Deng Xiaoping

Some Comments On Work In Science and Education


Spoken: August 8, 1977
Translated by: Unknown
Source: Deng Xiaoping Works
Transcription for MIA: Joonas Laine


Our purpose in calling this forum on work in science and education is primarily to hear your opinions and learn from you. Such learning is a must when non-professionals lead professionals. I have volunteered to take charge of the work in science and education, and this has been approved by the Central Committee. China must catch up with the most advanced countries in the world. But how shall we go about it? I believe we have to begin by tackling science and education. Science, of course, includes the social sciences, though, being in a hurry, we have not invited social scientists to the present forum. This forum has helped me to learn how things stand in science and education and to understand which issues must be addressed first. You may not have brought out all the issues and you may not have explained matters fully for lack of time, but fortunately you will have other opportunities to express your opinions. I would now like to present a few personal views.

First, how should we evaluate our work in the first 17 years of the People’s Republic?

This is a question of great concern to us all. Basically, it has been answered for scientific research, but not for education, and so people are dissatisfied because the question demands an answer.

I personally believe that the many instructions Comrade Mao Zedong gave on scientific research, culture and education during most of the period preceding the “cultural revolution” were essentially meant to be encouraging and stimulating. They took it for granted that the overwhelming majority of the intellectuals were good and were serving, or willing to serve, socialism. After 1957 he went overboard in some of his remarks, but in the early sixties he endorsed such documents as the “Fourteen Articles on Scientific Work” and the “Sixty Articles on Work in Institutions of Higher Learning”. We must clearly explain Comrade Mao Zedong’s dominant ideas on education and on intellectuals. Mao Zedong Thought is the ideology guiding all our fields of endeavour; therefore, it is very important to present the entire system accurately and as an integral whole. How should we evaluate China’s educational work in the first 17 years? I think the “red line” was predominant. It must be affirmed that in those years, under the wise guidance of Mao Zedong Thought and the correct leadership of the Party, most intellectuals, whether in science or in education, worked assiduously and achieved great successes. People in the field of education worked especially hard. In almost every field of endeavour, the workers who now form the core contingent are ones whom we trained after the founding of the People’s Republic and particularly during the first 17 years. If our work in that period is not evaluated in this light, how else can we account for our achievements?

And how should we assess the transformation of the intellectuals’ world outlook? A person’s decision as to which cause he wants to serve is a significant reflection of his world outlook. The overwhelming majority of our intellectuals serve socialism of their own volition. Those who are opposed to socialism are only a tiny handful, and those who are lukewarm about it likewise constitute only a small part of the whole. Of course, history keeps moving forward, which means that people must constantly remould their thinking. This holds true not only for intellectuals from the old society, but also for those trained since the founding of the People’s Republic. And if the intellectuals must continue to remould their thinking, so must the workers, peasants and Party members. Comrade Mao Zedong made that clear a long time ago.

Second, how shall we mobilize the energies of workers in science and education?

Now that the question of how to evaluate the first 17 years has been answered, a weight should have been lifted from your minds. In view of the present state of affairs, however, we must make a special effort to mobilize the energies of educational workers and to secure respect for teachers. The progress of scientific research in our country is determined by the availability of personnel. We must do well in education because scientific research depends on it for the supply of trained people. We should accord educational workers a position of equal importance to that of scientific researchers and make sure that they are equally valued and respected. A primary school teacher who gives his or her all to the cause of education is a precious asset. The labour expended by a good primary school teacher is no less than that expended by a college or university professor; hence the profession of primary school teacher should be equally honoured. Those who devote their lives to the cause of education should be given encouragement. I propose that a national conference on education be held next year to exchange experience in running schools and to reward college and university and primary and secondary school teachers who have distinguished themselves. Quite a few years have passed since the last such conference.

