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I am a PhD candidate currently preparing a manuscript for journal submission in the environmental modelling and engineering field. One of my authors is from China, and contributed some data and ideas for the methodology that I found quite useful.

This person wants to be the corresponding author for the study with the argument that being the corresponding author is the only way to secure future funding for the study in China/from Chinese sources. Yet he is no way in a position to explain and defend the study, as he wasn't really involved in modelling, analysis and writing, and has limited understanding regarding the main model functioning.

I have so far refused to let him be the corresponding author, but he is really putting pressure on me to be the corresponding author.

Can someone give me some pointers on why it is so important for a Chinese academic to be the corresponding author? Does his argument about funding generally hold true?

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    Even if he's right that making him the corresponding author would be of great benefit in securing Chinese funding, that's not an appropriate basis for the decision. (So I hope you are just asking in an attempt to understand his position.) – Anonymous Mathematician Aug 23 '14 at 22:52
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    Are you sure that you mean "corresponding author" and not "first author"? The literal meaning of the former is simply "the author who corresponds with the journal" and it is not a position of prestige per se. It is also not necessarily divulged in the published paper who is the corresponding author but is more a matter of internal "workflow". At least that is my experience (my field is mathematics): moreover, in my experience the corresponding author is usually the most senior author, but not necessarily. – Pete L. Clark Aug 24 '14 at 4:19
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    @Pete: The answer cited by Federico shows that in some fields/cultures, being corresponding author does carry additional prestige. – Nate Eldredge Aug 24 '14 at 14:40
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    From Li (2013): "However, such practice of the student who has done the benchwork and written an early draft being listed as the first author and the supervisor who has played the dominant role in writing and revising the paper as the corresponding author seems common in China.". As such, my co-author would appear as more 'important' in Chinese academic circles as me, the first author. – G-wizard Aug 24 '14 at 18:21
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I have been doing research in China for 10 years now, and hopefully I can answer your question. When a candidate is being considered for a faculty job here, only those papers where he/she was a first author or corresponding author are counted. This is because there is a rampant abuse of honorary authorships, namely colleagues and students are added even though their contribution was minimal or none at all. As usual, instead of cracking down on the abusers, more rules and regulations are put in place. This is why in most papers published from China, there are around three to four first co-authors (whom contributed equally) along with four to six corresponding authors. The consensus is currently being upped another level where some institutions are not counting corresponding authors.

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    Interesting. So in the case of a paper by Smith & Wesson, Smith gets all the credit and Wesson is left being thought to not contribute anything (even if there were 50% contributions from both authors)? – user68958 May 30 '18 at 10:57
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If he's just one of the many authors, this paper your are talking about is of 'no use' to him. He can't use it to claim rewards of any kinds (funding, awards etc) in China. However if he is the 'corresponding author' (or first author), he is able to claim that he played an important part in the paper and this IS his paper...He's not lying in saying "...is the only way to secure future funding for the study in China/from Chinese sources..." but do you want to let him do that?

  • I did hear this explanation before. I wasn't totally convinced, though. This was a reason to claim 'corresponding author' three decades ago. But, now many Chinese understand the difference between 'corresponding author' and first author/author with most contribution. I am not sure this trick is still useful. I gave an upvote because it is consistent with what I heard of before (I am a native Chinese speaker although I am not an insider). – scaaahu Nov 2 '14 at 6:18
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    Note that corresponding author is not the same as first author, as this answer seems to imply. – Marc Claesen Nov 2 '14 at 9:53
  • @MarcClaesen The OP of this answer did differentiate the two by "(or first author)". Notice the "or" within the paren. I believe he meant either corresponding author or first author would do the trick. I heard of this more than once before long time ago when most Chinese scholars did not understand what they mean. All they knew was that you were an important author because your name was singled out (corresponding author). – scaaahu Nov 2 '14 at 10:49
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I am currently a foreigner postdoc in Mainland China, and have been here since almost 2 years. I have discussed this specific matter with colleagues, and also often run in the same moral conflict. Therefore I hereby write from personal experience.

The issue the OP puts forward boils down as, why should somebody who is unable answer any specific technical questions about a published study figure as a corresponding author?

The practice of including supervisors as corresponding authors is widespread in China for a number of reasons. Still nowadays for many funding opportunities (and refunding & rewarding as well, concerning publication charges and prizes) the published status as corresponding author is a requirement. Moreover the corresponding author is regarded as higher in the hierarchy in the local strong leader & face culture. This is why this person is pushing to be listed as corresponding author, and also because pushing for short-term goals is also common practice in Mainland China.

I have until now resisted against making "honorary" corresponding authors, but this frequently leads to a conflict. Not only in China, but here this is taken more seriously and may lead continued issues.

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