China had no more than 50,000 scientific and technological personnel in total in 1949 when New China was founded, of which, only some 500 were engaged specially in scientific research work. Special scientific institutes numbered over 40. Modern science and technology were almost non-existent except for some regional investigations into the sciences of geology, biology and meteorology and some scientific research work that did not require experimental equipment. The industrial technology was backward, and agriculture relied simply on several thousand-year-old production experience and backward tools.
New China faced countless difficulties and needed full-scale construction. The Party and the government paid great attention to the development of science and technology. The Common Program of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, the basic law at the beginning of New China, stated that: ``We should make great efforts to develop natural science to serve the construction of industry, agriculture, and national defense. We should also encourage and reward discoveries and inventions made in science and popularize scientific knowledge.''
One month after the founding of New China, through reshuffling, rectification and enrichment, a concentrated research base for natural science in China, the China Academy of Sciences (CAS) was established on the basis of the old China Central Research Institute and the Peiping Research Institute. Afterwards, various industrial sectors and localities established their own research institutes. A large group of famous scientists and technological experts returned from overseas, and they became the backbone of science and technology in New China. By 1955, national science and technology research institutes had developed to 840, with scientific and technological personnel expanding to over 400,000. Scientific and technological forces played a positive role in the rehabilitation of the national economy and in the First Five-Year Plan period.
The year 1956 was a milestone in China's modern scientific and technological development. The State Council set up the Science Planning Commission. The SPC organized over 600 scientists and technological experts in the country to work on the first long-term science and technology plan--1956-67 National Science and Technology Long-Term Plan. Since then, China's scientific and technological cause has undergone large-scale development with long- and short-term plans under the unified leadership of the state.
The long-term target had played a guiding and stimulating role in the development of China's scientific research and the enhancement of the technological level of the national economic departments. The implementation of 57 projects connected to basic research, applied and development research has greatly promoted the development of a series of modern sciences, such as biological physics, molecular biology, electrical physiology, global chemistry and physics, global dynamics, oceanography, radio astronomy, perigee space, chemical physics, complex compound chemistry, catalytic power, cryophysics, and high-energy physics. By initiating urgent measures to develop computer technology, semi-conductor technology, and automatic, radio, nuclear and jet technologies, a series of new technologies have developed in China, and accordingly, many new industries and enterprises were born and rapidly expanded. In this period, various industrial departments established a group of large-scale and well-equipped research institutes with adequate scientific and technological backup. The institutions of higher learning also began to pay great attention to strengthening scientific research work.
The 1956-67 long-term plan was accomplished in 1962, five years ahead of schedule. The State Science & Technology Commission again worked out The 1963-72 Science and Technology Development Plan, which put stress on 374 scientific research projects, of which, 333 projects were in urgent need for the construction of the national economy and defense, with 41 basic research projects.
With the spirit of self-reliance and by working hard, the Chinese scientific and technological personnel guaranteed the smooth progress of major construction projects when China was hit by serious economic difficulties. In October 1964, China successfully conducted its first nuclear experiment, which demonstrated that China's science and technology had reached comparatively advanced levels in certain areas, and possessed the capability to conduct independent scientific research.