The number of papers published by Chinese scientists in journals monitored by the US-based Institute for Scientific Information has grown from 3475 in 1983 to 10 033 in 1997. However, the proportion published in Chinese journals has dropped from 43.2% to 17% over the same period. The reason, say Ren and colleagues, is that Chinese journals have low prestige and that publishing in journals outside China has financial benefits for Chinese researchers. For example, Chinese scientists must publish papers in journals with impact factors of 2 or higher if they want to be promoted or have their grants renewed. However, no Chinese journal has an impact factor of higher than 0.5. Researchers also receive a 200 000 yen 'bonus' when they publish a paper in Science or Nature.

As well as cutting the number of journals from almost 4300 to under 3000, Ren and colleagues suggest that China should become more involved with online eprint servers. "This would efficiently enlarge the visibility of Chinese scientific reports and journals in the international scientific community," they say.