本文原文发表于《经济学人》2019年1月12号刊,原文地址:https://www.economist.com/science-and-technology/2019/01/12/can-china-become-a-scientific-superpower。本文仅作翻译习作用,所有版权归原作者。如需转载,请联系站长。


The Great Experiment | 科技大跃进

Can China Become a Scientific Superpower

中国能不能成为科技强国?

The hypothesis that scientific greatness requires freedom of thought is about to be tested

都说要想科技强盛必先思想自由,似乎并不是那么站得住脚

TO LAND ON the Moon, as China’s Chang’e -4 spacecraft did on January 3rd, is not quite the pinnacle of achievement it once was. Both the Indian government and a well-backed Israeli team of enthusiasts will attempt landings there this year; in 2020 various American companies intend to light out for the lunar provinces, too. But all these non-Chinese efforts will land on the Moon’s Earth-facing near side, and thus within the solicitous sight of Earthbound controllers—just as all previous lunar landings, whether American, Soviet or, since 2013, Chinese, have been.
1月3日,嫦娥四号成功登月。时至今日,登月已不再是高不可攀的目标。今年,要登月的还有印度和实力雄厚的以色列;到明年,多家美企也要角逐探月。但是这几家的目标,都是面向地球的月球正面,地表监控器能直接看得到,与前几次登月情况相仿,比如美苏登月和中国2013年首次登月。

Chang’e-4’s landing site in Von Kármán crater, though, is on the far side of the Moon, where the spacecraft can no more easily be reached by radio than it can be seen through a telescope. Landing there and getting data back afterwards is possible only with the help of a cunningly pre-positioned relay satellite. Other countries have considered such missions, but none has ever mounted one. China has been carefully building up the capacity to go where they have not; now it has done so.
但是,嫦娥四号登月点是月球背面的冯卡门环形山,地球上的望远镜看不到,无线电也联系不到。在这里着陆,要把数据传回地面,必须借助提前布局的中继卫星。别的国家也想过这么做,但都未曾实施。中国则潜心积攒实力,开拓别国没去过的处女地,如今得偿所愿。

China is keen on such signals of pre-eminence, and willing to put in the work they require. It wants the world, and its own people, to know that it is a global power—that it boasts not just a titanic economy, but the geopolitical sway and military might to match, soft power of all sorts, a storied past and a glorious future. Science is a big part of this. It is seen in China, as elsewhere, as an ennobling pursuit and a necessary foundation for technological advance. China’s leaders see such advances as crucial not just to their economy, but also to expanded military prowess and social progress. They want the sort of science that will help China project its power and respond to its people’s particular problems. They want new clean-energy sources and freedom from resource constraints.
中国一向喜欢这种先人一步成就,也愿意为此付出心血。中国希望全世界看到,更希望中国人民看到,她是世界强国,不仅经济体量庞大,同样强大的还有地缘政治影响力、军事武装力量、各种软实力、悠久的历史、辉煌的未来。而科学是重头戏。在中国,乃至全世界,科学都是崇高的事业,是科技进步的基石。中国领导人认为,科技进步不仅对经济发展至关重要,对军事力量和社会进步也必不可少。只要科学能壮大中国的影响力,并解决中国人民的切实问题,中国领导人就希望实现,比如获取新的清洁能源、摆脱自然资源拮据的限制。

And the country’s ever greater scientific proficiency makes such ambitions look realisable. It is a long way from landing on the Moon to mining it. But it is not uncommon to hear speculation about such things. As one Weibo user put it after Chang’e-4’s landing, “China has made history! Half of the Moon will be ours.”
随着中国科技实力越来越强,这些雄心勃勃的目标不再遥不可及。虽然从登月到开发月球还有很长的的路要走,但是关于未来的各种猜想已经开始了。一个微博用户在嫦娥四号着陆后发帖说:“中国创造了历史,占据了半个月球!”

