.org/en/desa/international-migration-2020-highlights>, accessed on July 21, 2021.

2 According to 2018 Census Bureau tabulations, quoted in Carlos Echeverria-Estrada and Jeanne Batalova, “Chinese Immigrants in the United States,” Migration Policy Institute, January 15, 2020, <https://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/chinese-immigrants-united-states-2018>, accessed on July 21, 2021. Note that the term “diaspora” applied to China does not have a single definition. For example, a broader definition includes not only those who are Chinese-born and live outside of China for temporary or permanent settlement, but also those who otherwise identify as Chinese based on the language they speak and/or their ancestry. Under this broad definition, second generation and longer-settled Chinese populations are included. Depending on how the term is defined and according to different estimates, the size of the Chinese diaspora varies from 10 million to 45 million. See Daniel Goodkind, “The Chinese Diaspora: Historical Legacies and Contemporary Trends,” United States Census Bureau, August 2019, <https://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/working-papers/2019/demo/Chinese_Diaspora.pdf > According to the Chinese State Council and as of 2018, there were over 60 million “overseas Chinese compatriots distributed among nearly 200 countries and regions.” In this case, it includes overseas Chinese referring to Chinese citizens who have settled abroad, and Chinese foreign nationals referring to former Chinese citizens who have acquired a foreign nationality, as well as their descendants. See Yousheng Xu, “Report to the State Council on Work to Protect the Rights and Interests of Overseas Chinese” [in Chinese], Overseas Chinese Affairs Office of the State Council, April 25, 2018, <https://web.archive.org/web/20200429205358/http:/www.npc.gov.cn/npc/c30834/201804/a9434ebec8804602ab619da74df35cb8.shtml>, accessed on October 25, 2021.

3 The concept of diaspora is descended from the Greek word diaspeirein, meaning “to scatter, spread about”. It originally referred to the forced dispersion of the Greeks, Jews, and Armenians in ancient times. Traditionally, the word diaspora meant displacement of a people from their homeland because of forced expulsion (e.g., slavery), war, political and religious persecution, and economic difficulties. Today, however, the term is used more frequently “to describe any community which in one way or another has a history of migration,” or “to bridge the often-artificial distinction between before and after the migration,” “to describe the process of transnationalism,” or “the salience of pre-migration social networks, cultures and capital, in a wide range of communities which experience a feeling of displacement.” Diasporas can also be understood as “trans-national social organizations.” See Rémi Barré et al. (eds)., Diasporas scientifiques : comment les pays en développement peuvent-ils tirer parti de leurs chercheurs et de leurs ingénieurs expatriés ?, Expertise Collégiale, Marseille: IRD Editions, 2003.

4 A 2016 study shows that more than 80 percent of recent emigrants from China to the United States were highly educated, wealthy, or both. See Biao Xiang, “Emigration Trends and Policies in China: Movement of the Wealthy and Highly Skilled,” Transatlantic Council on Migration, A Project of the Migration Policy Institute, February, 2016, <https://www.migrationpolicy.org/sites/default/files/publications/TCM_Emigration-China-FINAL.pdf>, accessed on October 25, 2021.

5 Or Qing dynasty, also known as Manchu dynasty, was established by Manchus to designate their regime in Manchuria, now the Northeast region of China. It lasted from 1644 to 1911/12 and was the last of the imperial dynasties of China.

6 Peter Buck, American Science and Modern China, 1876-1936, Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1980, 78.

7 For example, Edmund James, who once served as the president of the University of Illinois, argued in a proposal that he sent to President Roosevelt in 1905 that “China is upon the verge of a revolution. […] The nation which succeeds in educating the young Chinese of the present generation will be the nation which for a given expenditure of effort will reap the largest possible returns in moral, intellectual, and commercial influence. If the United States had succeeded thirty-five years ago, as it looked at one time as if it might, in turning the current of Chinese students to this country, and had succeeded in keeping that current large, we should today be controlling the development of China in that most satisfactory and subtle of all ways, – through the intellectual and spiritual domination of its leaders.” Quoted in Stacey Bieler, “Patriots” or “Traitors”?: A History of American-Educated Chinese Students, Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, 2004, 43. Emphasis in the original.

