It’s Not Rocket Science, Except When it is: The Strange Case of Qian Xuesen

In the pantheon of batshit inanities to issue forth from the mouth and stubby fingers of one Donald J. Trump, the President’s offhand comment earlier this month insinuating that almost all Chinese students in the US are spies barely registered.

The president’s remark, given during a dinner for CEOs at President Trump’s private golf course, comes amidst an escalating trade war, concerns over Chinese theft of intellectual property, and growing unease about the extent to which the Chinese government, military, and the Chinese Communist Party through its United Front agency are expanding their influence and operations within the United States. New regulations enacted in June limit Chinese graduate students in specific high-tech fields to one-year renewable visas, a departure from Obama-era policies which allowed Chinese students to apply for five-year visas.

But targeting members of a specific community and efforts by the US government to impose restrictions on visas and subject Chinese researchers to additional scrutiny can also backfire.

Consider the case of Qian Xuesen.

Qian Xuesen was one of the best and brightest rocket scientists in the United States in the 1930s and 1940s, but he was forced to return to China during the Red Scare of the 1950s. Qian spent the rest of his career in the PRC and provided a critical boost to China’s efforts to modernize their military rocketry and space programs. Here, he is celebrated as a hero of the nation and Qian’s research led to the production of China’s first ballistic missiles, its first satellite launch, and the development of the Silkworm anti-ship missile.