The huge hopes China has for science have prompted huge expenditure. Chinese spending on R&D grew tenfold between 2000 and 2016 (see chart 1). This open chequebook has bought a lot of glitzy kit. Somewhere in the Haidian district of Beijing, which houses the Ministry of Science and Technology as well as Tsinghua and Peking Universities, it seems there is a civil servant quietly ticking things off a list of scientific status symbols. Human space flight? Tick. Vast genome-sequencing facilities? Tick. Fleet of research vessels? Tick. World’s largest radio telescope? Tick. Climate researchers drilling cores deep into the Antarctic icecap? Tick. World’s most powerful supercomputer? Tick (erased when America regained its lead, but watch this space). Underground neutrino and dark-matter detectors? Tick and tick. World’s largest particle accelerator? The pencil is hovering.
中国对科学寄予宏伟期望,科学也给中国开出天价账单。从2000年到2016年,中国的研发经费涨了10倍(见表格一)。中国的大手笔将一众崭新设备纳入囊中。北京海淀区是科技部和清华北大的大本营,说不定哪儿有个公务员拿着一串科技目标清单,搞定一个就打个勾。载人航天?搞定。超大型基因组测序仪器?搞定。海洋研究船舰?搞定。最大射电望远镜?搞定。气候科学家在南极冰盖钻探深冰芯?搞定。最强超算?搞定(虽然被美国反超,但我们拭目以待吧)。深层地下中微子和暗物质探测器?两个都搞定。最大粒子加速器?呼之欲出。

The spree is tellingly reminiscent of the golden years of “big science” in post-war America. Between the International Geophysical Year of 1957 and the cancellation of the Superconducting Super Collider (SSC) in 1993, America’s government unfailingly invested ever more of the resources of an ever more powerful economy into the things which the leaders of its scientific community most wanted. From the creation of quarks to the cloning of genes to the netting of Nobel prizes, American science came to dominate the world.
中国的一掷千金,像极了美国战后 “科学大爆发”的黄金年代。从1957年的“国际地球物理年”计划开始,到1993年的“超导超大型加速器”夭折,美国经济高歌猛进的同时,美国政府的科研投入也与日俱增,让许多科技界领袖梦想成真。美国的科学发展领跑全球,发现了夸克粒子,实现了基因克隆,网罗各项诺贝尔奖。

Over those 40 years America—and, to a lesser extent, Europe—were doing things that had never been done before. They opened up whole new fields of knowledge such as high-energy astrophysics and molecular biology. Benefiting from the biggest and best-educated native generations ever produced, they also welcomed in the brightest from around the world. And they did so in a culture dedicated to free inquiry, one keenly differentiated from the communist culture of the Soviet bloc.
这四十年,美国以及紧随其后的欧洲,一直在大举创新、开拓历史。好多学科得以创建,比如高能天体物理学和分子生物学。这样的成就,得益于欧美本土人才不仅数量领先,其受教育程度也一骑绝尘。不仅如此,欧美还广纳天下人才。欧美的科研文化鼓励自由和质疑,与社会主义阵营的文化大相径庭。

Measured against that boom—one of the most impressive periods of scientific achievement in human history—China’s new hardware, grand as it often is, falls a bit short. It has been catching up, not forging ahead. It has not been a beacon for scientists elsewhere. And far from benefiting from a culture of free inquiry, Chinese science takes place under the beady eye of a Communist Party and government which want the fruits of science but are not always comfortable about the untrammelled flow of information and the spirit of doubt and critical scepticism from which they normally grow.
这四十年,是人类科技史上最硕果累累的时代。虽然中国现在的科研设施先进又宏伟,但是与当时相比,还是相形见绌。中国所做的,是追赶,而非超越。中国从未引领世界科技,现在依然如此。而且,中国科学发展的土壤并不是崇尚自由和质疑的社会文化,一切成果,都聚集着中国共产党和中国政府的警惕眼神,他们愿意接受科技进步的成果,但不喜欢这些成果带来的副作用,比如信息自由传播、质疑精神、批判思维。

America’s science boom had a firm institutional and ideological foundation. It grew out of the great research universities that came into their own in the first half of the 20th century, and whose intellectual freedom had attracted extraordinary talents threatened by regimes elsewhere, including Albert Einstein, Enrico Fermi and indeed Theodore von Kármán, the Hungarian-born aeronautical engineer in whose honour Chang’e-4’s new home is named. China has imported ideas and approaches more than people and ideals. The resultant set-up has the ricketiness often seen in structures ordained from the top down rather than built from the bottom up.
美国当时的科技繁荣,源自扎实的制度基础和思想基础。其根源,是20世纪前叶发展起来的各大研究型高校,以及高校内学术自由氛围吸引的科学大师,同样的人才在别国却遭到迫害,其中包括爱因斯坦、费米、冯卡门(匈牙利航天工程师,嫦娥四号着陆的冯卡门环形山就是以他的名字命名,表彰其成就)。中国引进的是思路和技术,而非人才和思想。因此导致的结果,是自上而下的摇摇欲坠,而不是由下及上的扎实牢固。

