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The Futurists of Beijing: Alvin Toffler, Zhao Ziyang, and China's “New Technological Revolution,” 1979–1991

  • Julian Gewirtz (a1)
Abstract

This article examines former Chinese Premier and General Secretary Zhao Ziyang's policies to respond to a “New Technological Revolution,” which resulted from a most unlikely influence: the prominent American writer Alvin Toffler and other futurists. Drawing on previously unstudied materials and internal Chinese sources, this article demonstrates how Zhao and other senior Chinese officials interpreted and deployed these ideas to advocate for distinctive and influential policies. This policy vision of actionable futurism shaped science and technology policy during the 1980s—especially the major 863 Program to develop advanced technologies—and had great importance in China's economic transformation. In explicating Zhao's role, this account revises the often-repeated Deng Xiaoping–centered story of the 863 Program's origins and reassesses this major initiative, which exemplifies how new expectations about the future, shaped by the transnational movement of ideas, became centrally important to the Chinese leadership's decades-long agenda for China's modernization. This examination also illustrates the distinctiveness of Zhao's policy vision, frequently effaced by official Deng-centered narratives, and the fluidity of conceptions of modernization in this period. The article concludes by suggesting the enduring relevance of these ideas about the future for the current era of Chinese state-led investment in new technologies.

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References
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