Morris L. BIAN

Weng Wenhao was a leading figure in China’s development of geological studies—as a student, researcher, teacher and administrator. As director of the National Resources Commission in the mid-1930s he oversaw the planning of heavy industrial reconstruction and the creation of state-run national defense industries; after the outbreak of war in 1937 he became one of China’s leading statesman.

Weng Wenhao was among China’s first geologists and a leading statesman during the War of Resistance against Japan (1937–1945, known outside of China as the Second Sino-Japanese War, and fought in the context of World War II) and the Civil War (1945–1949). He was also the principal architect of China’s state enterprise system.

Weng was born in Qin County of Zhejiang Province. In 1903, at the age of fourteen, he passed the traditional civil service examination at the prefectural level and became a “received talent” (xiucai). In 1909 he went to Belgium to study physics and geology at Louvain University, where he received a doctorate in 1913. Upon returning to China the same year Weng Wenhao joined the Geological Research Institute, which was an institution of education designed to train future geologists. After the Geological Research Institute was forced to close in 1916, he transferred to the Geological Investigation Institute, which was China’s first veritable research institute in geological science. During the late 1910s and the 1920s he published several comprehensive studies that described China’s mineral resources and their distribution, as well as the conditions of the Chinese mining industry. He served as the acting director of the Geological Investigation Institute from 1921 to 1926. He became the institute’s director in 1926 and continued to serve in that position until 1938. Between 1928 and 1930 he was invited by the president of Qinghua University to establish a department of geography that would teach the subjects of geography, geology, and meteorology and to serve simultaneously as department chair. He also held the positions of acting president of Qinghua University in 1931.

From November 1932 to April 1935 he served as secretary-general of the newly created National Defense Planning Commission and coordinated the investigation of China’s natural and human resources and the preparation of plans for national defense. After the National Defense Planning Commission was renamed National Resources Commission in April 1935, he became its director. During his tenure as director from 1935 to 1946 he oversaw the planning of heavy industrial reconstruction and the creation of national defense industries. Under his leadership the National Resources Commission established roughly 130 enterprises in energy, petroleum, iron and steel, machinery, alcohol, and electric industries and the management of those state-owned enterprises.

After the outbreak of war in 1937 and the reorganization of the central government, Weng in January 1938 became minister of the Ministry of Economic Affairs under the jurisdiction of the Executive Yuan; he assumed responsibility for directing the administration of the national economy while he continued to serve as director of the National Resources Commission. Under his watch the Ministry of Economic Affairs oversaw industry, mining, commerce, agriculture, forestry, and water conservancy. After May 1940 the Executive Yuan delegated new responsibilities of administering industrial regulation and business enterprises to the Ministry of Economic Affairs but removed agriculture, forestry, and water conservancy. Weng remained head of the Ministry of Economic Affairs until 1946. After the war he served as vice president of the Executive Yuan from June 1945 to April 1947 and president of the Executive Yuan from May to November 1948. The imminent Communist victory led Weng to travel to France and England from late 1949 to 1950. In 1951 he returned to China and joined the Communist government, serving three times as a member of the National Political Consultative Conference. He died in January 1971.

Weng Wenhao’s National Resource Commission

The Harvard scholar William C. Kirby writing on the twentieth century geologist/statesman Weng Wenhao:

The new industrial strategy. The basic goals of the plan arrived at by Weng Wenhao’s commission in the years 1932–35 may be summed up as follows: the development of the state-run heavy industries and mines in a new “economic center” in central China. These would primarily serve national defense needs and be run by trained specialists according to a comprehensive plan as the initial step toward a fully “planned economy.” Heavy industrialization was linked to the exploitation of raw materials and the development of new power-generating capacity, for all of which foreign investment and assistance were essential. A state monopoly on the export of certain raw materials would provide the necessary foreign exchange.

“Heavy industries constitute the main pillar of national defense,” wrote Weng in 1940. “This is why progressive nations the world over have spared neither time nor effort in expanding and developing heavy industries.”

Source: Kirby, W. C.. (1984). Germany and Republican China. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 95–96.

Further Reading

Bian, M. L. (2005). The making of the state enterprise system in modern China: The dynamics of institutional change. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Li Xuetong. (2005). Huanmie de meng: Weng Wenhao yu zhongguo zaoqi gongyehua [Shattered dreams: Weng Wenhao and China’s early industrialization]. Tianjin, China: Tianjin guji chubanshe.

Weng Wenhao. (1989). Weng Wenhao lun jingji jianshe [Weng Wenhao on economic reconstruction]. Beijing: Tuanjie chubanshe.

Source: Bian, Morris L. (2009). WENG Wenhao. In Linsun Cheng, et al. (Eds.), Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, pp. 2439–2440. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.

WENG Wenhao (W?ng Wénhào ???)|W?ng Wénhào ??? (WENG Wenhao)

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