Both scientific researchers and educational workers are working people. Don’t we talk about mental labour and manual labour? Scientific research and educational work are mental labour — and doesn’t mental labour count as labour? A scientist has observed that the planting of crops in the countryside is regarded as labour, but work in the experimental fields of the Academy of Agricultural Sciences is not. This is very curious. Many agricultural colleges and schools cultivate new strains and do their own farming. Why shouldn’t this be regarded as labour? Doing scientific experiments is also labour. Does one have to swing a hoe in order for his work to be called labour? Or operate a lathe? Automated production involves watching instruments and meters all day long and that, too, is labour. Such labour also requires effort, and what’s more, it allows of no error. Questions of this sort must be clarified as they have a direct bearing on whether or not we shall be able to enlist the enthusiasm of the intellectuals.

Labour must be valued and so must able personnel. Comrade Mao Zedong didn’t believe in the theory of innate genius, but he was not opposed to cherishing able people. Once he evaluated me as “the kind of able person it is hard to come by”. Frankly, I must say he overestimated me. However, the remark does bring home the importance of able personnel and the fact that Comrade Mao Zedong valued them. You have said in your discussions that scientific research institutions must produce results and train able personnel. Educational institutions should do so, too. There are also able people — good teachers — in primary and secondary schools. We should cherish able people and value their labour. They are indeed hard to come by! We must take full advantage of the specialized knowledge of intellectuals; it is bad to assign them to posts where they can’t apply what they have learned. Some comrades have suggested that efforts be made to reassign persons who have changed their line of work but who had shown skill and promise in their former professions. This is a good suggestion. The Gang of Four labelled intellectuals the “stinking Number Nine”. Being called “Number Nine” is not bad in itself. Wasn’t the hero Yang Zirong, the “Number Nine” in the opera Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy, a fine fellow? What’s wrong here is the epithet “stinking”. Comrade Mao Zedong once said, “We can’t do without Number Nine.” Well said! The good name of our intellectuals must be restored.

Some comrades have proposed a system of rewards and penalties. This too is a good suggestion, but one point should be added: the emphasis should be on encouragement and rewards. There are people who have scored notable achievements in scientific research and thus made real contributions to our country. Should such people be encouraged? I believe they should. Those who immerse themselves in scientific research and work at it doggedly should be encouraged. How can that constitute a “crime”? Such people may have shortcomings of one kind or another, and from time to time leaders should talk to them heart to heart to help them politically and ideologically. But we should not demand perfection. Comrade Mao Zedong once said that we should do away with the metaphysical idea that “gold must be 100 per cent pure and man must be flawless”. His attitude was that of a Marxist, a thoroughgoing materialist. As for persons who have made mistakes, some should be duly penalized, but in a spirit of help, not punishment. This should be emphasized and we should offer them friendly help in correcting their mistakes and continuing their progress.

In addition to giving moral support to intellectuals, we should encourage them in other ways, including enhancing their material well-being. Educational workers should have the same pay as those engaged in scientific research. A scientific researcher who is concurrently a teacher should get higher pay, because he is expending greater labour. Distribution according to work means just this: the greater the contribution, the higher the pay; the less the contribution, the lower the pay; no contribution, no pay. As we move from theory to practice in this regard, we will have to thrash out a great many specific problems. This matter does not concern scientific and educational circles only; it is a major policy issue for the state.

Third, the question of system and structure.

This forum has heard strong demands for the creation of an organization to exercise unified supervision over scientific work. For education, there is the Ministry of Education. For science, you have suggested that the State Science and Technology Commission be restored. We should affirm that the former State Science and Technology Commission pursued a correct policy, which was approved by Comrade Mao Zedong in 1963 after he heard Comrade Nie Rongzhen’s report on its work. On that occasion, Comrade Mao Zedong said that a battle had to be waged for science and technology, and that unless it was won, the country’s productive forces could not be further developed. The Commission worked out a 12-year programme for the development of science in the period 1956-67, which was in the main completed by 1962. And subsequently there was a 10-year programme. I have a persistent feeling that things are not going well in science and education at present and that there should be an organization to unify planning, management, arrangements, guidance and co-ordination. I personally favour the idea of re-establishing the State Science and Technology Commission. When would be the best time to do that? What should its composition be? Should it also supervise the scientific research organs in the armed forces? These questions must be studied by the Central Committee and by the State Council, so we can’t answer them for the moment. But whatever organizational form is adopted, there must be unified planning. Such planning should determine not only which topics should be researched but also how research institutions should be reorganized, that is, which ones should be merged and which divided. With regard to areas of study in institutions of higher learning, there should also be a unified plan to specify which ones should be merged or divided, where new ones should be added or reductions made, and which ones should be abolished. Scientific research in the military field should also be brought under a plan. We must admit that the number of China’s scientific research personnel is still small and cannot compare with that in the major developed countries. The United States has 1,200,000 scientific research people. The Soviet Union had 900,000 the year before last, and the figure has grown since. We have only about 200,000. Nevertheless, as some comrades have pointed out, this small number of researchers can undertake more projects and achieve greater successes than the same number in capitalist countries, if only we take advantage of the superiority of our socialist system and organize our efforts in a unified and rational way. The Chinese Academy of Sciences has now drafted an eight-year plan for the development of science and technology. This plan probably needs to be fleshed out in accordance with your suggestions. Anyway, it is better to have a rough plan than no plan at all. The central authorities intend to withhold their approval and not distribute this plan for the time being, but the Academy of Sciences can circulate it to lower levels for trial implementation.

