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The introduction and development of continental drift theory and plate tectonics in China: a case study in the transference of scientific ideas from west to east†

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Taking up ideas suggested by George Basalla, the paper examines some aspects of the early development of geological work in China in the twentieth century, in particular the education and careers of some prominent early Chinese geologists. It is shown that these men received training overseas that could have made them receptive to mobilist ideas. Within China, a number of interesting ‘whole-Earth' theories were developed, and some account of these is given. The introduction of plate tectonics into China was delayed by the events of the Cultural Revolution, but thereafter the plate tectonic theory was accepted quite rapidly by Chinese geologists, owing to the already-existing mobilist views in China and the lack of a well-established ‘geosyncline theory' in that country. Recent work in China has deployed Western ideas of plate tectonics, but has synthesized them in an eclectic manner in a number of distinctive Chinese whole-Earth theories. The effect of Russian ‘fixist' doctrines does not appear to have been very great in China. The study shows that the Basalla model has some utility in the Chinese case, but only in a very general way. Some ideas of Shigeru Nakayama are deployed to account for features of the Chinese geological community and Chinese geological theorizing.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Academia Sinica, 1 Guong Yuan West Street, Beijing, People's Republic of China 2: University of New South Wales, School of Science and Technology Studies, Kensington, N.S.W., 2033, Australia

Publication date: 1989-01-01

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