8 The introduction of Western learning in China was done in four successive periods mainly through religious works and translational activities related to Western (social) science books, newspapers and journals, and so on. For an overview of Western learning, see Yuezhi Xiong, “An overview of the dissemination of western learning in late‐Qing China,” Studies in Translation Theory and Practice, vol. 4, 1996 – no 1: Chinese Translation Studies, 13-27. Published online: 28 April 2010, <https://0-doi-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/10.1080/0907676X.1996.9961271>, accessed on October 25, 2021.

9 Guangxu Emperor was the eleventh emperor (1875–1908) of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912).

10 The journal was founded in 1868 and edited by American missionaries. It covered a wide range of international affairs, from commentaries on politics and current events to Western science and technology. Its aim, as it was specified in each copy of the journal, was to: “promote and spread knowledge on geography, history, civilization, and other advances in general knowledge of Western countries.” According to his biographer Arthur H. Smith, the chief founder and editor, the American Southern Methodist Episcopal Missionary Young John Allen (1836-1907), was reported to be “consulted alike by officials, by revolutionaries, and by the common people” (in China). See “Young John Allen: Missionary to China; Translator; Educator,” Emory University Website, <http://www.emoryhistory.emory.edu/facts-figures/people/makers-history/profiles/allen.html>, accessed on October 25, 2021.

11 Zhenli Yao, “The Influence of American Missionaries on Modern Chinese Education,” in The 6th Modern Chinese Academic Conference, March 2000, Department of Chinese Literature, National Central University of Taiwan, 147-181, 154.

12 Peking (Beijing) University’s precursor was Jingshi Daxuetang, or the Imperial University of Peking, which was established in 1898 with William A. P. Martin, an American Presbyterian missionary, as its first President. The University also inherited some arts and science faculties of Yenching University (Huiwen University), or the Methodist University of Peking, founded by the Methodist Episcopal Church in the 1880s.

13 John Leighton Stuart, Fifty Years in China, New York: Random House, 1946, 10. For Stuart, the period of 1840-1949 constituted “a great half-century of Sino-American cultural and spiritual relations.” This is to be nuanced in the light of a different interpretation which conceives Western learning as a foreign ideology which “powered the transformation mainly because of inward need of Chinese ideology,” while foreign missionaries who introduced Western learning turned out to be “an outward push.” See, Xi-Ping Zhang, “Western Learning and the Changes of in Qing Dynasty,” Modern Philosophy 4: 87-93, 2007.

14 Some major Strengthening Movement leaders, such as Zeng Guofan, Li Hongzhang, and Kang Youwei, recognized having been greatly influenced by the works of some American missionaries, including the missionary journal Wan Kwoh Kung Pao. A faithful reader of the journal, Kang Youwei said once to the China Post (Hong Kong) that he had been greatly influenced by the works of the American missionary Young John Allen (1836-1907) and the English Timothy Richard (1845-1919). It was also in Wan Kwoh Kung Pao that Sun Yat-sen published his letter to Li Hongzhang recommending the Qing government to adopt the Western capitalist system.

15 The abolition of the Imperial Examination by the Qing government signaled the end of the cultural hegemony of the literati and of the ideological dominance of Confucianism, whose place in China’s life seemed destined to be filled by Christianity and Western Culture. Beyond the missionary community, Theodore Roosevelt, among others, joined the celebration of China's symbolic break with its cultural past by declaring, “Such a movement as this means a shaking loose from the old superstitions which have fettered the Chinese,” paving the way for implantation of Western ideals in the Orient. Lian Xi, The Conversion of Missionaries: Liberalism in American Protestant Missions in China, 1907-1932, University Park (Penns): Pennsylvania State University Press, 1997, 5.

16 Later he became one of the first Chinese diplomats in the US

17 See Chinese Education Mission Connections, <http://www.cemconnections.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=34&Itemid=38>, accessed on May 19, 2021.

18 Xiaojuan Zhou, “The Influences of the American Boxer Indemnity Reparations Remissions on Chinese Higher Education”, Educational Administration: Theses, Dissertations, and Student Research, 189, 2014, 34. <http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cehsedaddiss/189>, accessed on January 23, 2022.

