Lured by grants, tax breaks, looser regulations and a scientific environment more open to certain types of experiments, China’s long-lost scientists are coming back in droves. As the NIH and other U.S. research institutes complain about the tightening of in the nation’s scientific budget, China has announced that it will double its research-and-development spending by 2010, to about $69 billion.
The returning scientists are reversing a trend that began in 1978, when Communist China first allowed students to go abroad. It used to be that when they left, they left for good. But in recent years, more than 275,000 have come back.
Many of these “sea turtles,” as they are known, have returned with doctorates in science or engineering and are going to the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the government-affiliated research institute, where 81 percent of the members are returnees. Fifty thousand of the returnees are starting their own companies, according to China’s Ministry of Education, pushing the boundaries of innovation and of what’s acceptable in medical science.