Editor's Page  
  May 23, 2005
Volume 83, Number 21
p. 3

  Perspective On China  


Two recent Editor's Pages were written from China, where I was privileged to be a part of an American Chemical Society delegation that spent 10 days in Beijing and Shanghai exploring ways ACS can cooperate with chemists in China to advance chemistry. I also spent two days in Hong Kong with C&EN Hong Kong Bureau Head Jean-François Tremblay. It was my first trip to Asia.

BUSINESS ACS President William Carroll (right) with Deng Nan (left) and Zhou Guangzhao at the China Academy of Science & Technology.
In those two editorials, I presented some first impressions of Beijing and Shanghai. This week's issue contains an extended perspective on China that I hope conveys a slightly more comprehensive sense of the place, especially regarding the state of Chinese science and technology as gleaned from meetings with officials at a number of Chinese government agencies and nongovernmental organizations and interviews with university chemistry faculties (see page 11).

I am not so naïve as to think that two weeks of travel in three large Chinese cities makes me an expert on China. Nor do I think a series of formal meetings with Chinese officials and chemistry professors at elite Chinese universities could equip me to comment authoritatively on China.

However, C&EN's Tremblay has been reporting on business developments in China for a decade, and C&EN's coverage of fine and custom chemicals has increasingly focused on developments in China and India. At meetings and other industry events I attend and universities I visit, the conversation often turns to China. An increasing number of Science & Technology Department stories in C&EN focus on work from Chinese laboratories.

As such, I departed for China with a number of preconceived notions. The Chinese economy is often presented as an irresistible juggernaut, and it is, indeed, booming. An article in the April 21 International Herald Tribune reported that the Chinese economy grew 9.5% in the first quarter of 2005, with investment in urban real estate projects surging 26.7%.

PLEASURE Carroll (from left), Madeleine Jacobs, and James Burke on the Great Wall.
Likewise, some U.S. chemists I have talked to portray China's chemical research effort as poised to overtake that of the U.S. China's research output is, in fact, climbing rapidly. China's rank in the number of papers from outside the U.S. published in ACS journals has risen from 11th to fourth in the past decade, with China now ranking behind only Japan, Germany, and the U.K. JACS Editor Peter Stang predicts that China will pass all three countries in the coming decade.

My sense of China after two weeks in the country is more nuanced than the one I arrived with. That China is hungry to take its place among the elite nations of the world is undoubted, but I think that declaring the 21st century "China's Century" is as premature as designating the supposedly irresistible Japanese business machine "Japan Inc." was in the 1980s. Many Chinese chemists are world-class scientists, and some of the research I heard described during our trip was first-rate. Nevertheless, many of the laboratories we visited lagged far behind Western counterparts in terms of equipment and sophistication.

China is a fascinating and intriguing nation. C&EN will continue its aggressive coverage of the chemical enterprise in China as this dramatic story unfolds.

Thanks for reading.

  Chemical & Engineering News
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