19 Ibidem., 37. Despite the thoroughness of this research on the students sent by the Program, it is unknown why a large number of these graduates were engaged in the educational sector. The reason may be simply due to China’s need at that time.

20 Ibid., 5 & 31.

21 Ibid., 5.

22 Ibid., 42-46.

23 Id., 52.

24 For example, thanks to the contribution of the students sent by the Program, Tien-Mo Wang and Shao-Chang Lee, the University of Hawaii included Chinese linguistic and culture courses much earlier than other American Universities. Tien-Mo Wang was the first Chinese to teach these courses and he was succeeded by Shao-Chang Lee. In the 1930s, Lee began teaching Chinese philosophy courses at University of Hawaii, the first American university offering Chinese philosophy courses. When the Department of Chinese Historical Linguistics and the Department of Japanese Historical Linguistics were merged to become the Department of Oriental Studies 1931, Lee was appointed as the director. Id., 56.

25 Weili Ye, Seeking Modernity in China’s Name: Chinese Students in the United States, 1900-1927, Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2001, 10.

26 The first being the Provisional Government of the Republic of China founded after the 1911 Xinhai Revolution by Sun Yat-sen, who ceded quickly to Yuan Shikai and his Beiyang Government. The Nationalist government, or the National Government of the Republic of China, refers to the Nanjing-based government of the Republic of China between July 1925 to May 1948, established by the Kuomintang (KMT, Chinese Nationalist Party) led by Chiang Kai-shek. See Xi, The Conversion of Missionaries, op. cit., 5.

27 In the Romanization of Chinese personal names and place names, Hanyu Pinyin spelling is used wherever possible. However, when relying on older references that use Wade-Giles or some other Romanization system, we retain the original spelling. In cases where an older form has become the accepted standard, e.g. “Sun Yat-sen” or “Hong Kong”, it is the older form that is retained in this article.

28 Sung is the Wade-Giles spelling of “Song”.

29 As the wife of Chiang.

30 The 1945 atomic bombing on Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the United States contributed to strengthen China’s eagerness as well as its sense of urgency to develop its own atomic program. In a meeting between two defense officials, Chen Cheng and Yu Dawei, and three scientists on the discussion of the subject, the latter suggested that China lacked qualified workforce for that kind of enterprise and it should start with training scientists. See Wang Delu, Kathleen Dugan, Interviews with Chinese Scientists Who Returned from Study in the US in the 1950s, The Oral History of Science in China in the 20th Century, Changsha: Hunan Education Publishing House, 2013, 8.

31 This number, however, doesn’t distinguish those who left before and after 1912. Ibidem.

32 Until late Qing before the coming into existence of missionary universities, there were no institutions in Chinese tradition that could accurately be called a university in its modern sense, with the connotation and assumptions that they carry in the European and North American context. Rather, the traditional Chinese educational system served mainly as a tool of the state for the recruitment and training of civil officials. Indeed, the ultimate aim of an intellectual was to pass the imperial examination and to become a government official. For more details, see Ruth Hayhoe, China’s Universities, 1895-1995: A Century of Cultural Conflict, Garland Reference Library of Social Science Garland Studies in Higher Education, New York: Garland Pub., 1996, 9-10.

33 Dong Wang, The United States and China: A History from the Eighteenth Century to the Present, Asia/Pacific/Perspectives, Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2013, 13-14.

34 See note 7.

35 Most of these students went to study abroad between 1946 and 1948. Among them, 3500 (63%) were in the United States, 1200 in Japan (21%), and 795 (14%) in Europe (mostly in the U.K. and in France). See Chen Songyou and Fan Junqi, “Waves of Returnee Students in the Early Days of New China,” History of the People’s Republic of China, 2017, <http://www.hprc.org.cn/gsyj/whs/jys/201712/t20171205_405158.html>, accessed on May 19, 2021.

36 Zuoyue Wang, “Transnational Science During the Cold War: The Case of Chinese American Scientists,” ISIS 101, n2, 2011, 374.

