The country that invented the compass, gunpowder, paper and printing is set for a globally important comeback and may gain its position as soon as 2013.
The figures are based on the papers published in recognised international journals listed by the Scopus service of the publishers Elsevier.
In 1996, the first year of the analysis, the US published 292,513 papers - more than 10 times China's 25,474.
By 2008, the US total had increased very slightly to 316,317 while China's had surged more than seven-fold to 184,080.
This study shows that China, after displacing the UK as the world's second leading producer of research, could go on to overtake America in as little as two years(by 2013)' time.