Two recent scenes signaled China’s newest ambition: going beyond “Made in China” toward being a superpower of science, technology and innovation.
At the 2018 Spring Festival Gala hosted by CCTV, the audience was greeted with a unique opening scene: a brightly lit Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge, a world-class engineering wonder, on which ran two rows of self-driving cars developed by one of China’s AI giants Baidu, over which hovered hundreds of drones that kept changing formations, and under which sped dozens of unmanned boats.
The sci-fi-like sight impressed viewers, who soon got another massive visual treat at the closing ceremony of PyeongChang Olympics in South Korea.
As the host of the next Winter Games in 2022, Beijing staged an eight-minute performance after Chen Jining, the mayor of Beijing, was handed the Olympic flag. The spectacular performance was a perfect combination of human flavor and artificial intelligence.
Twenty-four performers, including 22 skaters and two “pandas” donned in luminous outfits, took the stage along with 24 giant AI-controlled screens, referring to the 24th edition of the Winter Olympics in Beijing. The human performers and robot screens and ever-changing brightly colorful patterns flashing on the stage, a massive screen itself, blended seamlessly, creating a dazzling and surreal sight.
Standing before the world is no longer a China merely featuring red lanterns and jasmine flowers, but a nation adorned in state-of-the-art hi-tech achievements.
The whole nation is bent on becoming a sci-tech giant with innovation as the State’s top policy and with powerful leadership.
In March 2015, President Xi stated that innovation is the primary force guiding development. In May 2016, China issued the National Innovation-Driven Development Strategy Outline, proposing a “three-step” strategic target: to become an innovative country by 2020, a forefront of innovation-oriented country by 2030, and the world’s top scientific and technological innovation powerhouse by 2050. In October 2017, the CPC’s 19th National Congress called for speeding up the process of building an innovative country.
If China’s glory in the past decades was forged with strong arms and nimble fingers, then China’s future pride will be crystallized in originality and creativity.
Some of China’s latest achievements in science and technology have impressed the world. In 2015, China launched its first Dark Matter Particle Explorer (DAMPE) satellite, nicknamed “Wukong” after the Monkey King, in search for signals of the invisible material that scientists believe makes up most of the universe’s mass. In 2016, China successfully launched the world’s first quantum-enabled satellite Micius, marking a new era of communications. In the same year, China completed the world’s largest telescope, the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope, or FAST. With a whopping 500-meter-wide dish the size of 30 football fields, the telescope will be able to detect radio signals — and potentially signs of life — from distant planets.
While probing outer space, China is also exploring the deep sea. In July, China’s first manned deep sea submersible, Jiaolong, dived to a depth of over 7,000 meters, the greatest depth range of any manned research vehicle in the world.
In January this year, Chinese scientists announced they had successfully cloned two long-tailed macaque monkeys. Nobody had previously been able to clone a non-human primate.
China is leading the world in application of scientific and technological achievements, including mobile payment, online shopping and bike- and auto-sharing. China Mobile, the country’s largest mobile telecommunication company, has announced it will start large-scale 5G testing this year and plans to offer a full 5G service by the end of 2019, which marks the change of China’s role from a follower to a leader in innovation.
As the inventor of paper-making, the compass, printing, and gunpowder, China was absent from the epoch-making revolution in science, technology and industry in the 18th and 19th centuries, but it won’t be long before China returns to the top of the world in science and technology.
There may never be an answer to “the Needham Question”: Why had China and India been overtaken by the West in science and technology, despite their earlier successes? But Dr. Joseph Needham, who spent much of his life researching science and civilization in China, would be pleased to see a new China with regained glory if he were alive today.
(The author is an English tutor and freelance writer.)