Researchers surmount the Great Wall

Thirty years of cooperation between the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Max Planck Society/Gala event in Beijing

May 24, 2004

The Max Planck Society is the primary European collaboration partner for the Chinese Academy of Sciences. On May 24, 2004, the two institutions will celebrate 30 years of research cooperation with a gala event in Beijing. There, a letter of intent will be signed regarding the establishment of a new research institute of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in China that has the status of a "Partner Institute" of the Max Planck Society. Both partner organizations are responsible for the development of the research program of the new institute.

In April 1974, in the midst of both the cold war between the major power blocs and China’s "cultural revolution," an eight-member delegation from the Max Planck Society, headed by then-President Reimar Lüst, ventured "a journey into the unknown." The German group returned with a mutual pledge to exchange scientists - a purely oral agreement. "At that time and today, the German-Chinese cooperation is of extraordinary importance to the Max Planck Society," stressed its President, Prof. Peter Gruss, "and the Chinese Academy of Sciences plays a central role in this cooperation." As a young scientist, Gruss himself spent some time working at the guest laboratory of the Institute for Cell Biology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Shanghai.

About 10 percent of all junior and guest scientists from abroad, who conducted research at Max Planck Institutes in the past year, came from China. Their numbers have more than doubled since 1998 to a total of 474. To date, the Max Planck Society and the Chinese Academy of Sciences have set up 10 so-called partner groups in China. These groups work under the direction of outstanding Chinese scientists in modern research fields, such as cosmology, materials and plant research, chemistry and mathematics. This provides talented young Chinese researchers the opportunity to continue, in China, the projects they began with German partners in the Max Planck Institutes, and to qualify for scientific management positions.

The Independent Junior Research Groups in China, modeled on those of the Max Planck Society, have proven to be particularly successful. They provide selected Chinese scientists the opportunity to do independent research on their own responsibility for up to five years, and thus to qualify for leadership positions in China. The first Director chosen for the Independent Junior Research Group established in Shanghai, Prof. Pei Gang, was the youngest member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and was appointed Director of the Academy’s new biosciences center, the Shanghai Institute for Biological Sciences. The Director of the second Junior Research Group in Shanghai, Dr. Hu Gengxi, also took the career track: he now finances his research work with the income from his own biotech companies.

This program for supporting junior researchers for a maximum of five years was continued in Shanghai with two new groups. It will be pursued further at the Academy Institute for Zoology in Kunming, with a new cooperation focus, biodiversity research, and likewise two Independent Junior Research Groups.

In addition to the direct scientific partnerships, the Shanghai Institute for Advanced Studies, set up by the Chinese Academy with the support of the Max Planck Society and the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research, is a kind of "hub" for the rapid development in both the quickly changing Chinese research system and the modern sciences worldwide.

The German-Chinese cooperation is financed through the budget of the Max Planck Society, which expends more than a million euros each year on the partnership, as well as through substantial special funding from the Federal Ministry for Education and Research. These special funds benefit the cooperation between German universities and Institutes of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, since the partnership agreement between the Max Planck Society and the Chinese Academy of Sciences also includes other German scientific organizations, particularly the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (German Research Consortium), and hence the universities, as well.

Over the course of the 30 years of cooperation, more than 1,500 Chinese scientists have researched extensively at Max Planck Institutes, and just as many German scientists have worked in China. The partnership’s success is further demonstrated by the fact that about a third of all positions for managers and directors at the Chinese Academy are filled by scientists who were trained in Germany.

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