Chapter 18: Academic journals in China: past, present and future – The Future of the Academic Journal, 2nd Edition

18

Academic journals in China: past, present and future

Li Wu and Xiao DongFa

Abstract:

Chinese academic journals were born in the early nineteenth century. During the late Qing Dynasty, a few Chinese academic journals were launched one after another, most of which devoted themselves to disseminating scientific knowledge and Western culture. The Republic of China, founded in 1911 after the bourgeois-democratic revolution, witnessed a steady development of Chinese academic journals. From the late 1920s, academic journals specializing in a certain field came into being continuously, and became a notable feature of journal publishing at the time. The establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 and the reform and opening-up policy of 1979 brought about rapid development for Chinese academic journals. According to recent statistics, the total number of Chinese academic journals is 9549. STM journals account for 50 per cent of this figure, while HSS journals make up around 25 per cent of the total. Regardless of whether they are STM or HSS journals, most Chinese academic journals are located in Beijing and published in Mandarin. From the perspective of pricing, the average prices of STM and HSS titles are 8.82 and 6.72 Chinese Yuan respectively.

In the near future, we believe that Chinese academic journals will embrace further developments in the areas of industrialization, internationalization and digitization. The journal presses have been transforming their original public cultural institutions into private cultural enterprises, and are starting to operate under market conditions. Academic journals are believed to be one of the most effective ways of participating in global scholarly communication and they themselves have tried many ways of achieving this goal. Improved quality is undoubtedly the key element for increasing the standing of Chinese academic journals – in terms of both the quality of research work and the editorial quality of articles and journals.

Key words

academic journals

Chinese journals

development history

private cultural enterprises

internationalization of Chinese culture

The China Academic Journal Network Publishing Database

A brief history of Chinese academic journals

Chinese academic journals were born in the early nineteenth century. On 5 August 1815, Robert Morrison, a Scottish evangelist and the first Christian Protestant missionary in China, launched the Chinese Monthly Magazine () in Malacca with the help of his Chinese assistant, Milian (). Mainly aimed at promoting religious doctrines to Chinese readers, it also introduced scientific knowledge such as astronomy and geography in a simple language.1 This magazine was said to be the first academic journal in modern China, and was a remarkable milestone in the history of journal publishing in China.

During the late Qing Dynasty, a few Chinese academic journals were launched one after another. Most of them devoted themselves to disseminating scientific knowledge and Western culture, including the International Bulletin () and the Mathematics Bulletin (), launched in 1874 and 1897 respectively. In 1900, the Yaquan Magazine () was born in Shanghai, named after its founder Yaquan Du (). It was the first STM journal established by a native Chinese, and it was this journal that introduced the periodic table of chemical elements into China.2

The Republic of China, founded in 1911 after the bourgeois-democratic revolution led by Dr Sun Yat-sen (1866–1925), witnessed a steady development of Chinese academic journals. There were mainly two kinds of journals produced during this period in terms of their founders.3 One kind were the journals launched by academic societies or associations, such as Science () by the Chinese Science Society () and the Chinese Medical Journal () by the Chinese Medical Association () in the same year of 1915; the second kind were the journals affiliated to modern universities – the Journal of Tsinghua University () and the Monthly Journal of Peking University (), established in 1915 and 1919 respectively, are good examples.

From the late 1920s, academic journals specializing in a certain field came into being, and became a notable feature of journal publishing at the time.4 In 1926, the China Biological Society () launched the Chinese Journal of Botany () and Chinese Journal of Experimental Biology (). In 1932, the Chinese Physical Society () was established, and launched its official journal, the Chinese Journal of Physics ()followed by Physics Abstracts (). In 1936, the Chinese Mathematical Society () launched the Journal of Chinese Mathematical Society () – the precursor of the Acta Mathematica Sinica (), the most well-known mathematics journal in today’s China.