37 It is even said that “the Chinese government decided to launch its missile program in large part due to the return of Qian.” Ibidem., 373.

38 “2011 Person of the Year: Nuclear Pioneer – Zhu Guangya” [in Chinese], CCTV, February 12, 2012, <https://tv.cctv.com/2012/02/12/VIDEbXHDceYbUPd3SSAKPnv2120212.shtml>, accessed on January 23, 2022.

39 Zuoyue Wang, “Transnational Science During the Cold War,” op. cit., 374.

40 Id., 373.

41 The Semiconductor Research Team was formed following the 1956-1967 Twelve-Year Science and Technology Plan which defined a prioritized research agenda for semiconductors, computers, electronics, and automation. US-educated returnees include Wang Shouwu (who held a Ph.D from Purdue University in 1950), Tang Dingyuan (who held a M.A. in physics from the University of Chicago awarded in 1950), Hong Chaosheng (who held a Ph.D from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology awarded in 1948), and Lin Lanying (who held a Ph.D from the University of Pennsylvania awarded in 1955), all returning to China in the 1950s.

42 Lin returned to China in January 1957 with some research material hidden in her baggage. Even during the Cultural Revolution, Lin was protected by the then Chinese premier Zhou Enlai. See Wang Delu, Kathleen Dugan, Interviews with Chinese Scientists Who Returned from Study in the US in the 1950s, The Oral History of Science in China in the 20th Century, Changsha: Hunan Education Publishing House, 2013, 343-358.

43 Xiaoming Jin, “The China-US Relationship in Science and Technology,” paper presented at “China’s Emerging Technological Trajectory in the 21st Century,” Lally School of Management and Technology, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, New York, US, September 4-6, 2003, <https://china-us.uoregon.edu/pdf/China-US%20relationship%20in%20Science%20and%20Technology.pdf>, accessed on 24 July 2021.

44 Li Zhengdao, whose grandfather (Li Zhongtan) was the first Chinese Methodist Episcopal senior pastor of St. John’s Church in Suzhou, obtained his Ph.D. in physics from the University of Chicago in 1950. He joined Columbia University where he taught from 1953 until his retirement in 2012. In 1957, he won the Nobel Prize in Physics (with Chen Ningyang) at the age of 30, which made him the first Chinese laureate.

45 In a book tracing the history of CUSPEA, there are around 15 correspondences between Li and different actors in China. Undoubtedly, Li was the architect and coordinator of this Program. See Tang Wu and Huaizu Liu (eds), A Decade of CUSPEA (2nd edition), Beijing: Beijing University Press, 2002.

46 Ibidem., 14.

47 Ibid., 4.

48 Ibid. See also Richard P. Suttmeier, “State, Self-Organization, and Identity in the Building of Sino-US Cooperation in Science and Technology,” Asian Perspective. vol. 32, no 1, 2008, 18-19.

49 Zuoyue Wang, “Chinese/American Scientists: A Transnational History,” presentation at Cal. State Polytechnic University, Pomona, American Physical Society, Dallas, March 24, 2011.

50 Zuoyue Wang, “Transnational Science During the Cold War,” op. cit., 377.

51 Phrased by Mary Brown Bullock, president emerita of Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia and Founding Vice Chancellor of Duke Kunshan University (in China). She also serves on the advisory board of the China Research Center. In an address prepared for the third annual Young Scholars Forum at Nanjing University, held on September 22, 2016, Bullock described US-China Education Relations as the “DNA of US-China relations.” See Mary Brown Bullock, “US-China Education Relations: Past, Present, and Future,” China Currents, vol. 16, no 2, 2017, <https://www.chinacenter.net/2017/china-currents/16-2/u-s-china-education-relations-past-present-future/>, accessed on January 23, 2023.

52 See Xiaoming Jin, “The China-US Relationship in Science and Technology”, 4.

53 Institute of International Education, “Open Doors Fact Sheet [2017]: China,” <https://p.widencdn.net/ymtzur/Open-Doors-2017-Country-Sheets-China >, accessed August 26, 2021.

54 Institute of International Education (IIE), “Leading Places of Origin of International Students, 2000/01 - 2019/20,” Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange, 2020, <https://opendoorsdata.org/data/international-students/leading-places-of-origin/>, accessed August 26, 2021.

55 Richard P. Suttmeier, “State, Self-Organization, and Identity in the Building of Sino-US Cooperation in Science and Technology,” Asian Perspective, vol. 32, no 1, 2008, 6.

56 See Institute of International Education (IIE), “Leading Places of Origin of International Students, 2000/01 – 2019/20,” op. cit., and Institute of International Education (IIE), Open Doors Fact Sheet: China, Educational Exchange Data from Open Doors 2017, <https://p.widencdn.net/ymtzur/Open-Doors-2017-Country-Sheets-China >, accessed August 26, 2021.

57 Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China, “Statistics of Students Studying Abroad in 2019” [in Chinese], Dec. 14, 2020, <http://www.moe.gov.cn/jyb_xwfb/gzdt_gzdt/s5987/202012/t20201214_505447.html>, accessed on August 26, 2021.

58 The former began in 1998 and offered the scientists incentives that were mostly on a short-term visiting basis. The latter was co-founded in 1998 by the Ministry of Finance and patriotic industrialist Li Jiacheng from Hong Kong and was implemented by the Chinese Ministry of Education.

59 By April 2012, the Thousand Talent Program had succeeded in attracting 2,263 scientists to work in China, including some prominent US-based high-profile Chinese scientists. For an assessment and overview of these programs, see Yu Xie, Chunni Zhang, and Qing Lai, “China's Rise as a Major Contributor to Science and Technology,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, vol. 111, no 26, 2014, <https://0-doi-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/10.1073/pnas.140770911>, accessed on January 22, 2022.

60 Here, the term “heat” is to be understood as a new trend or wave of increasing number of returnees. In the same vein, the “going-abroad heat” surged up after China’s Reform and Opening-up policies in 1979.

61 Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China, “The Ministry of Education Announced the Number of Overseas Students in 2005” [in Chinese], February 20, 2006, <http://www.moe.gov.cn/srcsite/A20/moe_851/200602/t20060220_78192.html>; “The Ministry of Education Announced the Number of Overseas Students in 2008” [in Chinese], February 20, 2009, <http://www.moe.gov.cn/s78/A20/gjs_left/moe_851/tnull_48301.html>; “The Ministry of Education Announced the Number of Overseas Students in 2009” [in Chinese], June 28, 2010, <http://www.moe.gov.cn/s78/A20/gjs_left/moe_851/201006/t20100628_90108.html>; “In 2010, Both the Number of Chinese Students Studying Abroad and the Number of Returned Students Increased” [in Chinese], March 2, 2011, <http://www.moe.gov.cn/jyb_xwfb/gzdt_gzdt/s5987/201103/t20110302_128436.html>; “The Ministry of Education Announced the Number of Overseas Students in 2015” [in Chinese], March 16, 2016, <http://www.moe.gov.cn/jyb_xwfb/gzdt_gzdt/s5987/201603/t20160316_233837.html>; “Statistics of Students Studying Abroad in 2019” [in Chinese], Dec. 14, 2020, <http://www.moe.gov.cn/jyb_xwfb/gzdt_gzdt/s5987/202012/t20201214_505447.html>, accessed on August 26, 2021.

62 National Development and Reform Commission, “[Expert Opinion] Big Data Analysis: In 2021, the number of overseas students returning for employment exceeded one million for the first time. Continuous Efforts Needed to Smooth the Employment Path for Returning Graduates.” [in Chinese], September 7, 2021. <https://www.ndrc.gov.cn/xxgk/jd/wsdwhfz/202109/t20210907_1296152.html >, accessed on January 23, 2022.

63 Ibidem.

64 Ibid.

65 Michael G. Finn, “Stay Rates of Foreign Doctorate Recipients from US Universities, 2011,” Science Education Programs & Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education, January 2014, <https://orise.orau.gov/stem/reports/stay-rates-foreign-doctorate-recipients-2011.pdf >, accessed on August 26, 2021, 6.

