A revered rocket scientist set in motion China’s mass surveillance of its citizens

Science | AAAS | 3/14/2018 | Staff
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SHANGHAI, CHINA—It's rare that a scientist becomes a folk hero. But in China, Qian Xuesen draws crowds almost a decade after his death. On a Saturday morning in a three-story museum here, tourists admire Qian's faded green sofa set, the worn leather briefcase he carried for 4 decades, and a picture of him shaking hands with opera star Luciano Pavarotti. They file past a relic from a turning point in Qian's life—and in China's rise as a superpower: a framed ticket from his 1955 voyage from San Francisco, California, to Hong Kong in China aboard the SS President Cleveland. Once a professor at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, he had been accused of having communist sympathies in the heat of the Red Scare and placed under virtual house arrest. Upon his release, he and his family set sail for his motherland.

After arriving in China, Qian went on to spearhead the rapid ascent of the country's nuclear weapons program, an achievement that explains some of the adulation. But his legacy is still unfolding in a second area that could have great consequences for China—and for the world. Qian, who died in 2009 at the age of 97, helped lay the groundwork for China's modern surveillance state.

Career - Systems - Field - Properties - Systems

Early in his career, he embraced systems engineering—an interdisciplinary field focused on understanding the general properties common to all physical and societal systems, and using that knowledge to exert control. By mapping a system's dynamics and constraints, including any feedback loops, systems theorists learn how to intervene in it and shape outcomes. Since the field's founding in the 1950s, systems approaches have been applied to areas as varied as biology and transportation infrastructure.

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