Yuegen Yu

Date of Graduation


Document Type



Science has long been a principle driving force in United States-China relations. It has served as the lasting bond of the two countries, enduring but often turbulent relationship. This dissertation is a study of the development of United States scientific relations with the People's Republic of China (PRC) from 1949 to 1989. Science was a key element in America's historical “special relationship” with China. The rich tradition of Sino-American scientific cooperation dated back to the 1840s. From the establishment of the PRC in 1949 to the Sino-American rapprochement in 1972, despite inactivity in scientific discourse between the two countries as a result of the Cold War, strong underlying American influence in the development of Chinese science persisted. Traditional Sino-American scientific relations were steadily revived in the form of “scientific tourism” in the 1970s. The extension of full diplomatic recognition in 1979 unleashed a decade of broad Sino-American cooperation in science. The growth of scientific exchanges from 1979 to 1989 was more substantial than in any past historical period, and surpassed similar exchanges between other countries in the world. It was a distinctive “decade of science” in the history of Sino-American bilateral relations. The Tiananmen Square incident in 1989 and America's strong reaction to it, however, dampened the rapid expansion of the two nations's scientific relations. Though historical inquiries into Sino-American relations have been extensive on both sides of the Pacific, and the study of science in this relationship has received increased attention, a general study of Sino-American scientific relations is still lacking. Authors often underestimate the enduring impact of American science on modern China, or fail to acknowledge science as a lasting bond in Sino-American relations. Based on archival and library resources both in the United States and China and surveys and personal interviews, my dissertation provides a comprehensive examination of the development of U.S.-China scientific relations from 1949 to 1989, documenting the profound American influence in Chinese science. It combines a general chronological survey with topical analysis and case studies. The purpose of my dissertation is to show the continuity of American influence in Chinese science during the period of separation from 1949 to 1971, as well as the tremendous progress in Sino-American scientific relations that has benefitted both countries since 1972. It also demonstrates the critical importance of science in the overall development of U.S.-China relations, and explores the interaction between science and other strategic, economic, and political factors.