The government has put forward a series of overall plans for scientific and technological research development since the 1980s, aiming to strategically improve the nation’s comprehensive scientific and technological competitive power in the 21st century.
Program 863 In March 1986, the Program for Hi-Tech Research and Development (called Program 863 for short) was issued after extensive and in-depth study by hundreds of Chinese scientists. The program later structured the framework of the modern scientific concepts of the Chinese people. The program chose seven hi-tech fields as the focuses of China’s hi-tech research and development—biology, aerospace, information, laser, automation, energy resources and new materials. In 1996, marine technology was added to the program. So far, the government has invested about 11 billion RMB yuan in Program 863.
Program 863 adopted the decisional management system, by which experts were transformed from the passive executors of government decisions to participators in the decision process, while government departments concentrated on macro regulation and control, and services to back up the scientific research work. During the operation process of the program, the overall orientation of the scientific research work is determined by the scientists through discussions, and the concrete projects are jointly determined by the Specialists Committee. The members of the specialist group are responsible for closely following the development trend of the cutting edge of international science and technology, and submitting reports of investigations and surveys in their fields each year to determine the new research orientations. Rapid industrialization is another distinctive feature of Program 863. Over the past 15 years, the program has gained more than 2,000 domestic and foreign patents, created a total of over 56 billion yuan-worth of added value, and produced over 200 billion yuan-worth of indirect economic benefits. The plan has not only greatly promoted the development of China’s high technology and related industry, but also offers hi-tech support for the development of traditional industry.
In the period between 2001 and 2006, Program 863 will focus resources on investing in major projects, using 55 percent of its total funds to support them. The first ten projects were started at the end of 2001, including super-large scale integrate circuits, electric automobiles, software, high-speed magnetic suspension trains, functional genomes and biological chips, and innovation and industrialized development of medicines.
The Spark Program The major task of the Spark Program, another national scientific and technological plan introduced in 1986, is to rejuvenate the rural economy by relying on scientific and technological progress, popularize scientific and technological findings in the rural areas, and lead farmers to become well-off. Over the past 15 years, 104,000 scientific and technological pilot projects have been carried out in the rural areas, covering over 85 percent of the total counties. In the period between 1996 and 2000, the Spark Program produced over 281 billion yuan, creating remarkable economic returns and social benefits. The Spark Program has promoted agricultural technological progress through the demonstration and popularization of a great number of advanced applied technologies, adding new power and vitality to rural economic development; promoted the technological progress and rapid development of town and township enterprises through the approval of the construction of 145 state-level technology-intensive zones and 227 state-level regional pillar industries; and trained over 60 million farmers in agricultural scientific and technological knowledge, greatly improving the cultural qualities and working skills of the great majority of farmers.
The Torch Program In 1988, the state announced the launching of the Torch Program—a hi-tech industrial development plan—nationwide. Different from Program 863, the Torch Program stresses the acceleration of the transformation of achievements in new and high technology by establishing a number of organs called “hatchers” (also called service centers for starting business). Since the introduction of the program, nearly 100 such centers have been set up in 53 state-level new and high technology development zones.
The Scaling Heights Program Started in 1992, this program aims at strengthening the state’s support for basic research and giving an impetus to its sustained and steady development. Over the past nine years, the Scaling Heights Program has made some prominent achievements. Among them, the “Methods and Theory of Large-Scale Science and Engineering Calculation” project has been highly praised by famous scholars and experts worldwide, and sparked a series of related research projects. The “Studies on Origin of Early Humanity and Its Environmental Background” project aims to find the fossils and signs of activities of human beings living two to four million years ago in the area east of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, so as to offer evidence for the hypothesis that man probably originated in East Asia. The studies have now made a breakthrough given credit by scientists in this field around the world.