Rahul Sharma (Editor)

Chinese Academy of Sciences

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Formed  1949
Website  www.cas.ac.cn
Agency executive  Bai Chunli, President
Headquarters  Beijing, People's Republic of China
Parent agency  State Council of the People's Republic of China

The Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), with historical origins in the Academia Sinica during the Republic of China era, is the national academy for the natural sciences of the People's Republic of China (PRC). Collectively known as the "Two Academies (两院)" along with the Chinese Academy of Engineering, it is an institution of mainland China, functioning as the national scientific think tank and academic governing body, providing advisory and appraisal services on issues stemming from the national economy, social development, and science and technology progress. It is headquartered in Beijing, with branch institutes all over mainland China. It has also created hundreds of commercial enterprises, with Lenovo being one of the most famous.


The Academy has around 68,000 employees and includes 104 institutions.


The Chinese Academy has its roots from Academia Sinica, founded in 1928 by the Guomindang Nationalist Government. After the Communist Party took control of mainland China, Academia Sinica was renamed Chinese Academy of Sciences. The Chinese Academy of Sciences has six academic divisions:

  • Mathematics and Physics (数学物理学部)
  • Chemistry (化学部)
  • Life Sciences and Medical Sciences (生命科学和医学学部)
  • Earth Sciences (地学部)
  • Information Technological Sciences (信息技术科学部)
  • Technological Sciences (技术科学部)
  • The CAS has thirteen regional branches in Beijing, Shenyang, Changchun, Shanghai, Nanjing, Wuhan, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Kunming, Xi'an, Lanzhou, Hefei and Xinjiang. It has over one hundred institutes and two universities (the University of Science and Technology of China at Hefei, Anhui and the University of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing). Backed by the institutes of CAS, UCAS is headquartered in Beijing, with graduate education bases in Shanghai, Chengdu, Wuhan, Guangzhou and Lanzhou, four Science Libraries of Chinese Academy of Sciences, three technology support centers and two news and publishing units. These CAS branches and offices are located in 20 provinces and municipalities throughout China. CAS has invested in or created over 430 science- and technology-based enterprises in eleven industries including eight companies listed on stock exchanges.

    Being granted a Fellowship of the Academy represents the highest level of national honor for Chinese scientists. The CAS membership system includes Academicians (院士), Emeritus Academician (荣誉院士) and Foreign Academicians (外籍院士).

  • Current President: Bai Chunli
  • Research Reputation and Ranking

    Based on the number of papers published in Nature and/or other research journals published by the Nature Publishing Group (NPG), the Chinese Academy of Science has ranked 1st among research institutions in the world according to the Nature Publishing Index elaborated by NPG in 2014 and 2015.

    Reform of the Chinese Academy of Sciences

    Soon after being made General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee and State President, Xi Jinping paid a visit to the Chinese Academy of Sciences in July 2013. Xi urged the Academy to be ‘a pioneer in four areas’ (sige shuaixian): in leapfrogging to the frontier of scientific research, in enhancing the nation’s innovative talent pool, in establishing the nation’s high-level think tank in science and technology and in becoming a world-class research institution.

    Since 2013, China’s political leadership has placed science, technology and innovation at the core of the reform of its economic system, as innovation can help not only with restructuring and transforming the economy but also with solving other challenges that China faces – from inclusive, harmonious and green development to an ageing society and the ‘middle income trap.’ New initiatives have been launched to reform the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the centrally financed national science and technology programmes, in order to increase China’s chances of becoming an innovation-oriented, modern nation by 2020.

    The latest in a series of reforms

    The latest reform of the Chinese Academy of Sciences once again raises the question of the academy’s place in China’s national science and technology system, a question which first came up at the academy’s inception immediately after the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. At the time, research and training were separated at universities and industrial R&D institutes focused on specific problems in their particular sectors. These were the glory days of the academy, when it contributed, in particular, to the success of the strategic weapons programmes through a mission-oriented disciplinary development strategy.

    The Chinese Academy of Sciences would quickly become a victim of its own success, after its high visibility attracted keen attention from the political leadership and other actors in the S&T system. In the mid-1980s when China began reforming its science and technology system, the Academy was forced to adopt a ‘one academy, two systems’ approach. This strategy consisted in concentrating a small number of scientists on basic research and following the global trend in high technology, while encouraging the majority of its staff to engage in the commercialization of research results and projects of direct relevance to the economy. The overall quality of research suffered, as did the academy’s ability to tackle fundamental research questions.