Top-down ambition can mean running before you walk. Take FAST, the Five-hundred-metre Aperture Spherical Telescope, which opened in 2016. Built in a natural basin in Guizhou province, it is more than twice the size of the world’s next-largest radio telescope, in America. But FAST does not have a director. Having leapt from nowhere to the top of the tree in terms of hardware, the country finds itself in the embarrassing position of having no radio-astronomer to hand who combines the scientific and administrative skills needed to run the thing. Nor, so far, has it been able to recruit a qualified foreigner willing to live in the telescope’s remote location.
如果雄心壮志来自庙堂之上,可能导致还未走稳就先跑。比如2016年建成的FAST,500米口径球面射电望远镜(英文全称Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical radio Telescope)。FAST位于贵州,依天然盆地而建,是全球最大的射电望远镜,第二大在美国,规模还不到FAST的一半。只是,FAST没有掌舵人。中国从一片空白,一跃登上硬件之巅,却发现在国内找不到既有学术造诣又有管理才能的射电天文学家,FAST主管一职空缺,颇为尴尬。不仅如此,就算在国外,也找不到愿意离群索居来贵州深山的人才。

Self-defeating shortcuts, symbolic and otherwise, are not only the preserve of the government; Chinese scientists are prey to such temptations, too. China is not only recapitulating American science’s cold-war national-prestige boom. It is doing so in the context of the subsequent high-technology era in which no American university feels complete without a symbiotic microbiome of venture capitalists pullulating across its skin. The economic benefits of research have increasingly come to be seen as a possible boon to the researcher, as well as to society at large.
为了面子也好、里子也好,剑走偏锋却弄巧成拙的不只是中国政府,中国科学家也常抄近路办坏事。冷战期间,美国科技蓬勃发展,大壮国威,今天的中国,并非简单地追逐美国往日的繁荣。因为时代已经变了,冷战之后,高科技时代来了。如今,美国各大高校受风险资本家侵染深入骨髓,如胶似漆。在研究人员看来,科学研究带来的经济利益不仅能惠及科研人员,也能够福泽社会。

For a particularly egregious example, consider the most notable Chinese scientific first of 2018. He Jiankui looked like the model of a modern Chinese scientist. He was educated at the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC) in Hefei. He went on to equally prestigious American universities, Rice and Stanford. He was brought back by the government’s “Thousand Talents” programme to a new position at the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen. Once established there, he took unpaid leave to start an entrepreneurial project.
举一个并不恰当的特例,2018年,中国科学界最名声大噪的全球第一,是贺建奎。他简直是现代中国科学家的典型。贺建奎毕业于中国科技大学,后来留学美国,就读于莱斯大学和斯坦福大学,集名校学历于一身。后来,经由中国“千人计划”回国,任教于南方科技大学。站稳脚跟之后,他停薪留职,创业下海。

That project was editing the DNA of embryos that would then grow up into human beings. Its result was two baby girls. They do not, as yet, appear unhealthy. Nor, though, have they been provided with the questionable advantages Dr He says he was trying to provide through his tinkering—tinkering which was unsanctioned, illegal and which, since he went public, has seen opprobrium heaped upon him.
贺建奎的创业项目是编辑胚胎DNA,人类胚胎。2018年,这一项目诞下两个女婴,目前来看,都还健康。贺建奎未经审核,对她们的基因非法进行编辑,成果一经公布,旋即引起轩然大波,置他于千夫所指,而贺建奎声称的所谓基因优势,却并未在两个女婴身上出现。

