China tries freewheeling science

China’s history over the last half-century has been mainly about this: how much freedom the Chinese Communist Party would allow its citizens – from speech to private investment to a couple’s choice on the number of children. Now, with the Chinese economy in rapid decline, the party has begun to actually push freedom on a particular group: researchers in basic science.

Their creativity and curiosity – which require the freedom to share, challenge, and even fail – will be key to achieving the kind of breakthroughs that can boost economic productivity and help China get out of its slump. The world economy may depend on this rising bit of freedom under a one-party dictatorship.

“Without a free and open sci-tech management system, no amount of money is enough to make stunning scientific breakthroughs,” declared a recent article on the Beijing-based news website Caixin Global. “On China’s journey to pursue the ‘endless frontier’ of science and technology, academic freedom and openness become the bedrock.”

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