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Former CCP official: Zhang Shoucheng Was Stuck “Too Deep” and Became Beijing’s Chess Piece at 15

{Editor’s Note: The central government of China established the Thousand Talents Plan or Thousand Talents Program in 2008 to recruit leading international experts in scientific research, innovation, and entrepreneurship. In recent years, the program has gone underground because of the intense scrutiny of United States government agencies for China’s suspected role in the theft of US technology and intellectual property. Against the backdrop of the death of an American Chinese scientist, a Radio Free Asia interview of a former Chinese official reveals the history and details of Beijing’s effort to obtain western technology.

The following is a translation of the report.} {1}

Washington – At the end of last year, after a famous American Chinese physicist, Zhang Shoucheng, “accidentally passed away,” the Chinese government first made official high-profile remarks to commemorate his passing. At the same time, it began to downplay the “Thousand Talents Program” for which Zhang had been selected and of which he was proud throughout his lifetime.

It is speculated that the death of Zhang Shoucheng is related to the United States questioning and investigation of the Chinese government’s recruitment of overseas scientific and technological talent. A former Chinese Communist Party (CCP) official living in the United States said that Zhang “was stuck too deep.” As early as 1978, when he was admitted to the Physics Department of Fudan University in Shanghai at age 15, he became part of China’s intelligence strategy to steal Western technology.

Cheng Ganyuan, a former official who once worked for the CCP’s United Front Work Department, said that in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Deng Xiaoping started the reform and opening up policy in order to save the autocratic regime and prevent it from collapsing. At that time, the regime devised a plan to send a group of capable technical talents to study in the West.

He said, “Now we know about the ‘Thousand Talents Program.’ At that time it had no clear name. It was said that we needed to train a group of capable technical personnel and send them to the West to steal technological intelligence.”

Cheng Ganyuan, who graduated from the Law Department of Fudan University in the 1950s, told the Voice of America that, at that time, Fudan University had a Second Physics Department, which appeared to the outside as a university academic program but within the university, was recalled the Department of Nuclear Physics. He learned through the school’s internal channels that the intelligence division of the Ministry of Public Security actually headed this department.

“At that time, the Public Security Ministry and the State Security Ministry were not separate ministries. The Ministry of Public Security, i.e., the Political Security Bureau and the National Defense Science and Technology Commission, headed this department. The department Chair, according to my understanding, was actually an intelligence officer of the Ministry of Public Security. Originally, he was a member of the underground CCP organization in Shanghai (before 1949).”

A 2014 article in the People’s Political Consultative Conference Newspaper, the official newspaper of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, reported:

Most people today don’t know that there used to be a mysterious department on the campus of Fudan   University – the Department of Atomic Energy. In the past, for the sake of confidentiality, it only used the code name “Second
Physics Department.”

The “Second Physics Department” building was a closed circular courtyard, surrounded by a “moat,” accessible only
 over a single wood bridge, guarded by security.

According to Professor Yuan Zhushu, a former student at the “Second Physics Department” and later a CCP secretary
       of the department, the Second Physics Department enrolled those students who had the highest scores. It was also an
honor to study in that department.

Cheng Ganyuan said that, at that time, the Second Physics Department selected top talent from the applicants in the national examinations who had no problems in their family background; many were princelings.

The official website of the Shanghai Branch of the Chinese Academy of Sciences revealed that Jiang Mianheng, the eldest son of former CCP head Jiang Zemin, graduated from the Second Physics Department of Fudan University in 1977. After that, he went to the United States to obtain a doctoral degree. After returning to China, he became the vice president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

In 1978, Zhang Shoucheng, a 15-year-old junior high school graduate, was admitted to the Second Physics Department. One year later, the school selected him to study in Germany.

Cheng Ganyuan told the Voice of America, “At that time, the German Humboldt Fund gave some money. Some people went to Germany. Zhang Shoucheng was selected at that time. After one year, he transferred to the United States. Yang Chen-Ning brought him there directly to be a Ph.D. student.”

Zhang Shoucheng later became a tenured professor of physics at Stanford University in the United States. Tsinghua University’s Institute of Advanced Studies employed him a few years ago. Every year he spent a long time in China to conduct research and to teach students.

Cheng Ganyuan said that most of those who went to study in the United States in the 1980s received a Ph.D. in physics. Most of them have been connected with Chinese science and technology units and universities. They gradually learned and brought Western technology to China; China also provided them with many benefits.

“They take money from both sides, very generous treatment. Many have become multi-millionaires, and even billionaires. There are a lot of them in Shanghai Pudong, mostly in computer systems,” he said.

Cheng Ganyuan, who worked in the CCP’s United Front Work Department for ten years, fears that just as the West has only begun in recent years to worry about the harm of the “Thousand Talents Program,” the top political circles in the United States, including those who do not deal with the intelligence community, lack an adequate understanding of the CCP.

“The biggest difference between the CCP and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union is that the CCP is a lot more hypocritical. Old Mao (Mao Zedong) used this double-face tactic to beat the Kuomintang.” He said, “The CCP’s authoritarian regime essentially has not changed, though.”

Cheng Ganyuan told the Voice of America that, for many years, stealing Western technology has been a clear goal of the CCP. It is only that Xi Jinping is arrogant, has publicized the “Thousand Talents Program,” and believes that this can be publicized in a big way, which in fact exposes the program.

Recently, the Chinese authorities began to downplay the term “Thousand Talents Program.” Earlier this month, Financial Times reported that since the end of last year, the Chinese government has ordered officials and recruiters no longer to mention the term “Thousand Talents Program.” However, there are signs that this program’s recruitment is still ongoing.

{1} Voice of America, “Former CCP official: Zhang Shoucheng Was Stuck ‘Too Deep’ and Became Beijing’s Chess Piece at 15,” January 22, 2019