China’s blazing economic growth has cooled in recent years, but the nation’s scientific ambitions show no signs of fading. In 2000, China spent about as much on research and development (R&D) as France; now it invests more in this area than the European Union does, when adjusted for the purchasing power of its currency. That surge in funding has paid off. China now produces more research articles than any other nation, apart from the United States, and its authors feature on around one-fifth of the world’s most-cited papers. Top Chinese scientific institutions are breaking into lists of the world’s best, and the nation has created some unparalleled facilities.

There’s room for improvement within that bright picture. China steers much less of its R&D funding towards basic research than do many science power­houses, and its international collaboration rates are on the low side. The scholarly impact of its papers is improving rapidly, yet it remains below the world’s average. And although China boasts more than 1.5 million researchers, that’s a small number given its vast population. The country’s leaders recognize some of the weaknesses and have pledged to increase funding for science and technology, aiming particularly to stimulate innovation.