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Catch Up And Surpass: Technology And China’s Quest For Wealth And Power

Catch Up and Surpass: Technology and China's Quest for Wealth and Power

Understanding the transformations currently underway in the technological arena in China is one of the most important challenges facing the world. It will have profound consequences for the future of international security, economic development, and technology itself. These changes are not unprecedented—rather, they reflect deep legacies and surprising continuities with key dynamics in China’s tumultuous 20th century history. This project is centered on the persistent and powerful concept of “catching up and surpassing” advanced countries regarding technology and tracing the deeper roots of the Chinese leadership’s present focus. 

This project analyzes the Chinese Communist Party’s fraught, tenacious pursuit of indigenization and its longstanding commitment to securing new technologies that can remake Chinese society, industry, and national defense, from the past era of close Sino-Soviet cooperation to the present moment of intense U.S.-China rivalry. The profound yearning to “catch up and surpass” is inextricable from its pursuit of the idealized state of “self-reliance,” an ultimate goal of the quest to regain wealth and power. In recent years, Xi Jinping—invoking anew the need to “catch up and surpass”—has deployed this history to advance his objectives, further fusing Chinese nationalism and its technological drive.

Julian Gewirtz

Fellowship Term: March 2020 to August 2020.

Julian Baird Gewirtz is an Academy Scholar at Harvard's Weatherhead Center for International Affairs. He is the author of Unlikely Partners: Chinese Reformers, Western Economists, and the Making of Global China (Harvard University Press, 2017), and a new book on the tumult and legacies of the 1980s in China (to be published by Harvard University Press in 2021). He completed his doctorate in history in 2018 at the University of Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar, and was a Lecturer on History at Harvard in 2019. He previously served in the Obama Administration, most recently as special advisor for international affairs to the Deputy Secretary of Energy. His research is published in the Journal of Asian StudiesPast & Present (forthcoming), The American Scholar, and Foreign Affairs. He edited an issue of the magazine Logic on China and technology and writes on Asia for publications including The Guardian, the Financial Times, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post.

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