You can’t clone success
成功无法复制

The He affair could have taken place in many places, and it is hardly representative of the broad swathe of China’s researchers; 122 of them signed an open letter denouncing his actions. At the same time it is not at all surprising that the He affair took place in China. It was a perversion of what Chinese scientists are trying to achieve as they seek to establish themselves and their country in the world of elite science. But it was also an illustration of it.
贺建奎一事,在其他国家也可能发生,而且也不该因为他,就一竿子打翻一片中国科研人员。122名中国科学家联名谴责贺建奎的所作所为。不过,话又说回来,贺建奎一事发生在中国,并非出乎意料。中国科学家一直努力让自己和祖国跻身世界顶尖科学界,贺建奎只是用力过猛的特例,却也是力争上游的典型。

The staggering growth in the number of scientific papers by Chinese researchers needs to be seen in this context. In terms of pure numbers, China overtook America in 2016 (see chart 2). But the quality of some of these papers is very low. In April 2018 Han Xueying and Richard Appelbaum of the University of California, Santa Barbara, reported opinions gathered in a survey of 731 researchers at top-tier Chinese universities. As one from Fudan University put it: “People fabricate or plagiarise papers so that they can pass their annual performance evaluations.”
站在这个角度,就更容易理解中国科研人员节节攀升的发表数量了。单从数量上看,中国在2016年就已经超过美国(见图表2)。可是,其中不乏粗制滥造之流。2018年4月,加州大学圣塔巴巴拉分校的韩雪莹和艾瑞察(Richard Appelbaum)收集了中国一流高校合计731位科研人员的意见。其中,复旦大学一位老师说:“为了应付每年的科研评估,很多人都编造甚至抄袭论文。”

The Chinese government is aware of the risks of a reputation for poor and even fraudulent research. It is one of the reasons that it is orchestrating the development of a scientific establishment. One of its pillars is a core group of elite universities known as the C9. Fudan is one of them, as are Tsinghua and Peking Universities and Dr He’s alma mater, USTC. The other is the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), an official agency that runs laboratories of its own, which will adhere to prevailing international standards. The government is clamping down on shoddy journals, especially those in which researchers pay to be published. Raising standards in this way will not just improve science; it will also attract the best scientists.
科研落后甚至造假对一国名声的影响,中国政府是知道的。因此,中国政府精心规划,力推科技强国。这个计划的核心支柱之一,便是中国顶尖高校联盟,九校联盟,包括复旦、清华、北大,以及贺建奎的母校中科大。另外还有中科院,自有国际标准的实验室。中国政府开始严厉关停劣质期刊,尤其是索取版面费的学术期刊。此举不仅能提高标准、促进科研,更能吸引最优秀的科研人员。

After Deng Xiaoping came to power in 1978 the top tier of Chinese students was encouraged to go abroad for their graduate studies. Many returned, as had been intended, filled with knowledge unavailable at home. Without them the current scientific boom would not have happened, however much the government had spent. But the best often chose to stay abroad. In 2008 the country started the Thousand Talents programme to draw these exiles back with promises of lucre and lab space.
1978年,邓小平主持工作之后,鼓励中国最优秀的大学生出国留学深造。很多人响应中国政府号召,学成后回国,也带来了海外的新知识。没有这些人,就没有今天科技的突飞猛进,中国政府花再多的钱都只是打水漂。但是,很多顶尖人才选择留在国外。2008年,中国展开千人计划,吸引海外人才回归祖国,提供资金奖励和实验室。

In theory, the programme is open to any top-notch researcher working in an overseas laboratory, regardless of nationality. In practice, few non-Chinese have availed themselves of it. But many Chinese have. Such returners are known as haigui, the Chinese for “sea turtle”, since they are thought of as having come back to their natal beach, as turtles do, to lay their eggs.
原则上,千人计划面向所有海外实验室的一流科研人员,不管是不是中国国籍。但实际上,入选千人计划的几乎全是中国人,鲜有外国人。这些归国学者在中国称为“海归”,取“海龟”的谐音,因为他们像海龟回巢产卵一样,返回自己的出生地,开枝散叶贡献力量。

Talent that has not been abroad is not, however, neglected. A coeval programme, Changjiang Scholars, is aimed at identifying potential top-flight researchers who are languishing in thousands of provincial institutions. Once identified, they, too, are brought into the charmed circle.
不过,中国本土的人才也不会受冷落。长江学者项目专门针对国内人才,从成千上万省级机构里,搜罗苦苦煎熬、默默无闻的一流学者。一旦被发掘,这些人也能跻身上层的少数精英。

Taikonauts back control
太空人重返焦点

This is yielding results at all but the very highest levels. Chinese scientists working in China have as yet earned only one Nobel prize. Other than that work—the discovery of artemisinin, a novel antimalarial drug, by Tu Youyou—there has not yet been any Chinese scientific advance that a fair-minded person would be likely to think Nobel-worthy. No fundamental particle has been discovered there, nor any new class of astronomical object. Chinese scientists have not yet done anything to compare with, say, the development of CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing (America) or the creation of pluripotent stem cells (Japan) or the invention of DNA sequencing itself (Britain).
中国的人才计划让中国科学界遍地开花,独缺最尖端成果。中国那么多科学家,到目前为止,只有一位获得诺贝尔奖。得奖者屠呦呦发现了青蒿素,研制成最新的抗疟疾药。广泛看来,除了这一项发现,中国别的科技成果还配不上诺贝尔奖。中国没能发现新的基本粒子,也没发现新的天体类别。反观其他国家,美国发明了CRISPR-Cas9基因编辑技术,日本开创了诱导性多能干细胞技术,英国发明了DNA测序,中国科学家的成就只能望尘莫及。

But a great deal of Chinese science is now very good indeed, particularly in relatively new fields with practical implications. The country has a very large and ever growing workforce (see chart 3) that is both enjoined and keen to tackle juicy topics. A study published by Elsevier, a scientific publisher, and Nikkei, a Japanese news business, on January 6th found that China published more high-impact research papers than America did in 23 out of 30 hot research fields with clear technological applications. Chinese science is a nimble giant, capable of piling in on any new field of promise with enormous, often centrally encouraged, force.
但是现如今,中国科学已经奋起直追大为改观,尤其是有实用价值的新兴领域。中国的劳动人口基数庞大,且一直在增长(见图表3),要解决棘手的问题,他们外有受命、内有热情。1月6日,爱思唯尔出版社和日经新闻发表一项研究结果,据统计,在30个具有实用价值的热门研究领域中,中国发表的重大研究论文数量,已经在23个领域超过美国。中国科学体量巨大,但身手灵敏,一旦出现新兴领域,就能泰山压顶,借中央之力,呈鲸吞之势。

Developments in fields such as double-layer capacitors and biochar, two of those 23, may be important but are unlikely to be much noticed, either by Nobel committees, the public or foreigners who need impressing. For visible signals of its national prowess, China is following the well-trodden path of big science in America, Europe and Japan: building large physics experiments and putting things—especially people—into space.
23个领域中,包括双层电容器和生物炭,这些领域的发展虽然很重要,但未必受人关注,不论普罗大众还是诺贝尔奖评委会,都不甚了解。为了彰显强大国力,中国现在走的是美国、欧洲、日本当年发展大科学的老路:攻关大型物理实验、向太空发射人造物——还有太空人。

The China National Space Administration has sent several “taikonauts” into orbit and provided them with some small space labs to hang around in while they are there. Its plans include, in the near term, a bigger space station, assembled in orbit from modules launched separately, and in the longer term crewed missions to the Moon enabled by a new booster more powerful than any of today’s, the Long March 9.
中国国家航天局已经成功完成多次载人航天,用小型航天器载着太空人进入绕地轨道。航天局计划,在不远的未来,分批次发射不同模组,在地球轨道上组建更大的空间站。长期的计划是依靠长征9号运载火箭完成载人登月。长征9号是中国正在研制的最新运载火箭,其运力将超过现在所有运载火箭。

The National Space Science Centre, part of CAS, is busy putting up scientific satellites; in April 2018 it announced six new ones that should be launched by 2020 or soon after. Most of China’s launches, though, are not scientific; they are for communications, Earth observation—and military intelligence. China’s space programme began in the bosom of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), and though it is no longer directly run by the armed forces, they are still keenly involved with the development of the country’s orbital abilities. In 2007 China tested an anti-satellite weapon; its “Strategic Support Force” is thought to co-ordinate its military space-, electronic- and cyber-warfare capabilities. All China’s taikonauts are PLA officers. Other physics facilities have obvious military applications, too, such as wind tunnels designed for research into forms of hypersonic flight that are really relevant only to the armed forces.
中科院国家空间科学中心则马不停蹄地发射科研卫星;2018年4月,该中心宣布将在2020年左右,让6颗科研卫星升空。中国大部分卫星并非科研卫星,而是通讯卫星和遥感卫星——当然还有军事卫星。中国的航天工程萌芽于中国解放军,虽然现在并不是由军方直接控制,但军方的身影在中国航天发展中无处不在。2007年,中国试验了反卫星武器;中国的“战略支援部队”主要职责就是协调军方的空间、电子、数字战力。中国所有的太空人都是解放军。其他物理设施也有明显的军事意义,比如风洞,其目的就是为了研究超音速飞行模式,其实只有军方才用得上。