There is no doubt that the establishment of the People’s Republic of China on 1 October 1949 – when Chairman Mao declared the founding of the new China at Tiananmen Square – brought the ancient country into a stage of rapid development in many fields, and journal publishing was no exception. According to the statistics, there were only 37 STM journals in 1949, and by 1966 this number had risen to 465,5 with an average of two-and-a-half journals launched each year during that time. Among the newly established journals, the most influential ones were Science China (), mainly publishing original articles produced by Chinese scientists, and Chinese Science Bulletin (), mainly reporting the current development of science both at home and abroad. Additionally, some popular science journals were set up for the general public, including Popular Medicine () – launched in 1948 with the purpose of promoting basic medical knowledge among the population.

During the ten-year Cultural Revolution most academic journals were destroyed, only enjoying another revival with the start of the reform and opening-up policy of Deng Xiaoping in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The reform and opening-up policy brought about radical change in all aspects of society, including – but not limited to – the economic and political system. For the science community, it was a fresh ‘spring’ as well, and since then academic journals have enjoyed rapid development. According to the China Periodical Yearbook (2010), by the end of 2009 there were 7382 academic journals including 4926 STM journals and 2456 HHS journals.6 These journals cover all existing subjects and the sub-fields of most subjects. In terms of the number of journals published, China is now the second largest country in academic journal publishing, only behind the US.

The development of academic journals in today’s China

Chinese academic journals have maintained a steady rate of development over the last decade. The total number of Chinese academic journals in2009 was 7382, which was 710 more than in 2001. During that time, the growth in new titles was 10.6 per cent among all academic journals. More specifically, the growth rate of STM journals was 11.4 per cent, slightly higher than the overall growth rate; meanwhile, the growth rate for HSS journals was 9.1 per cent, lower than the overall growth rate (see Table 18.1).

Table 18.1

Number of Chinese STM and HSS journals, 2001–9

STM HSS
2001 4420 2252
2002 4457 2318
2003 4497 2286
2004 4748 2369
2005 4713 2339
2006 4713 2339
2007 4713 2339
2008 4794 2339
2009 4926 2456
Growth rate during 2001–9 11.4% 9.1%

Source: China Periodical Yearbook (Volumes 2002–10)

Percentage of academic journals

Periodicals are usually divided into seven subgroups: general magazines, STM journals, HSS journals, cultural and educational magazines, literature and arts magazines, magazines for children, and pictorial magazines. With regard to the number of titles, STM journals have got the biggest market share, with 50 per cent of the market. The market share of HSS journals is around 25 per cent, ranking number two behind STM journals. However, if we compare the different subgroups from the perspective of the total number of copies, we find that HSS journals have the biggest market share, while STM journals lie in third place behind HSS journals and cultural and educational magazines (see Table 18.2).

Table 18.2

Publishing of subgroups of periodicals in China in 2009

Title Total number of copies
Number Market share (%) Number(000 s) Market share(%)
General magazines 485 4.92 45240 14.35
STM journals 4926 50.01 46228 14.66
HSS journals 2456 24.93 109569 34.76
Cultural and educational magazines 1204 12.22 57738 18.31
Literature and arts magazines 631 6.41 29864 9.47
Magazines for children 98 0.99 24127 7.65
Pictorial magazines 51 0.52 2484 0.79

Source: China Periodical Yearbook 2010 and Almanac of China Paper Industry 2011

Pricing of academic journals

According to the price per title, pictorial journals are the most expensive subgroup, while STM and HSS journals rank in second and third place respectively. Specifically, the average prices of STM and HSS titles are 8.82 and 6.72 Chinese Yuan respectively. There is another statistical method used to calculate and compare a publication’s price, which calculates the price in terms of printed sheets, and this is more scientific because it takes the number of pages into consideration. If the seven subgroups of Chinese periodicals are compared using the index of per printed sheets, magazines for children are the most expensive while STM and HSS journals are ranked in second and third place respectively. Therefore, in terms of price per title and number of pages, STM journals are more expensive than HSS journals (see Table 18.3).