66 Jeff Tollefson, “Chinese American Scientists Uneasy Amid Crackdown on Foreign Influence,” Nature, 3 June 2019, <https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-01605-9>, accessed on December 2, 2021.

67 Yu Xie et al., “Caught in the Crossfire: Fears of Chinese-American Scientists,” The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), vol. 120, no 27, June 27, 2023, <https://0-doi-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/10.1073/pnas.22162481>, accessed on July 2, 2023.

68 Or Zhu Song-Chun (朱松纯)

69 Yu Xie, et al., op. cit.

70 See this article on Chinese social media, “Top Chinese-origin Scientists Returning to China, Thanks to Donald Trump,” [In Chinese], Mingjin Wang, September 27, 2020, <https://posts.careerengine.us/p/5f7078f92214bc1ffa583660 >, accessed on January 23, 2022.

71 Yu Xie, et al., op. cit.

72 Id.

73 Ryan Lucas, “The Justice Department is Ending its Controversial China Initiative,” NPR, February 23, 2022. <https://www.npr.org/2022/02/23/1082593735/justice-department-china-initiative >, accessed on January 23, 2022.

74 The origin of the foundation goes back to May 1981, when the CAS Academy Affairs Committee suggested that a foundation should be set up in order to develop basic research. The CAS Foundation was subsequently set up with the approval of the State Council which provided funds amounting to 132 million yuan for 3,246 projects from 1982 to 1984. After this experimental phase, the National Natural Science Foundation of China was established in February 1986.

75 Chen Chunxian’s initiative was discussed by Hu Yaobang and other members of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Central Committee in January 1983, whose conclusion was an approval of the “new road taken.” See US Joint Economic Committee, China’s Economic Dilemmas in the 1990s: The Problems of Reforms, Modernization, and Interdependence: Study Papers Submitted to the Joint Economic Committee, Congress of the United States, 102nd Congress, 1st Session, April 1991, 542.

76 See Erik Baark and Suying Liu, “Science and Technology Policy Reforms in China  a Critical Assessment,” Copenhagen Journal of Asian Studies, vol. 5, no 90, 1990, 7-26, 14.

77 The Five-Year Plans (FYP) refer to a series of national long-term economic and social development plans issued by the Chinese Communist Party since 1953, setting forth development guidelines for the People’s Republic of China for periods of five years. The first FYP (1953-1957) put emphasis on rapid development of heavy industry, whereas the 14th FYP (2021-2025) includes the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in order to meet the Paris Agreement.

78 The Program funded both basic and applied research. An update was made during the period of the Tenth FYP (2001-2005).

79 Deng responded immediately by appointing a committee of 200 scientists to set strategy for basic science and applied technology. For a review, see Joel R. Campbell, Becoming a Techno-Industrial Power: Chinese Science and Technology Policy, Center for Technology Innovation at Brookings, April 2013, accessed January 10, 2020, <https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/29-science-technology-policy-china- campbell.pdf >

80 See AnnaLee Saxenian, The New Argonauts: Regional Advantage in A Global Economy, Harvard University Press, 2006.

81 See AnnaLee Saxenian, Silicon Valley’s New Immigrant Entrepreneurs, Public Policy Institute of California, 1999.

82 See William R. Kerr, “Ethnic Scientific Communities and International Technology Diffusion,” The Review of Economics and Statistics, vol. 90, no 3, 2008, 518-537, <http://0-www-jstor-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/stable/40043163>, accessed on January 20, 2023. See also Xiang Biao, “Promoting Knowledge Exchange Through Diaspora Networks: The Case of the People’s Republic of China,” Report to the Asian Development Bank, ESRC Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS), University of Oxford, March, 2005.

83 See “Zhongguancun Supports Overseas Returnees,” <http://bjzpark.spotlightbeijing.com/2021-03/26/c_607555.htm >, accessed on January 20, 2023.

84 Rémi Barré et al., (eds), “Chapitre 11. The Chinese Intellectual Diasporas,” Marseille: IRD Éditions, 2003, 1-21, in Diasporas scientifiques : Comment les pays en développement peuvent-ils tirer parti de leurs chercheurs et de leurs ingénieurs expatriés ? <http://0-books-openedition-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/irdeditions/2642>.

