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In 1900, China had no modern science and technology at all - fewer than 10 people in all of China understood calculus. Now, in the early 21st century, the gap in high-technology research and development between China and the world's advanced countries has visibly shrunk; 60 percent of technologies, including atomic energy, space, high-energy physics, biology, computer and information technology, have reached or are close to the world advanced level. On October 15, 2003, the successful launch of the "Shenzhou V" manned spacecraft made China the third country to master manned spaceflight technology. According to the Moon Probe Project started in February 2004, China will launch unmanned probes to the moon before 2010, and gather moon soil samples before 2020.

China's development of science and technology and its system of granting science and technology awards are underpinned by the basic Law on Progress of Science and Technology promulgated in July 1993. This stipulates the objectives, functions and sources of funds, and the system of rewards for science and technology development. The Law on Popularization of Science and Technology promulgated in June 2002 makes a societal goal to popularize science and technology knowledge among all citizens. Local regulations have been issued for attracting talented people, ensuring investment in science and technology, and developing high technology.

Since the 1990s, state budgets for science and technology have greatly increased. In 2004, the appropriation for science and technology reached 97.55 billion yuan, 19.5 percent more than in 2003; the government spent 184.3 billion yuan on scientific research and development, 19.7 percent more than in 2003, accounting for 1.35 percent of GDP, the highest in China's history. 

In 2004 there were 55.75 million scientific and technological personnel in state-owned enterprises and institutions, and the number of scientific and technological personnel out of every ten thousand employees had increased from 870 in 1985 to 3,900. Over half the academicians of the Chinese Academy of Engineering are scholars who have returned during the past two decades after finishing their studies abroad.

From 2002, the national strategy for developing science and technology shifted from following on the heels of others to making independent innovations and technological strides, aiming at the international sci-tech heights. According to a national plan, by 2005 China should be in the world's advanced ranks in certain fields, attaining or approaching the front rank in some important scientific and strategic hi-tech fields; expenditure for developing experimental and research science will increase to over 1.5 percent of GDP; by 2010 a preliminary national innovation system will be established, the building of basic science and technology conditions will be obvious, national key bases for scientific research will reach the world advanced level, China's innovation ability in key fields will soar, and expenditure for developing experimental and research science will reach two percent of GDP; by 2020, a relatively complete national innovation system will be in place, expenditure for developing experimental and research science will account for three percent of GDP, and China's competitiveness in science and technology will step up to the world's first rank.

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