Professor explores history of transnational science

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Zuoyue Wang, Ph.D., a history professor at Cal Poly Pomona, will give a lecture Thursday in Langsdorf Hall. (Courtesy of Cal Poly Pomona)
Zuoyue Wang, Ph.D., a history professor at Cal Poly Pomona, will give a lecture Thursday in Langsdorf Hall. (Courtesy of Cal Poly Pomona)

A historian of science and technology will discuss how Chinese scientists in America affected Chinese-American relationships in science and how the field was shaped during a lecture on Thursday.

Featured speaker Zuoyue Wang, Ph.D., a history professor at Cal Poly Pomona, will give a lecture titled “Chinese American Scientists: A Study in Transnational History of Science and Technology.”

According to Wang, tens of thousands of Chinese came to the United States to study science and engineering in the beginning of the 20th century.

The study abroad program was encouraged by the Chinese and U.S. governments as an effort towards modernizing China, said Wang.

By 1949, there were roughly 5,000 Chinese students and visiting scientists in the U.S. After completing their studies, Wang said many of the students returned to their homeland.

According to Wang, some Chinese students and scientists returned to China to see the possibility of “professional development and national reconstruction in China under the communists” due to their view that the Nationalist government was corrupt.

Another reason some departed the U.S. was due to their discontent over racial discrimination and their fear of being separated from their family if they did not return soon enough.

Wang said there were two ways that Chinese students and scientists were “stranded” in the U.S.

“One, when the Chinese Communists defeated the U.S.-backed Nationalists and took over mainland China, communications between China and the U.S. were largely cut off,” he said.

Many Chinese students could no longer receive funds from their families in China to continue their studies in the U.S.

“Two, many students had doubts about the new Communist government in China and therefore hesitated about going back to China after the completion of their studies,” he said. “The U.S. government actively encouraged Chinese students to stay in the U.S.”

Those who stayed in the U.S. continued to assimilate into the American culture, Wang said.

The U.S. gradually saw an influx of Chinese scientists and engineers, making it one of the “most dramatic developments in the transnationalization of the American scientific community,” according to Wang.

The leading Chinese-American scientists included physicists Tsung-Dao Lee, Chen Ning Yang and the late Chien-Shiung Wu.

In 1957, Yang and Lee became the first Chinese males to win Nobel prizes.

At the lecture, Wang will also discuss the impact of the Cold War on science and the current science and technology policy in China and the U.S.

“I hope that the audience will learn … about the importance of ethnic diversity and international cooperation for the development of American science and technology in solving global problems such as energy and environment,” said Wang.

Jim Hoffman, Ph.D., a professor of liberal studies and the chair of Cal State Fullerton’s liberal studies department, said this lecture will not only appeal to science majors, but also those in other disciplines.

“It’s of interest for history of science reasons because of how science developed differently in two countries, depending on who was where. But then it’s also of interest to people who are just interested in Asian-American issues,” Hoffman said.

Wang earned his bachelor’s degree in physics at Henan Normal University in Xinxiang, China and a master’s degree in history of physics at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing.

He received his Ph.D. in history at UC Santa Barbara.

The lecture will be held in Langsdorf Hall 321 at 5:30 p.m.

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