    In 1998, the president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Lu Yongxiang, initiated the Knowledge Innovation Programme to improve the academy’s vitality. Initially, the Academy hoped to satisfy the Chinese leadership by making the staff of its institutes more nimble and mobile. The academy’s very existence was threatened, however, after it was downsized to compensate for the government’s efforts to strengthen the research capability of universities and the national defence sector – ironically, the very sector that had historically absorbed Academy personnel or depended upon the Academy to take on major research projects.

    In reaction, the Academy not only reversed its early approach but even went to the other extreme by significantly expanding its reach. It established application-focused research institutes in new scientific disciplines and new cities and formed alliances with provincial and local governments and industries. The Suzhou Institute of Nanotech and Nanobionics is one such establishment; it was created jointly by the Academy and the Jiangsu provincial and Suzhou municipal governments in 2008. Apparently, some of these new institutes are not fully supported by the public purse; in order to survive, they have to compete with existing institutes and engage in activities that bear little relation to the Academy’s mission as the national academy.

    Challenges facing the Academy

    Although the Chinese Academy of Sciences hosts the world’s largest graduate school in terms of the number of postgraduate degrees awarded each year, which include 5 000 PhDs, the Academy has been finding it difficult in recent years to attract the best and brightest students. This has spurred the Academy to found two affiliated universities in Beijing and Shanghai, both of which opened their doors to a couple of hundred undergraduates in 2014.

    In 2015, the Academy employed a staff of 60 000 and counted 104 research institutes. It operates on a budget of roughly RMB 42 billion (circa US$ 6.8 billion), just under half of which comes from the government. The academy is struggling with a number of challenges. For one thing, it is in direct competition with other Chinese institutions of learning for funding and talent. Underpaid scientists from the Academy also have to apply constantly for grants to supplement their income, a widespread phenomenon in the entire research and higher education sector, which may have resulted in underperformance.

    The Academy has also seen its work duplicated on a large scale by its own institutes, which tend not to collaborate with each other. There is also a lack of interest among the Academy’s scientists in seeking opportunities to apply their research to the economy, although this should not be its core mission.

    Last but not least, the Academy is encumbered by the breadth of its mandate, which ranges from research, talent training, strategic high-tech development, commercialization of research results and local engagement to the provision of policy advice as a think tank and through its elite academicians; this makes it extremely difficult for the Acedemy to manage and evaluate institutes and individual scientists.

    Reclassification of the Academy's institutes

    Since 2013, the Chinese Academy of Sciences has come under enormous pressure from the political leadership to produce visible achievements. The loss of independence of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the successor to the Soviet Academy of Sciences on which the Chinese Academy was modelled, in a top-down reform in 2013 has sent a chilling signal: if the Chinese Academy of Sciences does not reform itself, others will. This realization prompted current Academy President Bai Chunli to take advantage of Xi’s call for the Academy to become ‘a pioneer in four areas’ to propose a sweeping reform of the academy through a new Pioneering Action Initiative (shuaixian xingdong jihua). The aim of this initiative is to orient the academy towards the international frontier of science, major national demands and the battleground for the national economy by re-organizing existing institutes into four categories:

  • centres of excellence (zhuoyue chuangxin zhongxin) focused on basic science, especially in those areas where China has a strong advantage;
  • innovation academies (chuangxin yanjiuyuan) targeting areas with underdeveloped commercial potential;
  • centres of big science (dakexue yanjiu zhongxin) built around large-scale facilities to promote domestic and international facilities to promote domestic and international collaboration; and
  • institutes with special characteristics (tese yanjiusuo) devoted to initiatives that foster local development and sustainability.
  • The reclassification of the Academy’s institutes and their scientists was still under way in 2015. The initiative itself is self-congratulatory, as the academy is still resting on its past achievements, with little consideration for whether this new initiative may be good for the nation as well as for the Academy. This explains why some are sceptical about the necessity of maintaining such a gigantic organization, a model not found anywhere else in the world. The initiative offers the academy a bright future, as long as it can count on sizeable government funding – but that is nothing new. Many of the goals that President Bai Chunli proposed for the Pioneering Action Initiative are identical to those of his predecessor, Lu Yongxiang, through his own Knowledge Innovation Programme. Nor is there any guarantee that these goals will be fulfilled through the reform.

    The Pioneering Action Initiative is pivoting institutions into a new matrix so as to boost collaboration within the academy and concentrate on tackling key research questions, which has a certain logic. Implementation will be tough, though, since many institutes do not fit easily into any of the four defined categories.

    Another worry is that the initiative may not necessarily encourage collaboration with scientists external to the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The danger is that the Academy may actually become even more hermetic and isolated than before. The timing of the reform may also complicate matters. The reform at CAS coincides with the nationwide reform of public institutions (shiye danwei) launched in 2011.

