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An 'exceedingly delicate undertaking': Sino-American science diplomacy, 1966–78

Millwood, Peter (2021) An 'exceedingly delicate undertaking': Sino-American science diplomacy, 1966–78. Journal of Contemporary History, 56 (1). 166 - 190. ISSN 0022-0094

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Identification Number: 10.1177/0022009419888273


In the early twentieth century, Chinese science flourished, buoyed by the country’s active connections to the global scientific community. No country developed deeper ties to Chinese scientists than the United States (US) – until cooperation ceased after the establishment of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1949. This article examines efforts by American scientists to rebuild a relationship with their Chinese colleagues and to reintegrate China into global science. It traces how a transnational American organization – the Committee on Scholarly Communication with the PRC (CSCPRC) – initially failed but ultimately succeeded in extending the frontier of their epistemic community by reopening China to American scientists. Drawing on records from this non-governmental organization, interpolated with Chinese and US government sources, this article argues that the CSCPRC’s failures and successes depended on how effectively they adapted their scholarly initiative to changing US-China diplomatic ties. Scientists were not beholden to politics, however; indeed, they made a critical contribution to the development of Sino-American diplomacy, helping reestablish official relations in 1978. This article further reveals the transnational origins of China’s opening to the world and subsequent meteoric economic development, as well as the nexus between science and America’s historic ‘Open Door’ policy.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2020 The Author
Divisions: International History
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DS Asia
H Social Sciences > HC Economic History and Conditions
H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
Date Deposited: 30 Oct 2019 17:51
Last Modified: 31 May 2022 12:21

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