4. A GOVERNMENT OF ENGINEERS?
Neither the National Reconstruction Commission, in its emphasis on regulation and licensing, nor the National Economic Council, whose efforts concentrated almost exclusively on areas of cooperation with the League of Nations mission, had the independent capacity to lead China's economic development, let alone realize Sun Yatsen's extravagant plans. The same could be said of the National Research Institute (Zhongyang yanjiuyuan, or Academia Sinica), which had been conceived by Sun Yatsen as a scientific academy in the service of the state, but which had no straightforward policy function.
The lack of unified direction did not indicate a lack of talent or expertise. It may be that the policy confusion so apparent to contemporary observers—and explained by later scholars in terms of the "cliques" and "factions" of a terminally disorganized regime—was in part the result of a certain degree of success in the creation of new state institutions to manage a modern economy. Scholars who have worked in the archives of the Nanjing-era Ministries of Railroads and Finance,
The growth of specialized bureaucracies reflected the ever greater availability of university and technical school graduates—furthered by the educational reforms of 1932—and their gradual incorporation into government service. It mirrored, too, the participation of professional associations in policy formulation. Take the case of engineers.
A Chinese Society of Engineers (Zhonghua gongchengshi xuehui) had been formed in 1912 with 148 members under Zhan Tianyou (Jeme Tien Yau), the daring chief engineer for the Beijing-Zhangjiakou railroad (completed in 1909), which was the most famous and difficult line built entirely under Chinese auspices. The Society's work of establishing the field in China, standardizing engineering education, and promoting a nationalistic agenda was augmented by the activities of the Chinese Engineering Society (Zhongguo gongcheng xuehui), founded at Cornell University in 1918 by Chinese pursuing advanced engineering studies in the United States. The merger of these two groups in 1931 formed a new Chinese Society of Engineers (Zhongguo gongchengshi xuehui) with some 2,300 members; by 1948 its membership would reach 14,000. The drive toward professional autonomy and self-regulation that had marked the earlier engineering associations gradually gave way to greater cooperation with, and reliance on, the state that now educated and certified engineers. Throughout the period of the National Government, the Society took as its central purposes the development of the Chinese engineering industry
From Industrial Policy to War Economy. The National Resources Commission stands out as the most comprehensive attempt to apply science and engineering to government work and the unfinished task of "reconstruction." It can be distinguished from other agencies of its day in that it became a highly professional, bureaucratized, politically insulated institution that also served the immediate interests of state leadership. Simply put, the National Resources Commission (NRC) was born of a redefinition of "reconstruction" to favor producer industries and national defense. In the aftermath of the Japanese seizure of Manchuria, industrial policy, which had ranged from electrification to reform in the silk industry, became identical with military-industrial development. China's "international development" came to mean cultivation of the kind of international economic relationships capable of rendering China militarily and industrially self-sufficient—or at least able to defend itself—through the domestic production of steel, machinery, arms, trucks, aircraft, and electrical equipment in the interior.
The aims and methods of the new agency were clear enough in nomenclature: the NRC began in 1932 as a "National Defense Planning Commission" (Guofang sheji weiyuanhui), a team of leading scientists and engineers who built on the research of the Society of Engineers to design defense-related industries. It would become a large bureaucracy controlling most of a growing state industrial sector and the trade mechanisms affecting Sino-foreign cooperation, because, as its later renaming (in 1935) indicates, it was empowered to survey and exploit Chinese natural resources, particularly ores and minerals, for national development and international exchange. Through barter-credit exchanges, it was able to import whole plants and provide for the international training of personnel for its Central Steel Works, Central Copper Works, Central Machine Works, and Central Electrical Manufacturing Works, among other state-owned enterprises.
If the managed economies of interwar Europe were to a considerable degree an elaboration of the experience of the "war economies" in the First World War,  the reorganization and growth of economic bureaucracy in China in the mid-1930s was above all preparation for the Second. From a longer perspective this should not surprise us, as military agendas were never far removed from industrial plans in the late Qing and early Republic. What is in retrospect astonishing is that they were almost entirely absent as the rationale for Sun Yatsen's Industrial Plan and very understated in early Nanjing-era reconstruction efforts. But many of those
The strength and endurance of this bureaucracy over two decades (it became China's largest employer, apart from the army, and outlasted its predecessors, competitors, and even the regime) and the rise of its leaders to high political positions were due to its mission, deemed indispensable to national survival, and to a technocratic arrogance based upon unchallengeable expertise. Led by a respected, incorruptible, and crusty scholar, the geologist Weng Wenhao—who also served as president of the Society of Chinese Engineers—the National Resources Commission was better degreed and otherwise academically certified than any other part of government. In making its first recruits in 1932–33, its National Specialized Talent Investigation Committee compiled data on eighty thousand specialized personnel in China and abroad for potential service in state industry, part of which was later circulated as a "Who's Who of Chinese Engineers." Over the next two decades, as it gained control—through industrial construction and a series of nationalizations—of some 70 percent of all Chinese industry, it would serve as the employer of first choice for a generation of Chinese engineers. It in turn was served by an increasingly complex matrix of science and engineering, recruiting its employees from a science-oriented system of higher education and entering into cooperative research relationships with Beijing, Qinghua, Nankai, and Jiaotong Universities.
In the prewar as in the war years, the NRC was a form of "national service" for Chinese engineers. But quite apart from patriotic motives, in a period of economic depression and government intrusion in the private sector, the NRC was an engineer's salvation. Those hired were paid better (on the same scale as management) and lived under more protected circumstances than employees of any part of the Chinese government. For the NRC was not just a de facto ministry of industry and planning. Its enterprises became comprehensive danwei, or work units, and called themselves such. Housing, dining, shopping, schooling (for employees and their children), banking, recreation, and health facilities were provided for engineers and workers alike. Opportunities for study and internships abroad were available, particularly to junior engineers. Engineers would pursue their work in isolation from the "partification" (danghua) efforts of the Guomindang party-state. Their enterprises would be without party branches until 1943 and under only nominal party supervision thereafter.
Chinese engineers shared with their professional counterparts in other nations a "configuration of faith in science, technology, nationalism and industrialism." To a certain degree NRC engineers, like their predecessors in the National Reconstruction Commission and National Economic Council, played the role, in the Nationalist state, of the tekhnicheskaia intelligentsia of the early Soviet Union, the applied