    In general, the country’s 1.26 million public institutions of education, research, culture and health care, which have more than 40 million employees, fall into two types. Institutes within the Chinese Academy of Sciences that fall into Type 1 are to be fully financed from the public purse and will be expected to fulfil only the tasks set by the state. The Academy's Type II institutes, on the other hand, will be allowed to supplement partial public funding with income earned through other activities, including through government procurement of their research projects, technology transfer and entrepreneurship.

    The reform will thus have implications both for the institutes and for individual scientists, in terms of the amount of stable funding they receive and the level of salaries, as well as the scope and importance of the executed projects. It is also likely that some institutes will be corporatized, as this is what has happened to China’s application-oriented research institutes since 1999. Consequently, the Chinese Academy of Sciences will need to become a leaner institution, as the state may not always be willing or able to finance such a costly institution.

    List of presidents

    1. Guo Moruo (郭沫若): 1949–1978
    2. Fang Yi (方毅): 1979–1981
    3. Lu Jiaxi (卢嘉锡): 1981–1987
    4. Zhou Guangzhao (周光召): 1987–1997
    5. Lu Yongxiang (路甬祥): 1997–2011
    6. Bai Chunli (白春礼): 2011–incumbent
  • Beijing Branch
  • Academy of Mathematics and Systems Science
  • Institute of Physics
  • Institute of Theoretical Physics
  • Institute of High Energy Physics
  • Institute of Biophysics
  • Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology
  • Institute of Electronics
  • National Astronomical Observatories
  • Institute of Computing Technology
  • Institute of Software
  • Institute of Automation
  • Beijing Institute of Genomics
  • Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources
  • Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology
  • National Center for Nanoscience and Technology
  • Institute of Policy and Management
  • Institute of Psychology
  • Changchun Branch
  • Changchun Institute of Optics and Fine Mechanics and Physics
  • Changchun Institute of Applied Chemistry
  • Northeast Institute of Geography and Agroecology
  • Changchun Observatory
  • Guangzhou Branch
  • South China Botanical Garden
  • Hefei Branch
  • Hefei Institutes of Physical Science
  • University of Science and Technology of China
  • Kunming Branch
  • Kunming Institute of Botany
  • Kunming Institute of Zoology
  • Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden
  • Institute of Geochemistry
  • Yunnan Astronomical Observatory
  • Lanzhou Branch
  • Institute of Modern Physics
  • Institute of Chemical Physics
  • Qinghai Institute of Salt Lakes
  • Northwest Institute of Plateau Biology
  • Lanzhou Institute of Geology
  • Lanzhou National Science Library
  • Cold and Arid Regions Environmental and Engineering Research Institute
  • Shanghai Branch
  • Shanghai Institute of Microsystem & Information Technology
  • Shanghai Institute of Technical Physics
  • Shanghai Institute of Optics and fine Mechanics
  • Shanghai Institute of Ceramics
  • Shanghai Institute of Organic Chemistry
  • Shanghai Institute of Applied Physics
  • Shanghai Institutes for Biological Sciences
  • Shanghai Institute of Materia Medica
  • Institut Pasteur of Shanghai
  • Shanghai Advanced Research Institute, CAS
  • Shenyang Branch
  • Institute of Metal Research
  • Shenyang Institute of Automation
  • Shenyang Institute of Applied Ecology, formerly the Institute of Forestry and Pedology
  • Shenyang Institute of Computing Technology
  • Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics
  • Qingdao Institute of Oceanology
  • Qingdao Institute of Bioenergy and Bioprocess Technology
  • Yantai Institute of Coastal Zone Research
  • Wuhan Branch
  • Wuhan Institute of Rock and Soil Mechanics
  • Wuhan Institute of Physics and Mathematics
  • Wuhan Institute of Virology
  • Institute of Geodesy and Geophysics
  • Institute of Hydrobiology
  • Wuhan Botanical Garden
  • Scientific integrity

    On 26 February 2007, the CAS published a Declaration of Scientific Ideology and set up a commission for scientific integrity to promote transparency, autonomy and accountability of scientific research in the country. The Ministry of Science and Technology had at the same time also initiated measures to address misconduct in state-funded programs.


    Together with the National Natural Science Foundation of China, the academy publishes the peer-reviewed academic journal, Science China (also known as Science in China). Science China comprises seven series:

  • A: Mathematics
  • B: Chemistry
  • C: Life Sciences
  • D: Earth Sciences
  • E: Technological Sciences
  • F: Information Sciences
  • G: Physics, Mechanics & Astronomy
  • Awards

    Since 1999 the CAS has issued the annual State Preeminent Science and Technology Award, presented by the President of China to the recipient.


    Chinese Academy of Sciences Wikipedia