Following rapid development in the economy and huge investment in R&D, China is now widely recognised as one of the leading countries of the world in terms of the number of published journals and scientific articles. In 2015, there were over 10,000 journals in China, of which 4983 (49.76%) were in Science and Technology, according to the “Statistical Data of Chinese Science and Technology Papers 2015”.
Surprisingly, as of 4 June 2017, only 71 open access journals from China have been registered in DOAJ, which is about 0.75% of the total number of DOAJ indexed journals. If we take 10,000 as the estimated total number of journals in China at this moment, then this suggests only 0.71% of journals in China are open access. From these data people would think the open access movement in China is really lagging behind. Is this true? