Note from the Editors


Rereading China: Science Walks on Two Legs in 2021

Note from the Editors

The Editorial Collective is excited to share with the Science for the People community and the larger public this critical edition of a classic SftP text—China: Science Walks on Two Legs.

Many people have contributed to the project: first, Rodolfo Ostilla Mónico organized volunteers to help digitize the 1974 book; then, numerous SftP members from the original and successor organizations debated the political implications of republishing the volume today; four other people joined me in writing critical reflections on the significance of the book, its limitations, and the state of activism around science and technology in China today; and finally, a team of editors and proofreaders led by SftP publisher Calvin Wu combed through the drafts and readied them for publication.

Now comes the most important and meaningful stage of all: the diverse members of SftP will read the critical essays along with the book itself, consider the big questions they raise, and engage in necessary political conversations. Was the original SftP right in looking to socialist China for inspiration? Did the delegates understand what they were seeing, and were they sufficiently knowledgeable about China to report on what they saw? How has China changed, and how we can we engage in critical discussion of science and social issues in China without feeding Sinophobia? More generally, what are the promises and pitfalls of searching for models in “other” parts of the world: how can we learn from one another without exoticizing or othering?

In rereading this 1974 book, we have the opportunity to reflect on where we have been and where we want to go.

This project raises uncomfortable questions about the history and present of our own organization’s efforts to confront whiteness and US hegemony. We should expect some of the discussions to be hard. Indeed, they have already proven so. We are talking across generations and multiple other forms of difference embedded in the very power structures that SftP is committed to dismantling. Methods of confronting classism, racism, imperialism, and other forms of oppression have changed over time and in any case have never been monolithic: we all have gaps in our understanding that leave us vulnerable to criticism; at the same time, it takes work to recognize the value of other approaches, especially if they seem to us either dated or faddish.

Members of SftP have long been the organization’s best critics. In rereading this 1974 book, we have the opportunity to reflect on where we have been and where we want to go. I hope that we can do so boldly and with that essential balance of empathy and criticism that builds the strongest political movements.

In that spirit, we invite readers to write letters to the editor that continue the conversation and deepen the exploration of the enduring political questions this project raises. Please send your letters to magazine@scienceforthepeople.org, and please indicate whether you would like them posted to the site alongside the critical essays.

We will also hold a community dialogue on Zoom in October, 2021: please sign up to our newsletter and watch for that announcement.

In solidarity,

Sigrid Schmalzer

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