The recent Politics SE question Did China scientific incentives address the fact that the system can be gamed? includes the following:

These guys have surveyed the financial incentives offered by the top 100 universities in China and mined that data for interesting trends. They say that cash-per-publication incentives are common and that scientists who publish in the top Western journals can earn in excess of $100,000 per paper. What’s more, there are already worrying signs that these financial rewards are skewing the process of science in China.

China has well over 1,000 universities. But in the 1990s it began a program called Project 211 to turn 100 of them into world-class institutions. “Eventually, 116 universities were admitted to Project 211, forming an elite group of universities occupying 70% of national research funding and supervising 80% of doctoral students,” say Wei and co.


Question: Is it really true that Chinese "scientists who publish in the top Western journals... earn in excess of $100,000 per paper" via cash-per-publication incentives?

  • 3
    There isn't a [cash-incentive] tag for some reason, though if something like this is true it seems it would have a powerful impact on academia, academicians and advancement of fields of research. I should probably ask "How common are cash-per-publication incentives in different countries?" separately.
    – uhoh
    Commented Aug 9, 2023 at 22:58
  • 5
    This article from 2020 says "China bans cash rewards for publishing papers". Commented Aug 10, 2023 at 5:29
  • A subquestion is: does this go to a single person (and which one?) or is this split between authors? Commented Aug 11, 2023 at 2:08

3 Answers 3


There is likely more up-to-date information to be found, but the 2017 paper Wei Quan, Bikun Chen, Fei Shu Publish or impoverish: An investigation of the monetary reward system of science in China (1999-2016), Aslib Journal of Information Management, 69(5), 1-18 (2017) [arXiv link] states

A landscape of the cash-per-publication reward policy in China emerged as all 168 cash reward policies were analyzed. Chinese universities offer cash rewards that range from 30 to 165,000 USD for a single paper published in journals indexed by WoS, and the average reward amount has been increasing for the past 10 years. The results show us the overview of the cash-perpublication reward policies in terms of eligibility, amount, and their diversity and trends.

  1. Nature, Science: Among most cash reward policies, publishing a paper in these two prestigious journals would receive special treatment. Chinese universities offer the highest cash reward to Nature or Science papers. The author(s) may receive a prize up to 165,000 USD; some universities even announced that the amount of cash rewarded for a Nature or Science paper was negotiable. Indeed, the average amount of cash award for a Nature or Science paper increased 67% from 26,212 USD in 2008 to 43,783 USD in 2016.

This analysis was also mentioned in a 2017 Science News article.

  • 4
    I just saw this comment which links to Nature in 2020 saying these are now "banned". So the answer might be "Used to be yes, but now it's no." or similar.
    – uhoh
    Commented Aug 10, 2023 at 5:48
  • 2
    @uhoh I believe they are banned in its current form. There are thousands way to give a bonus, the devil is in the details ... see, as a western example, the bonuses paid to top manager of failing banks: (german only blick.ch/wirtschaft/… )
    – EarlGrey
    Commented Aug 10, 2023 at 9:32
  • @EarlGrey I've limited the question to "via cash-per-publication incentives" so as to avoid the detail devil.
    – uhoh
    Commented Aug 10, 2023 at 14:20

Personal cash rewards existed and other forms of rewards (e.g. funding preferences) still exist. But the number should be contexualized.

Rewards in excess of 30000 USD are not for any top "Western" journals, but almost always reserved to the two journals Nature and Science (possibly also Cell). Most rewards (and indeed the most controversial ones) are well under 5000 USD. Not negligible of course, but the amount of personal payment is less of an incentive than preferences in funding and administrative support from the university and the government and other forms of internal rewards (academic ranks, which are tied to salaries, and tenure etc.).

The bonus system is part of perverse incentives that encourage bad publication and citation practices in China, but the particular high rewards themselves for the three journals are not really part of it.

Many institutions who claim to offer a very high amount of rewards basically never intended to pay it out, because overwhelmingly most institutions in China (or in any country) do not publish in these three journals for a variety of reasons (lack of infrastructure and talent, or they are simply not positioned for shiny researches), especially as first or corresponding authors (which is usually a requirement for these rewards).


This is just an anecdote, but I worked with Chinese researchers who said they got paid in the order of £1000s for a paper in a top journal. I never heard of a figure of £100,000 though. This was in 2019.

  • 5
    you worked with the researchers having poor single-party connections.
    – EarlGrey
    Commented Aug 10, 2023 at 9:28
  • 1
    Anecdotal, but I also know of people circa 2018 that claimed the same, up to 2 papers in Q1 journals a year would essentially double your yearly salary. I don't remember the number, but that must be somewhere between the 2 numbers you mention. Commented Aug 10, 2023 at 13:21
  • @EarlGrey What do connections have to do with this particular bonus? Direct payment in question for high rank papers was set by each university/department/program/political divison in public policies.
    – xngtng
    Commented Aug 10, 2023 at 14:22
  • was set by each university/department/program/political divison in public policies. The answer lies in the question: who is the head of each university/department/program/political division that decides who is hired and who is not?
    – EarlGrey
    Commented Aug 10, 2023 at 15:07
  • @EarlGrey And that matters because? You seem to think an abundant amount of researchers are all trying to get to hired at the university with best rewards per publication, when in fact the universities offering high amount of rewards are lower-ranked ones with less infrastructure support (which is far more expensive than the rewards) that try to attract researchers. If you show yourself capable of publishing in Science and Nature, or consistently publish in other high rank journals, you choose which university you'd like to go, not the other way around.
    – xngtng
    Commented Aug 10, 2023 at 15:16

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