Table 18.3

Pricing of subgroups of Chinese periodicals, 2009

Average price per title (RMB) Price per printed sheets (RMB)
General magazines 4.98 1.16
STM journals 8.82 1.3
HHS journals 6.72 1.27
Cultural and educational magazines 6.35 1.15
Literature and arts magazines 5.01 0.95
Magazines for children 4.42 1.53
Pictorial magazines 12.67 1.19

Source: China Periodical Yearbook 2010

Language of academic journals

China has a big family within its population, composed of 56 ethnic groups, some of which have their own spoken and written languages, for example Mongolian, Tibetan and Uighur. The multi-language phenomenon is reflected in China’s academic journal publishing. The majority of Chinese academic journals are published in Mandarin, butthere do exist a few journals published in other languages used by ethnic minorities.

According to the China Periodical Yearbook 2010, there are 30 STM journals and 56 HSS journals published in Mongolian, Tibetan, Uighur and other minority languages (see Table 18.4). These journals are mostly from Beijing, Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia, Tibet and Jilin Province.

Table 18.4

Location distribution of Chinese academic journals published in minority languages, 2009

National Central Local
Titles Total copies(000 s) Titles Total copies(000 s) Titles Total copies(000 s)
STM journals 30 80.33 30 80.33
HSS journals 56 325.9 12 66.11 44 259.8

Source: China Periodical Yearbook 2010

Geographical spread of academic journal publishing

Because the journals which are attached to the central government are based in Beijing, the capital of the People’s Republic of China, there is no doubt that Beijing is the most important area for academic journals’publishing. There are 1569 STM journals (31.9 per cent of all STM journals) and 937 HSS journals (38.2 per cent of all HSS journals) published in Beijing. The five most dense areas of STM journal publishing are Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu, Hubei and Sichuan, and the number of STM journals published in these areas amounts to 2615 – which is 53.1 per cent of all STM journals published in China. Meanwhile, the five most dense areas of HSS journal publishing are Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu, Guangdong and Hubei, and there are a total of 1362 HSS journals published in these areas – 55.5 per cent of all HSS journals published in China (see Table 18.5 above).

Table 18.5

Geographical spread of Chinese STM and HSS journal publishing, 2009

STM journals HSS journals
Titles Total copies(000 s) Total amount(000 s Yuan) Titles Total copies(000 s) Total amount(000 s Yuan)
National 4926 46228 4076550 2456 109569 7358440
Central 1493 16604 1821380 886 53221 3834310
Local 3433 29624 2255170 1570 56348 3524130
Beijing 76 687 80930 51 1107 69580
Tianjin 148 687 53190 36 794 44900
Hebei 110 564 5090 55 2334 99060
Shanxi () 92 571 53220 45 991 93800
Inner Mongolia 51 181 17860 53 456 26010
Liaoning 183 1167 97700 66 5713 256510
Jilin 104 375 36180 60 3241 189210
Heilongjiang 158 602 57360 76 2082 123990
Shanghai 366 3346 302680 144 4636 304670
Jiangsu 262 1342 103680 94 661 41630
Zhejiang 104 484 41470 37 1448 112190
Anhui 89 705 59440 33 1027 49250
Fujian 67 190 19280 57 1353 64660
Jiangxi 69 468 20480 35 655 50230
Shandong 133 1645 81510 57 2955 204080
Henan 118 1513 83740 67 3569 205580
Hubei 215 949 86200 93 5403 263080
Hunan 128 1306 72270 49 2064 110020
Guangdong 178 7951 483990 94 4279 337230
Guangxi 75 608 37530 38 1111 47950
Hainan 16 150 9970 7 221 15040
Chongqing 82 1309 124310 35 2092 120210
Sichuan 203 1377 165010 57 2029 116890
Guizhou 32 77 6340 20 280 83510
Yunnan 49 177 9720 30 834 57560
Tibet 3 2 190 11 44 600
Shanxi (陕西) 170 702 64160 57 2563 278730
Gansu 68 213 18620 27 942 49800
Qinghai 18 10 810 14 57 3440
Ningxia 10 21 2710 11 846 75760
Xinjiang 56 245 13700 61 561 28960