Beyond rocketry, China’s most ambitious big-science plan is to build the largest particle accelerator ever. Since their development in the 1930s, circular particle accelerators have grown from the size of a room to the size of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), which occupies a 27km loop of tunnel beneath the Franco-Swiss border at CERN, Europe’s particle-physics laboratory. The bigger the accelerator, the more energy it can pump into its particles. The LHC packs its protons with more than a million times more energy than the original machines did in 1930s Berkeley.
除了航天工程之外,中国科技强国的最大目标是修建世界上最大的粒子加速器。环形粒子加速器诞生于上世纪三十年代,第一台只有一个房间那么大,发展到今天,最大的大型强子对撞机(LHC)全长已达27公里。它由欧洲核子研究组织(CERN)在地下修造,跨越法国瑞士边境。粒子加速器越大,粒子能量就越高。相比三十年代的原型粒子加速器, LHC中的质子能量高出一百万倍。

Sharpening the gene shears
锋利的基因剪刀

The Chinese plan foresees a loop of tunnel as much as 100km long. Even China will not be able to foot the bill for such a beast alone. In the 2000s the LHC cost CERN over SFr4bn ($5bn); contributions to its experiments from other countries, including China and America, significantly increased the total. Making use of it has cost billions more. Nor would China be able to supply all the physicists needed to make use of such a facility. Like the LHC, the next accelerator will be a single lab for the world, wherever it is: these toys are one-per-planet affairs. But the Chinese seem more serious than anyone else about hosting and building the thing. Just as it meant something beyond the world of particle physics when America cancelled its proposed giant SSC and CERN’s LHC became the biggest game in town, so it would mean something if China took CERN’s crown.
中国计划中的粒子加速器,全长将达100公里。哪怕是中国,也没办法以一国之力出这么多钱修建如此庞然大物。21世纪初,为了修建LHC,CERN大概耗资50亿美元;另外还有中美等其他国家参与实验缴纳的研究经费,也让总开支水涨船高。运行费用又有几十亿美元。除了钱,中国也找不出那么多物理学家。中国的粒子加速器和LHC一样,必然是全世界的实验室,哪怕它建在中国:因为这种玩意儿地球上再怎样也只有一个。但是中国人比其他人更在乎自己把它造起来,而且由自己说了算。当年,美国终止建造超导超大型加速器(SSC),才让CERN的LHC成为业内翘楚,其影响远及粒子物理学界之外。如果中国能赶超CERN,摘得粒子加速器桂冠,其影响也必定深远。

Particle physics enjoys a particular prestige in part because of its early (and now dissolved) association with the development of nuclear weapons, in part because of the conceptual depths it plumbs, in part because of the sheer size and expense of its tools. But there are other parts of physics with more of the cutting edge about them. These include applications of the more abstruse aspects of quantum mechanics to computation and cryptography, an area where China is a world leader: it was the first country to send a quantum-encrypted message via a satellite. In computer science, too, it has few peers. Though it does not yet have a semiconductor industry that quite matches those elsewhere, it is world class in many applications, especially in artificial intelligence.
粒子物理之所以地位特殊,一是因为它早期与核武器的研发息息相关(现在已经不成立了),二是因为它能探求人类认知的极限,三是因为它需要极其庞大的设备和及其高昂的支出。但物理学中,也有很多别的领域,各有特色,不容忽视。比如,深奥难懂的量子力学可以应用在计算机和加密,在这方面中国可是引领全球:中国率先通过卫星发出了量子加密的信息。中国在计算机技术上也鲜有对手。虽然,中国的芯片产业还远远落后于其他国家,但是在计算机应用方面,中国是世界领先,尤其是人工智能方面。

