Returning Scientists and the Emergence of China’s Science System

Forthcoming, Science and Public Policy Journal

28 Pages Posted: 13 Jun 2019 Last revised: 22 Oct 2019

See all articles by Cong Cao

Cong Cao

University of Nottingham, Ningbo

Jeroen Baas


Caroline S. Wagner

Ohio State University (OSU)

koen jonkers

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Date Written: May 29, 2019


China’s approach to developing a world-class science system includes a vigorous set of programmes to attract back Chinese researchers who have overseas training and work experience. No analysis is available to show the performance of these mobile researchers nor do we know the exact impact of these policies on China’s system or on the international global network. This article attempts to close part of this gap. Using a novel bibliometric approach, we estimate the stocks of overseas Chinese and returnees from the perspective of their publication activities, albeit with some limitations. We show that the share of overseas Chinese scientists in the US is considerably larger than that in the EU. Over time, flows of researchers from these destinations back to China have increased, although more so from the EU than the US. We also show that Chinese returnees publish higher impact work, and continue to publish more and at the international level than domestic counterparts. Returnees not only tend to publish more, but they are instrumental in linking China into the global network. Indeed, returnees actively co-publish with researchers in their former host system, showing the importance of scientific social capital. Future research will examine the impact of length of stay, among other factors, on such impact and integration.

Keywords: China; R&D; science; mobility; workforce

JEL Classification: O32; O38; O53; O57

Suggested Citation

Cao, Cong and Baas, Jeroen and Wagner, Caroline S. and jonkers, koen, Returning Scientists and the Emergence of China’s Science System (May 29, 2019). Forthcoming, Science and Public Policy Journal, Available at SSRN: or

Cong Cao (Contact Author)

University of Nottingham, Ningbo ( email )

199 Taikang East Road
Ningbo, Zhejiang 315100

Jeroen Baas

Elsevier ( email )

Radarweg 29
Amsterdam, 1043 NX

Caroline S. Wagner

Ohio State University (OSU) ( email )

Page Hall
1810 College Road N
Columbus, OH OH 43210
United States
6142927791 (Phone)


Koen Jonkers

affiliation not provided to SSRN

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