Source: China Periodical Yearbook 2010

The future of Chinese academic journals

Industrialization

According to a report issued in 2006, the number of journal presses that only published one, two, or three journals is 2253, 341 and 111 respectively.7 It means that nearly 70 per cent of STM journals in China are published by the above three kinds of journal presses. The Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) has around 300 STM journals, the largest number. Compare this to the size of the international journal publishers, such as Elsevier, Springer and John Wiley, and there is a great gap in scale between Chinese journals publishers and their counterparts in European countries and in North America.

According to another investigation by the Institute of Scientific and Technical Information of China (ISTIC), of the 85.2 per cent of journal presses which provided data only 21.9 per cent were positioned as commercial publishing companies.8 Most journals are still operating their businesses under the traditional management model established during the era of the planned economy.

At the Sixteenth Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, held in October 2006, the CPC (Communist Party of China) expressed its determination to quicken the reform of the cultural administrative system. The government established the basic principle of promoting reform, divided up cultural organizations into two categories – public cultural institutions and private cultural enterprises – and set up different reform polices based on the different categories. In the field of publishing, only a few publishing houses such as the People’s Publishing House () were classified as public cultural institutions, while mostbook and journal publishing houses were classified as private cultural enterprises. In other words, the journals presses were to transform their original public cultural institutions into private cultural enterprises, and were to start to operate under market conditions.

There have been some dissenting voices and, for example, fifteen academicians of CAS jointly drafted and submitted a petition to the government in 2005 to advise adjusting the academic journal presses into the category of public cultural institutions. However, the reform of the administrative system of Chinese academic journals has proceeded over the last few years. In September 2007, Beijing Prominion Publishing Ltd () was launched, the first academic journal publishing house to be transformed into a private cultural enterprise. In 2011 it published 14 academic journals. It is inevitable that more and more academic journals in China will undergo such a change over the next few years.

Internationalization

English is increasingly being used worldwide as the working language in most, if not all, international communications and global interactions. In an effort to transfer their knowledge base to the rest of the world, many non-English-speaking countries publish journals in English. China is no exception. In 1887, the first English-language academic journal was published in China, called the Chinese Medical Journal English Edition ().9 The People’s Republic of China issued its first government-sanctioned English-language journal, The People’s China (), in the 1950s.

During the early reform period from 1978 through to the 1980s, a number of English-language academic journals were launched. Spurred by economic growth and internationalization, which demanded more outward communication, there was an even bigger publication boom in the following two decades. According to the latest statistics provided by the Academic Department of China for Science and Technology there were more than 240 academic journals published in English in China in 2011, and 212 of them were STM journals.

However, the effect of Chinese academic journals on international academic communication remains very limited,10 even those published in the English language. It is rare for them to be included in prestigious abstract and indexing (A&I) databases, they hold a low position in the bibliometric indicators, and they find it difficult to attract internationalauthors. Empirical studies have found that Chinese academic journals included in the Science Citation Index are mainly those which cite international journals, while papers in these journals did not obtain the attention of their international counterparts.

The world has never before seen China so eager to attract international attention and participate in global scholarly communication. The ‘Internationalization of Chinese Culture’ (ICC) is now an important national policy, and publishing China-grown English-language journals is believed to be one of the most effective ways to realize the goal.11 In order to supervise China’s home-grown foreign-language journal publishing, the General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP) commissioned projects in 2007 and 2010 to monitor the language and editing quality. The results were alarming and indicated that language and editing quality might be a key stumbling block to the internationalization of Chinese academic journals. In other words, the need for excellent journal managers and editors undoubtedly plays an important role in the process of the internationalization of Chinese academic journals. China is currently seeing more and more overseas scholars and graduates returning from English-speaking countries, which would seem to be an excellent opportunity for journals to recruit qualified editors and further their process of internationalization.

