Noncommunist to be health minister in China

A noncommunist French-educated scientist was named China's health minister Friday, a state news agency reported.

Chen Zhu's appointment comes as communist leaders reach outside the ruling party for expertise to help manage a fast-changing society.

Chen, 54, was sent to the countryside along with thousands of young urban Chinese during the upheaval of the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution.

While there, he taught himself medicine and worked as a "barefoot doctor," part of a cadre of public health workers with basic medical training and supplies, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.

Chen went to medical school in 1975 and later received a Ph.D. in Paris. He established an international reputation for his research into blood-related diseases and molecular immunology, Xinhua said.

Chen replaces Gao Qiang, 63. Gao, who became health minister in 2005, will serve as the ministry's Communist Party secretary, Xinhua said.

Chen's appointment comes just two months after China named its first noncommunist Cabinet minister since the 1970s, appointing German-educated Wang Gang as minister of science and technology.

Chen was previously the vice president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, where he worked to improve biotechnology research and encourage Chinese scientists working abroad to return to China, Xinhua said.