Surge in Chinese Scientists Leaving US for Home Institutions

China United States Asia International Studies Higher Education News by Erudera News Jan 30, 2024


An increasing number of Chinese scientists are leaving top universities in the United States to take roles at institutions in their home country.

A new study titled “Caught in the crossfire: Fears of Chinese–American scientists,” published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), suggests the investigation through the China Initiative launched in 2018 led to more Chinese scientists leaving the US for China, reports.

The initiative was launched by the Department of Justice in 2018 following concerns about Chinese espionage and ended in early 2022.

“Under the China Initiative, a majority of US-based scientists of Chinese descent now feel the chilling effect of potential federal investigations and prosecution and have a new reason to be pessimistic about their careers in the US,” the paper points out.

“Indeed, although an overwhelming majority would like to contribute to the US leadership in science and technology, many feel unwelcome and fearful of conducting research in the United States.”

On the same note, the paper reveals there was an increase in migration in the past years, from 900 scientists in 2010 to 2,621 in 2021. These scientists have been leaving at an accelerated rate of 75 percent.

The list below, compiled by The China Morning Post, shows the most high-profile people who transitioned from American universities to top institutions in China.

  • Twin scientists from Tsinghua University who completed a postdoctoral program in North America have returned to China, showing the efforts of Chinese institutions to retain their intellectual talent. Their return was celebrated on Chinese social media.
  • Gao Huajian, a distinguished physicist with an international career, joined Tsinghua University after teaching at Stanford.
  • Sun Song, the Chinese geometer, decided to leave California to work at the Institute for Advanced Study in Mathematics in China.
  • Biochemist Kunliang Guan returned to China after working for three decades in the United States, securing a prestigious chair professor position at Westlake University.
  • Sun Xin, mathematician and a joint winner of the Rollo Davidson Prize, has returned to Peking University.
  • Expert in itch mechanisms, Chen Zhoufeng also left the United States after 33 years to work at a research institute in Shenzhen.
  • Xiang-Dong Fu left California amid suspicions about his foreign connections and joined Westlake University in southern China.
  • Structural biologist Nieng Yan, known as China’s “goddess scientist,” announced her return after five years in the United States.
  • NASA data scientist Li Zhijin has joined a top university in Shanghai.

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