The same applies in trendy bits of biology. Dr He was not the first person to edit the DNA of a human embryo. That honour belongs to Huang Junjiu, a researcher at Sun Yat-sen University, in Guangzhou, whose research was blameless and above-board. Like Dr He, Dr Huang was making use of the capabilities of CRISPR-Cas9. Since 2012 this form of gene editing has become one of the hottest fields in biology, and China is very well represented in it (see chart 4); according to the study by Elsevier and Nikkei, it is publishing 22.6% of the world’s most highly cited papers in gene editing, slightly more than half the amount that comes from America, and far more than from any other country.
生物学的热门领域里也是一样的情况。编辑人体胚胎DNA,贺建奎博士还不是第一人。执牛耳之人是中山大学生物学家黄军就博士,但他的实验无可厚非而且手续齐全(译注:这次实验中的人体胚胎是不可能发育成婴儿的异常胚胎)。贺建奎博士和黄军就博士都采用了CRISPR-Cas9技术。2012年之后,这类基因编辑就是生物学里最热门的研究方向,而中国的表现也格外亮眼(见图表4)。爱思唯尔和日经的研究表明,基因编辑领域,引用最多的文献里,22.6%是中国生物学者发表,略超美国发表数量的一半,遥遥领先其他国家。

Dr Huang wants to apply CRISPR-Cas9 to the treatment of beta thalassemia, a hereditary blood disease. To this end, in 2015 he successfully edited the DNA of several fertilised human eggs left over from IVF treatment. He had no intention of implanting the results in anybody’s womb; he used embryos which, due to other abnormalities, were not able to develop. What he learned about gene editing in those experiments will, if all goes well, be used to edit stem-cells extracted from the bone marrow of people suffering from the disease, allowing them to make better red blood cells.
黄军就博士希望利用CRISPR-Cas9治疗β地中海贫血这种遗传血液病。为此,2015年,利用废弃的试管婴儿胚胎,黄军就博士成功编辑了胚胎DNA。他从未想过把这些胚胎植回母体子宫。他用的胚胎,都有畸形,无法发育成胎儿。如果一切进展顺利,这些实验里运用的基因编辑技术,将用于修改地中海贫血患者的骨髓干细胞DNA,借此使他们产生健康的红血球。

Stem-cell research is another hot topic to which China is adding its heft. Zuo Wei of Tongji University in Shanghai is trying to use stem cells to repair lungs damaged by emphysema, a big problem in China, where smoking is still common and the air often dense with smog. Last year he conducted a trial in which four patients had some lung tissue removed. The most healthy-looking stem cells in that tissue were isolated and encouraged to multiply, and the revved-up results then sprayed back into the lung. The procedure apparently repaired the lungs of two of the patients; the other two showed neither benefits nor harm. Dr Zuo has since organised a second trial of 100 patients. He is working on a similar approach to kidney disease, but so far only in mice.
另一个热门领域是干细胞研究,中国也是大放异彩突飞猛进。上海同济大学的左为教授,希望利用干细胞修复肺气肿换着受损的肺部。在中国,烟民数量庞大,空气污染严重,肺气肿是个大问题。去年,左为进行先期实验,将四个患者的部分肺部组织切除。然后,从这部分肺部组织中,分离最健康的干细胞,进行培养。扩增后的干细胞喷回肺部。经过治疗,两名患者的肺部得以修复;另外两名则无明显差异,没恢复也没恶化。随后,左为开始第二次试验,将实验对象增加到100名患者。除此之外,他还在试验用相似的方法治疗肾病,不过目前还处在动物实验阶段。

Let 100,000 genomes bloom
10万基因齐绽放

Dr Zuo’s work demonstrates another feature of Chinese bioscience: keeping its application clearly in mind. In the West there has been an increasing concern over the past couple of decades that basic biology led by independent academic researchers has drifted too far from potential medical application. In America, in particular, biomedical-research prowess and the health of the population are increasingly poorly correlated.
左博士的研究成果代表了中国生物科学界的另一个特色:时刻牢记实用性。这几十年,在西方国家,越来越多的人担心,独立科研人员主导的基础生物学研究,已经离医学应用渐行渐远。尤其是在美国,生物医学研究乘风破浪,却越来越难以惠及百姓健康。