Both the scientific research and educational departments face the problem of reorganization. I hope the reorganization will be accelerated even if it is imperfect; improvements can be made step by step later. The process of reorganization will reveal many specific problems that must be dealt with. Of primary importance is the restaffing of the leading bodies. I suggest that in every unit there be three well-chosen people. As the Party committee is supposed to exercise unified leadership, the Party secretary is crucial and we must make sure he is carefully selected. That’s the first person. Second is the person who will guide scientific research or education; he must be a professional, or close to becoming one. Third is the person in charge of support services; he must be diligent, conscientious, practical and prepared to be an unsung hero. With such a triumvirate, things will be easier; reorganization at lower levels, implementation of the relevant plans, and so on, will go more smoothly.

Institutions of higher learning, particularly the key ones, should serve as an important front-line force in scientific research. They must do so because they have the necessary facilities and trained personnel. In fact, institutions of higher learning used to undertake a good number of scientific research tasks. As they are consolidated and student quality improves, their capabilities will gradually increase and they will have to take on more such work. In this way, our sciences will progress faster. In every field there are subjects requiring research — in science, engineering, agriculture and medicine. In the liberal arts, too, there should be theoretical research, which should apply the Marxist approach to the study of economics, history, political science, law, philosophy, literature, and so on. Not all our institutions of higher learning can as yet increase their scientific research work, but the key colleges and universities should do so step by step and take on more research assignments from outside. Within a few years, research bodies in colleges and universities may have as many workers as the specialized research institutions. But the largest contingent of all will probably be in the production departments. Isn’t science divided into basic and applied? Production departments, though they can also engage in basic research, should stress the applied sciences. The Chinese Academy of Sciences and the colleges and universities may pay more attention to basic science, but they too should work in applied science — particularly those which teach engineering.

Time must be guaranteed so that researchers can put maximum energy into research. One suggestion at the forum was that there be a provision stating that five-sixths of the work week be devoted to scientific research. I added “at least” to the “five-sixths”, and then you added “it is imperative” to the same sentence. Fine! These words should be added before the Academy of Sciences distributes the document to the lower levels. I think people should be permitted to bury themselves in scientific research. If someone works day and night, seven days a week, on a research project, what’s wrong with that?

If we have a more rational system, people will apply themselves more willingly to their jobs. We should lose no time in speeding up this reorganization.

Fourth, the question of the educational system and the quality of education.

Education still has to “walk on two legs”. In higher education, colleges and universities constitute one leg, while work-study universities and spare-time universities constitute the other. Efforts should first be concentrated on running a number of key colleges and universities well. Not only must there be key institutions of higher learning under the Ministry of Education, but provinces, municipalities, autonomous regions and even certain individual units should have them as well.