85 See Zhenzhen Li, Jiuchun Zhang, Ke Wen et al. “Health Biotechnology in China – Reawakening of A Giant. Nature Biotechnology 22,” DC13–DC18, 2004, <https://0-doi-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/10.1038/nbt1204supp-DC13>, accessed on January 20, 2023.

86 Igor Filatotchev, Xiaohui Liu, Jiangyong Lu, Mike Wright, “Knowledge Spillovers through Human Mobility across National Borders: Evidence from Zhongguancun Science Park in China,” Research Policy, vol. 40, no 3, 2011, 453-462. <https://0-doi-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/10.1016/j.respol.2011.01.003>, accessed on January 20, 2023.

87 As the American China-focused academic Edward Steinfeld noted with acute insight, the real story behind China’s “rise” isn’t about “China Inc.” or “state mercantilism.” The heart of the matter is outsourcing – not multinational companies’ outsourcing of jobs and manufacturing to China, but China’s outsourcing of rule-making authority to the rest of the world. At each historical bottleneck in its transformation, China has ended up delegating to outsiders the power to design the rules by which its internal market operates. Edward S. Steinfeld, “The Rogue That Plays by the Rules,” The Washington Post, September 2, 2007.

88 Semiconductor material is commonly used in solar cells.

89 Trina’s senior management team includes, among others, Feng ZhiQiang who received his PhD degree from Yokohama National University and Postdoctoral degree from Iowa State University.

90 See Paulson Institute, A Chinese Solar Company’s Fleeting Run in the Arizona Sun, Chicago, September 2014, <http://www.paulsoninstitute.org/wp- content/uploads/2015/04/PPI_Case-Study-Series_Suntech_English.pdf >, 5, accessed January 10, 2020.

91 Arnaud de la Tour, Matthieu Glachant, and Yann Ménière, “Innovation and International Technology Transfer: The Case of the Chinese Photovoltaic Industry,” Energy Policy, vol. 39, no 2, 2011, 10.

92 Jeffrey Ball et al., The New Solar System: China’s Evolving Solar Industry and Its Implications for Competitive Solar Power in the United States and the World, Stanford Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance, March 2017, 66, <https://0-doi-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/10.2172/1352021>, accessed on January 10, 2020.

93 Kelly Sims Gallagher and Fang Zhang, “Innovation and Technology Transfer across Global Value Chains: Evidence from China’s PV Industry,” (Climate & Development Knowledge Network, July 2013), 27, <https://0-doi-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/10.1016/j.enpol.2016.04.014>, accessed on January 10, 2020.

94 Chen served as China’s Minister of Education from 1998 to 2003 and afterwards as State Councilor in charge of education, culture and sports.

95 Zhou served as China’s Minister of Education from 2003 to 2009 and President of the Chinese Academy of Engineering from 2010 to 2018.

96 Yugui Guo, “Chapitre 11. The Chinese Intellectual Diasporas”, in Diasporas scientifiques : comment les pays en développement peuvent-ils tirer parti de leurs chercheurs et de leurs ingénieurs expatriés ?, Rémi Barré et al. (eds.), Expertise Collégiale, Marseille: IRD Editions, 2003, 18-19.

97 See Cheng Li, “Bringing China’s Best and Brightest Back Home: Regional Disparities and Political Tensions,” China Leadership Monitor – Hoover Institution, Summer 2004, no 11, 2004, 2, <https://www.hoover.org/sites/default/files/uploads/documents/clm11_lc.pdf>, accessed on January 23, 2023.

98 Ibidem.

99 Amber Ziye Wang, “Fewer Chinese to stay abroad after graduation – Survey,” University World News, May 31, 2018, <https://www.universityworldnews.com/post.php?story=20180531154955271>, accessed on October 25, 2021.

100 Li Xiaoxiao, Zuo Yue, and Shen Wenqin, “Who Got Faculty Positions in Elite Universities – a Survey Based on the Educational Background of Newly-Appointed Professors at Peking and Tsinghua University (2011-2017) [In Chinese]”, China Higher Education Research, no 8, 2018, 47-52.

