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Chinese science at turning point, says Nature white paper

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Nature Publishing Group has released Turning Point: Chinese Science in Transition, a white paper that takes the pulse of China’s scientific research at a critical time in its development.

Nature says is the first report of its kind to be undertaken in China by a global publisher, drawing on quantitative and qualitative data NPG has recently gathered through interviewing and surveying more than 1,700 leading Chinese researchers.

As its pace of economic growth slows, China’s stated aim is to move towards a more sustainable knowledge-based economy which will be driven by scientific and technological innovation. But the white paper notes that average academic impact of Chinese research is not yet matching its growth in output, and lags behind the world average in a number of subject areas in normalised citation impact, one of the indicators of impact from research.

The Chinese research environment therefore, like its economy, is at a turning point, and faces some unique challenges that need to be overcome in order to improve the quality and impact of the scientific output that will support sustainable growth, the white paper says.

The white paper begins by focusing on a positive trend in Chinese science. It shows that China’s long-lamented ‘brain drain’ has become a ‘brain boomerang’, with the vast majority of young Chinese scientists planning to return quickly to China after a period overseas: 85 per cent plan to return within five years.

This trend of faster-returning ‘haigui’ (homing turtles, as they are colloquially referred to in China), reflects the country’s increased standing in global research, and a greater confidence Chinese scientists have in the country’s future. China’s increased efforts to attract, develop and retain talented researchers are also securing greater numbers from abroad.

Commenting on the white paper, Charlotte Liu, president of Springer Nature in Greater China, said: 'Just like China’s economy, Chinese science is at a turning point. The range of proposed suggestions and solutions found in this white paper are based on our first-hand, wide-ranging study and explicitly address some of the issues our research identifies.

'They are intended to help China become more successful in this transition period. We believe that if they are refined, detailed and implemented by the key stakeholders associated with the research process, they provide the opportunity for China not just to be seen as a research giant but to establish an entrenched culture of innovation that can establish it as a global science and technology leader.'