Since students at institutions of higher learning come from secondary schools, whose students in turn come from primary schools, primary and secondary education is of the greatest importance. We should create a good general atmosphere throughout society — that is, a good style of work in the Party and army and among the citizens and students. The Party’s style of work is crucial. A good style of work in the Party will foster a good style of work in education, which in turn will foster a good style of study. Some of our young people today have acquired certain bad attitudes. Efforts to remedy this must begin in primary school. For quite some time after the founding of the People’s Republic, the general atmosphere in our society was good, as were public order and discipline. Students and pupils willingly observed discipline. Young Pioneers wearing red scarves could frequently be seen holding megaphones and helping to direct traffic. Later the general atmosphere deteriorated because of the influence of the Gang of Four. If their crimes were to be enumerated, one of the biggest would be that they led many teenagers astray. If we are to bring about a complete change in the general atmosphere in society as a whole, a good atmosphere must be fostered in the schools. Good attitudes and habits should be cultivated: love of labour, readiness to observe discipline, the desire to make progress, and so on. Teachers are duty-bound to foster such attitudes. They should befriend students, keep in touch with their families and co-operate with them so as to educate the students well through common effort. Teachers should resume guidance of extra-curricular activities so as to enrich the students’ knowledge, raise their aspirations and promote their all-round growth. Comrade Mao Zedong believed that children should be given an all-round education — moral, intellectual and physical. Secondary and primary schools should all provide this sort of education.

We must consider ways to raise the level of the teachers. In recent years they have been afraid to teach, and one can’t blame them. Now they need no longer be afraid; they should teach and teach well. To enable them to do so, teacher training must be intensified. Some of the better teachers should be invited to serve as instructors for the others, and college and university faculty members should help middle school teachers raise their level. Quite a few of you here today have already been doing this, with very good results. Teacher training should be included in our plans. Only when teachers teach well can students learn well. Of course, teachers and students interact. Some of the problems that have now surfaced among the students have multiple causes, both social and familial. Our poor teaching and guidance is sometimes one such cause. So efforts should be made to raise the level of the teachers — politically, ideologically and professionally — and to improve their style of work.

Many specific problems in the educational system await solution. One is the duration of schooling. Should we first restore the system of five years for primary schools and another five for secondary schools? Opinions are still divided, and the question will have to be studied further. But that doesn’t matter too much. The important thing is the teaching materials we use. They must reflect the advanced levels of modern science and culture, while conforming to the actual conditions of our country. Another question is the restoration of vacations. During vacations, a variety of interesting activities should be arranged for students. Some students can use their vacations to catch up on their studies. We must see to it that teachers have vacations, with time to rest and refresh themselves, to think and to sum up their experience. Their vacation periods should not be crammed full of other tasks. If a proper balance is struck between work and rest, the quality of education will go up, not down. Still another issue is the enrolment of graduates from senior middle schools by colleges and universities. This year, we must make up our minds to restore the direct enrolment of senior middle school graduates through entrance examinations, and to stop the practice of having the masses recommend candidates for admission to colleges and universities. I think enrolling students directly from the senior middle schools might be a good way to turn out trained people faster and to enable them to start productive work sooner. Then there is the question of skipping or repeating a grade, but that concerns only a small number of students. I am personally inclined to permit skipping — it’s another way of speeding up training. It can be tried out in a few selected schools. The question of repeating a grade must be handled with caution. Efforts should be made to ensure that all students in a class are well taught. If a student fails an examination, he can take it again later and should not lightly be kept back. And we should also do a good job with those who have to be held back. Students who behave outrageously and refuse to mend their ways despite repeated admonitions should be expelled. If you don’t get rid of hooligans and rowdies who won’t study, they’ll contaminate the general atmosphere of the school. Schools should do as much ideological work as possible among the students. More of it should be done among those who do not behave well, and care should be taken in dealing with cases of repeated offences against discipline. Various ways should be found to turn poor students into good or fairly good ones.

Fifth, the question of the support services.

The task of the support services is to serve scientific research and educational work, providing the conditions under which the scientific research and educational personnel can devote all their attention to work. Support services include supply of data, provision of good library facilities, procurement of materials and laboratory equipment, construction of experimental plants, and also operation of canteens and nurseries. People who are engaged in support services must learn to be good “housekeepers” and get more done with less money. Some of these services could easily have been provided, but nobody bothered with them when the Gang of Four was riding roughshod. In those days scientific researchers had to scour about for equipment and materials, which delayed work and wasted time; it was a great loss. We must now assemble a group of support service workers, who are ready to be unsung heroes and who are diligent, conscientious and devoted to their work. Support services also demand special knowledge that must be acquired through study, and persons who work in this field can develop professional skills too. But such work must be done painstakingly if it is to be well done.

