From: yu31 at grace.wharton.upenn.edu (Junchun Yu)
Subject: Are any Chinese sci. and tech. achievements with world reputation?
Message-ID: <147341 at netnews.upenn.edu>
Date: 15 Sep 93 20:55:04 GMT
I don't care about if we Chinese have a Bethoven or a Mozart. But it is
crucial for us to develop sci.and tech.
I know that China claimed it was Chinese who first synthesized the
artificial protein in 1958 at Beijing University. Is this claim recognized by
the world biological circles?
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1. Science and technology, though not directly linked to arts and humanities,
but its developments do reflect a nation's "taste", which is dominated by the
the overall level of civilization. Thus, if you don't have Bethoven and
Mozart, you can't expect a civilization haing a lot of Einstein, E. Fisher, L.
Pauling, F. Sanger, et al....
2. How about the Chinese "taste"? Best example is the story of "Chinese who
first synthersized the artificial protein in 1958". Some facts:
1. the protein is insulin (from pig), which is not an inorganic compound, but
a molecule from/for life. It's thought to be the smallest protein.
2. it's structure was first determined by F. Sanger in 1958(?) thus got the
3. based on this development, the Chinese scientists find a chance to prove a
"truth". Do you know what truth? (This reflected the Chinese "taste"!!). They
wanted to prove, with latest scietific evidence, the correctness of a wrong
claim by their political mentor Frederik Engels in 1800's.
4. Frederik Engels' original statement was:"protein is the most basic form of
life", or something like that, which was later proved to be obvious bullshit
after the discovery of nucleic acids, i.e. DNA, RNA.
5. with this knowledge already known, the scientists, best of them in China,
from Shanghai Institute of Biochemistry, and Shanghai Institute of Organic
Chemistry of Chinese Academy of Sciences, together with some from Department of
Chemistry of Peking University started to project to waste countless badly
needed money, on the journey of proving a politically important statement, yet,
scientificly almost nothing because they decided to use the most stupid method
to do the experiment. It started in 1958, and finished in 1966 during the
Cultural Revolution, thus well-known in China :-(( Their result, they got some
activity, about 30% or so, I don't remember the exact number. This number is
nothing to prove anything.
6. Economically, all the efforts on this stupid project could be used to build
10 universities of top facility at Chinese level.
7. In science, this project provided no new idea nor new understanding in
life, neither new development in experimental approach. It's just laborious
chemical sythesis. It indeed surprized the western scientists only because no
capitalist funding organization will support such stupid project in the West.
Thus the socialist taste.
This project by the Chinese scientists never triggered any interest in the
international scientific community, never mentioned in textbook, if not for
joke's sake. It was soon forgotton by even the Chinese scientists who
participated in the project. If you want to visit them for the "importance" of
their job, they'll be very modest, they rarely talk with you, nor to their
8. As you can imagine, the same project carried by an American scientist named
Merrifield(sp?) even later got the Nobel Prize in 1973 for his re-sythesis of
this same protein. Why? Because he turned to use a whole new method, thus very
Conclusion: The whole work by the Chinese team has been forgotton, but the
method developed by the later Mr. Merrifield is still in wide use today in
biochemistry lads all over the world. His method is developed into a comercial
machines, so literally automated the whole process.
Hope you enjoy this story. It's very sad for the Chinese scientists.
BTW, the only harvest of this stupid endeavour might be that a group of
scientisssts have the chance to stay in the lab instead of the field in the
remote countryside in the 1960's. These people were the first to become
"visiting scholars" after 1978. These people then turn back to China to teach a
generation of biology students. Really a long term invest:-)