Thirty years ago in December, the modern exchange of scholars between the U.S. and China began. Since then, Chinese academics have become the most prolific global contributors to publications in physical sciences, engineering and math. Recent attempts by the U.S. to curtail academic collaboration are unlikely to change this trend.
For decades, China’s growth was driven by shifting workers from agriculture to manufacturing. As the country started to approach the so-called Lewis turning point, when such shifts no longer raise overall productivity, the government made an increasingly concerted effort to build the scientific base to provide another vector for growth. The results of those efforts are showing up in both the rankings of Chinese universities (11 of the top 100 globally) and in scholarly output.
Qingnan Xie of Nanjing University of Science & Technology and Richard Freeman of Harvard University have studied China’s contribution to global scientific output. They document a rapid expansion between 2000 and 2016, as the Chinese share of global publications in physical sciences, engineering and math quadrupled. By 2016, the Chinese share exceeded that of the U.S.