101 Ibidem.

102 Jeffrey Mervis, “Data Check: Why Do Chinese and Indian Students Come to US Universities,” Science, November 18, 2014, <https://www.science.org/content/article/data-check-why-do-chinese-and-indian-students-come-us-universities>, accessed on January 23, 2022.

103 For discussion in this regard, see Cheng Li, “Bringing China’s Best and Brightest Back Home,” op. cit.

104 “Survey Shows: Returned Graduates No Longer Concentrating in First-Tier Cities, High Demand in Five Major Industries,” [in Chinese], Xinhua Net, October 14, 2017, <http://www.xinhuanet.com//politics/2017-10/14/c_1121803069.htm>, accessed on January 23, 2022.

105 Cheng Li, “Bringing China’s Best and Brightest Back Home,” op. cit.,7.

106 Id. Natives of these regions are usually unwilling to work in China’s poorer inland or western regions.

107 In the 1930s, 8 of the 15 national universities and 17 of 27 private universities were located in the two cities of Beijing and Shanghai. Ibidem.

108 Ibid., 8.

109 Ibid.

110 Ibid. 9. Some may continue to hold a teaching or research position at another university outside Qinghai.

111 Tea Leaf Nation, “Do Years Studying in America Change Chinese Hearts and Minds?” Foreign Policy, December 7, 2015, <https://foreignpolicy.com/2015/12/07/do-years-studying-in-america-change-chinese-hearts-and-minds-china-u-foreign-policy-student-survey/>, accessed on October 25, 2021.

112 Quoted in Richard P. Suttmeier, “Scientific Cooperation and Conflict Management in US-China Relations from 1978 to the Present,” Annals New York Academy of Sciences vol. 866, 1998, 137-164, 142.

113 See Suttmeier, “The Building of Sino-US Cooperation in Science and Technology,” 19-20. The author drew on data from the Web of Science maintained by the Thompson Institute for Scientific Information including publications from most of the world’s major professional journals from 1975 to 2004. Searches conducted solely by the addresses of the authors (e.g., “China,” “USA”) yield 36,674 records of internationally co-authored articles during this period (36,285 in English).

114 See Bihui Jin, et al, “The Role of Ethnic Ties in International Collaboration: the Overseas Chinese Phenomenon,” available at <https://china-us.uoregon.edu/pdf/madrid.pdf>, accessed on 24 July 2021.

115 See Yugui Guo, “Chapitre 11. The Chinese Intellectual Diasporas”, op. cit., 7.

116 The China Initiative is not a completely new phenomenon. It is worth recalling that some Chinese scientists were prevented from returning to China after 1949. Qian Xueshen was accused by the US federal government of communist sympathies and he spent five years under house arrest before returning to China to develop the Chinese nuclear weapon programs. Chinese American scientists also came under suspicion after the controversy of the 1997 Cox Report in which some top-secret information was said to have been transferred to Chinese nuclear-weapons experts.

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Caixia Tan, « US-Trained Chinese (Returned) Scientific Diaspora, the Transformation of Modern China, and the Evolution of Sino-American Relations from the Mid-19th Century to the Present »Revue LISA/LISA e-journal [En ligne], vol 22. n°57 | 2024, mis en ligne le 15 février 2024, consulté le 18 avril 2024. URL : http://0-journals-openedition-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/lisa/15638 ; DOI : https://0-doi-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/10.4000/lisa.15638

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Caixia Tan

Caixia Tan est maîtresse de conférences à l’Institut Catholique de Paris. Docteur de l’Université Sorbonne Nouvelle, elle s’est spécialisée en civilisation américaine et elle s’intéresse aux spécificités étatsuniennes en ce qui concerne la science, la technologie et l’innovation, ainsi que le rôle que jouent ces derniers dans le « modèle » socioéconomique américain. Ses recherches portent sur les dynamiques interrégionales ou internationales (notamment entre les États-Unis et la Chine) permettant le transfert ou l’appropriation de certains modèles et pratiques. Elle a consacré sa thèse de doctorat aux relations américano-chinoises à travers le prisme du secteur de l’énergie solaire (1979-2016).

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