In This Issue
Engineering in China
June 1, 1998 Volume 28 Issue 2
The Bridge, Volume 28, Number 2 - Summer 1998

Engineering in China (editorial)

Monday, June 1, 1998

Author: Zhu Guangya

Chinese engineering and technology have developed rapidly since the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949. This growth has been especially dramatic following the adoption of national reform and openness policies nearly 20 years ago. Our nation has trained a large number of skilled engineers and technicians across a range of disciplines. These professionals have played a major role in the development of the national economy, in the continuous improvement of quality of life for all Chinese, and in the advancement of science and technology around the world.

The 21st century will usher in a new economic age based on knowledge and information. The energetic development of science and technology and the expeditious industrialization of high technology are essential strategies for success in this new era. While the Chinese engineering and technological enterprise has made rapid progress, compared with developed nations, China has a long way to go to meet its economic and industrial needs. To improve on the status quo, we will have to work in a number of areas.

First, it is a matter of great urgency for us to pursue cooperation among three key sectors: industry, universities, and state R&D institutes. The engineering and technological sciences predominantly serve industry. However, a great number of large and medium-size enterprises are struggling to make a profit due to poor product quality and the use of primitive production processes. The Chinese government has for years given top priority to reinvigorating these firms. Continued advances in engineering and technology as well as cooperation among the three sectors are regarded as essential to this task. By strengthening China's industrial base, which is the pillar of the national economy, we will promote the further improvement of the country's engineering and technological enterprise.

Second, in order to ensure the quality of the engineering work force, we need to vigorously pursue engineering education reform. Although there are more than 2.1 million engineers working in China, including 600,000 senior-level engineers, not all of these individuals are as well trained as we would like. One reason for this is the traditional mode of engineering education in China, which has paralleled the approach for training researchers. A particular problem is that theory is overstressed while practical training is somewhat overlooked. As a result, there is a substantial shortage of professional engineers with integrated capabilities. In addition, efforts to provide continuing education for engineers have not yet materialized.

Third, the important role of the engineer in society is yet to be adequately recognized in China. If this situation does not improve, we will have difficulty encouraging promising young people to consider engineering as a career.

It was against this backdrop of issues and concerns that the Chinese Academy of Engineering (CAE) was established in 1994. The CAE, a legally certified and independent corporation, currently has 439 members. Working in collaboration with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, and the industrial and education communities, CAE members provide advice on major national construction projects and on the development of China's engineering and technological enterprise. Among the topics the Academy has addressed are sustainable energy development; the impact of the development of hydroelectric power facilities for the Three Gorges Project; strategies for agricultural development; and reforms in engineering education. To date, nearly half of our studies have been completed and the results reported to the State Council or other relevant authorities. All of this work will contribute to the Trans-Century State goals and strategies of Revitalizing China through Science and Education and Sustainable Development.

CAE is committed to encouraging international collaboration and cooperation. We have conducted exchange visits with our counterparts in 17 countries in Europe, the Americas, Asia, and Oceania. In 1997, CAE became a member of the Council of Academies of Engineering and Technological Sciences. We have also joined with NAE in a joint study of the future of energy development in China and the United States, in which the Chinese Academy of Sciences and U.S. National Academy of Sciences are also participating. Based on the positive nature of this interaction, CAE is considering cooperating with NAE and other organizations on other study activities in the near future. We believe strongly that collaboration between the United States and China in science and technology depends on fruitful interaction among Chinese and American engineers and scientists.

The people of China and United States enjoy a time-honored history of cooperation. Scientific and technological exchanges, which have been going on since the establishment of diplomatic ties between the two countries, are a key reason for this relationship. Thanks to the successful U.S. visit by President Jiang Zemin last year and the recent China tour by President Bill Clinton, I expect that our two countries will see a continuation of this strategic partnership.

About the Author:Zhu Guangya is president of the Chinese Academy of Engineering and a member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.