Meanwhile, some academic journals are promoting themselves to international readers by co-operating with overseas publishers. According to statistics reported in 2006,12 84 of China’s English-language academic journal editing teams had established a co-operative relationship with international publishing groups such as Elsevier, Springer, John Wiley & Sons, Nature Publishing Group, Taylor & Francis and Oxford University Press. As a result of such co-operation, those journals have made great progress. For instance, more overseas scholars contributed articles to the joint journals, the language quality of the articles improved, and the influence of the journals expanded with more citations being made internationally. More journal editing teams will look to develop their co-operation with overseas publishers, and will learn to operate their journals according to international standards, for example by inviting foreign scholars to join the editorial board and by increasing the proportion of papers by foreign authors.

Digitization

Electronic journals began to develop in China from the late 1980s.13 In 1989, the Southwest Information Centre of ISTIC produced the ChineseLanguage Scientific and Technical Journals Database (), which was the first academic database published in China. It was published first on disk and then as an Internet product. With the launch of the four main networks – ChinaNET, ChinaGBN, CERNET (China Education and Research Network) and CSTNET (China Science and Technology Network) – more and more Chinese academic journals are published via the Internet. China Scholars () was the first online full-text journal in China and it has been offering a service via CERNET since 1995.

There are two main ways of accelerating the digitization of academic journals in China. The first is to build up the journal’s own website – as in the case of the journals attached to the Chinese Medical Association and the Chinese Mechanical Engineering Society. The second approach is to co-operate with an academic database, which usually means that the journals are aggregated into a comprehensive database. The strategy of offering content through an academic database has become more popular in recent years. The China Academic Journal Network Publishing Database (), one of the products provided by CNKI (China National Knowledge Infrastructre) (), is quite popular with Chinese researchers and college students. By the end of June 2011, there were more than 7700 Chinese academic journals and 3.2 million full-text papers included in this database. All the journals are classified into ten groups and 168 subgroups, by subject.14

There are also quite a few challenges in the digitization of Chinese academic journals, among which standardization is the most important issue. In order to protect their own digital copyrights, the three main database providers in China – CNKI (), VIP () and Wanfang () – have developed their own standards for digitization and reading. For example, CAJViewer is individual to CNKI, and has now been developed into Version 7.2. From the perspective of the end-user, without common standards there are barriers to data exchange and information sharing.

Since the concept of open access (OA) – a new publishing model advocating free access to readers, without charges – was introduced into China at the beginning of the twenty-first century, a number of researchers have devoted themselves to promoting this new publishing model.15 Taking as an example the China Association for Science and Technology (CAST), by the end of July 2010, among all the journals attached to CAST 241 were OA journals, amounting to 24 per cent of the overall total of 1003 journals.16 There were also 30 English-language OA journals, a high proportion of the total of 70 English-languagejournals, indicating the higher rate of development of English-language journals in China.

There is no doubt that more and more journals would like to try OA in the process of digitization, including changing from the traditional subscription-based model to full or partial OA. The integrated platform of OA journals within CAS has set a good example. Officially launched in October 2010, the platform had indexed more than 150 academic journals and 700,000 papers by the end of 2011. Readers can access and download all the full-text papers without any restrictions. The platform also offers other value-added services – for example, statistics about each paper, with details about downloads and citations.

Conclusion

In this chapter, we have reviewed the history and the status quo of Chinese academic journals, and we have also examined the future development of Chinese academic journals. We believe that the future of Chinese academic journals will see further development in the areas of internationalization and digitization. Improved quality is the key element for increasing the standing of Chinese academic journals – both in the quality of research work and in the editorial quality of articles and journals. China has already become one of the largest countries in academic journal publishing in terms of publication numbers; however, there is still a long way to go for China to be a powerful force in terms of the quality of its academic journals.


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