OPINION> Chen Weihua
Mission for the nation and the world
By Chen Weihua (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-11-03 07:59

A sense of mission and responsibility for the nation and humanity must sound like a clich to some Chinese these days as materialism and hedonism prevail among sections of our society.

The death of prominent rocket scientist Qian Xuesen, or Tsien Hsue-shen, on Saturday is a solemn reminder of what is lacking in our country today.

Qian, who helped establish the Jet Propulsion Center in California in the 1940s, went through enormous hardship in the 1950s in his bid to return to the nascent People's Republic. He was arrested by the FBI in 1950, and charged with subversive activity during the McCarthy era in the United States.

Five years after his arrest, Qian returned to his homeland in exchange for 11 US airmen captured during the Korean War. He then devoted his entire life to China's missile and space industry and was known as the "father of China's missile and space technology".

To Qian, coming back to his poor motherland at that time meant a huge material sacrifice. But that didn't seem to be of a concern to him at all. In the following decades, he spent much of his time in Beijing and the deserts in Northwest China. He was the mastermind behind the launch of China's missiles, satellites and manned space flights.

Qian was not alone. A large group of scientists and intellectuals returned to New China in the 1950s to help the construction, leaving behind them the abundant material comfort abroad.

Qian's motto was simple: To do something for the people.

In comparison, many people today, including some young scientists and intellectuals, never seem to think about their responsibility to the nation and the human being. Those who think like Qian seem sadly out of date.

For many people, personal gains come first and foremost in choosing a career and even a major in college.

While it is understandable that several political campaigns from the 1950s to 1970s did exploit people's passion for the country and the people in some ways, this still cannot justify the indifference to the country seen in our society today.

Unlike the 1950s, 60s and 70s, the worship of materialism today has permeated almost every sector. And some say the belief in anything spiritual is almost on the verge of extinction.

That said, we should still give credit to the recent rise of volunteerism among the public, as demonstrated both during the Beijing Olympics and Sichuan earthquake just over a year ago. And we are happy to see more youths are now willing to work for NGOs to make a difference in the world.

However, that was just the beginning of a long and arduous journey of rejuvenating some spiritual beliefs.

Material life today has grown by leaps and bounds from the 1950s and 60s. While people no longer have to worry about subsistence or even a comfortable life, they can afford and should spend more time thinking about others, the country and the world.

Despite the phenomenal economic progress in the last 30 years, the country is still mired in many problems that call for the selfless dedication of people who should think more of the big home of their country, rather than a small nucleus family.

The death of the highly respected scientist has plunged many Chinese into deep sorrow. Numerous memorial meetings to celebrate his life will be held one after the other these days.

The best way to remember Qian is to revive the sense of mission and responsibility for the nation and the world in people's hearts.

Cultivating such a sense should become part of our education curriculum for students and the education for the whole society.