We cannot mobilize the energies of scientific and educational workers simply by empty talk. We must create proper conditions for them and help them solve their concrete problems. You will of course find many such problems and will have to handle them in the right order of priority. For instance, we should first deal with the difficulties faced by scientific research workers who have the most achievements to their credit and are most promising. They include not only old comrades, but also middle-aged and young ones. As “in the Changjiang River the waves behind drive on those before”, so in scientific research young people often surpass their elders, and our old comrades should be glad to help their juniors catch up with them. With regard to key personnel who because of their different places of work must live in different localities from their spouses, priority should be given to reuniting families. Of course, this does not mean all these cases can be dealt with right away, for it requires a lot of housing construction; here too there is an order of priorities.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs reports that a number of foreign scholars of Chinese descent wish to come and settle in China. Comrade Zhou Enlai gave much thought to this issue. We must make adequate preparations for the return of such people to China by creating proper conditions and building more housing. When they return, they should be provided with homes and the necessary facilities for work. Receiving such scholars is a concrete measure for developing our science and technology, as is sending people abroad for advanced study. We should also invite noted foreign scholars to lecture in China. Among foreign scholars friendly to China, a great many are prominent in their fields. It would make good sense to invite them here to lecture. Why don’t we do it?

Our country has many concrete problems to contend with, and not all can be solved at one stroke. I personally think that funds for scientific research and education should be increased, but large increases cannot be expected overnight. The utmost effort should be made to function well even under difficult conditions. Where relatively good conditions already exist, they should be utilized to the full, so that work can proceed as quickly as possible. Where conditions are relatively poor, they should be improved step by step. But we should lose no time in tackling those difficulties which can and must be overcome.

Sixth, the question of the style of study.

Fostering a good atmosphere depends primarily on two things — following the mass line and seeking truth from facts. Science, in particular, involves the conscientious quest for truth and permits of no deceit. As a result of sabotage by the Gang of Four, a number of problems in the style of study have arisen in recent years, such as the stifling of discussion, refusal to share information, etc. It’s not that we have too many debates and discussions among persons of different opinions, but too few. Erroneous views may crop up during discussions, but that is nothing to be afraid of. We must adhere to the policy of “letting a hundred schools of thought contend”, and promote debate. Different schools of thought should respect and complement each other. Academic exchanges should be promoted. No success in research can be the result of the efforts of a single individual: it always rests on the achievements of past generations as well as our own. Any new scientific theory is a summation of practical experience. How can a new theory be evolved if it is not based on a summation of the practical experience of both past and present generations of scientists, both Chinese and foreign? Anybody who tries to block the flow of information is harming himself as well as others. A person’s attitude towards the monopolizing of information is a major indicator of whether or not he has remoulded his world outlook. Anyone who refuses to share his data shows that his world outlook hasn’t been adequately remoulded. There are cases in which the technique for making certain products has long been available abroad and is known to some Chinese who, nonetheless, try to withhold it from their compatriots. This sort of thing cannot be allowed to recur.

Academic publication must be one of our concerns. Problems of publishing and printing in the fields of scientific research and education must be solved, and these matters must be included in the state plan. While there is now a serious shortage of paper, there is also terrible waste. Some things that don’t need to be printed are printed in too many copies, and some that should be printed are not printed at all. It is vital that rational arrangements be made. Comrade Mao Zedong always recommended that Party committees at all levels issue as few documents as possible, but that their leaders make more frequent visits to lower levels for direct communication. This would save a lot of paper. We should try to ensure that academic dissertations and journals of value are printed and published. As things are at present, the publication of some good works may be held up for many years. This binds us hand and foot.

There are so many problems pertaining to style of study that I cannot cover them all. My point in bringing up this matter is that we must foster a good style of learning and create a stimulating atmosphere in which science and education in China can flourish.

(Speech at a forum on work in science and education.)