The structure and comparative advantages of China's scientific research - Quantitative and qualitative perspectives

Lili Wang


In recent decades there has been a sharp increase in China's scientific output. Behind its fast growth, little is known about China's comparative advantages in different academic disciplines. Meanwhile, despite China's rising position (now in second place worldwide for research output), its research quality has been long in dispute. Based on citation rates, many studies expressed negative opinions on the quality of China's scientific output. This paper argues that citation reflects more social impact than quality. On the other hand, the time lag between being cited and the eventual publication of citing papers masks the real recent situation in developing countries. In particular prior to 2006, almost half of research papers in China were published in Chinese journals, which were not visible (or readable) to people outside of China. Consequently, it is not surprising that citation rates of Chinese researchers were rather low. Given that the publication structure in China has changed tremendously in recent years, evaluation of the quality of Chinese science needs to be carried out according to the latest research output from China. This paper examines the comparative advantages of each academic discipline as well as their shifts over the years. Focusing on the top 5 per cent journals by each discipline, we evaluate the quality of China's scientific output compared to the rest of the world. Different from the criticism stated in previous literature, this paper finds that the quality of China's research in terms of publications in top journals is promising. Since 2006 the growth of scientific publications in China has been driven by papers published in English-language journals. The increasing visibility of Chinese science paves the way for its wider recognition and higher citation rates.

Keywords: Bibliometrics, Scientometric analysis, Revealed comparative advantage, Publications, Scientific output, Publication quality, Citation, High-impact journals

JEL Classification O31, O32, O33, O57

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