This concern has led to a new emphasis on building up “translational-medicine” research capacities to bridge the gap—an idea the Chinese are already integrating into their work. The government has opened a translational-medicine centre in Shanghai, where laboratory researchers, clinicians and patients will all be under the same roof and biotech companies encouraged to set up shop next door. Others may follow in Beijing, Chengdu and Xi’an.
因为这种担心,科学研究上开始重视“转化医学”研究,希望借此联系科研与实践——中国学者早就将这种思想应用到工作中了。中国政府在上海成立了转化医学研究中心,在这里,科研人员、临床医生、患者齐聚一堂,生物科技公司则寻机在附近开店迎客。北京、成都、西安等城市可能也会成立类似的中心。

Genetic research is a field where China has both made big investments and sees a big future. In the bgi, as what was once the Beijing Genomics Institute is now known, China has by some measures the largest genome-sequencing centre in the world. Once an arm of cas, it declared independence as a “citizen-managed, non-profit research institution” and has now become a semi-commercial chimera, with one of its divisions listed as a company on the Shenzhen stock exchange.

The bgi’s corporate arm is also taking an interest in beta thalassemia; it has developed a dna blood test for it, one of an increasing range it is making available across China. The tests use dna-sequencing machines the bgi developed with technology which it acquired when it bought Complete Genomics, an American firm, in 2013.

That battalion of machines has a lot of other work to do. Non-commercial bits of the bgi use them for pure research. The outfit is also home to the China National GeneBank, the intended repository for several hundred million samples taken from living creatures of all sorts, human and non-human. It already holds the genomes of 140,000 Chinese people, part of a wider desire by the government to be at the forefront of the field of precision medicine, in which diagnoses, and eventually treatments, are personalised with particular emphasis on understanding a patient’s genetic make-up.

The bgi is one example of China’s ability to bring big-science approaches to new areas of research. For another you should look inside a low building in Zhuanghe, Liaoning province, where the world’s largest battery is taking shape. It is to have six times the storage capacity of the system supplied by Elon Musk, an American entrepreneur, to South Australia in 2017, which lashed together thousands of lithium-ion battery cells to make the world’s then-largest battery. It can do so because it uses a completely different approach based on a flow of vanadium-salt solutions.

China’s near-insatiable demand for energy has led to investments in wind and solar power that dwarf those in other parts of the world, and is now leading to research into better ways of handling the energy they produce. Vanadium-flow batteries are of interest because, unlike most batteries, in which a single electrolyte is built into the cell, a flow battery has two electrolytes and an open cell through which they pass. This means its storage capacity is governed solely by the size of the tanks that store the electrolytes. That makes it possible, in theory, to build batteries big enough to store energy on a scale useful to large grids. The theory has been developed by Zhang Huamin, a researcher at the Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics, a local arm of cas. The factory in Zhuanghe, owned by Dalian Rongke Power, a local electricity company, is trying to turn theory into practice. If it works, it could revolutionise grid-scale electricity storage.

The Dalian Institute’s researchers are also looking into perovskites, materials with applications both in batteries and in solar cells. Their aim—also being pursued elsewhere in China and abroad—is to apply perovskite solutions to everyday solar cells so that the resultant layers will absorb wavelengths of light that the normal cells cannot absorb. This could produce much more efficient solar panels for relatively little extra cost. To the extent that academic publications are a good measure of technologies quite close to the market, perovskites are an area where China has a substantial lead over America, with 41.4% of the highest impact publications, compared with 21.5% from America.

Taking things on trust

China’s energy research also extends to areas that the rest of the world is avoiding. China is building 13 new nuclear reactors to add to its fleet of 45; it has 43 more planned. If they are all built China will become the world’s biggest generator of nuclear electricity. Those reactors are of similar design to the plants already in operation around the world. But China is also exploring new reactor technologies—or rather, technologies abandoned elsewhere. These include reactors in which the core is filled not with fuel rods but with little ceramic pebbles—or, in the case of thorium reactors, with molten metal.

The lack of progress such reactors have enjoyed in the West reflects a lack of appetite for new sorts of nuclear power much more than a lack of scientific plausibility. If China’s appetite is sharp and its researchers imaginative, progress may come swiftly. The development of mass-produced, compact, cheap and safe nuclear reactors would be a Chinese first that a world in the throes of climate change would have real cause to celelebrate—and start importing.

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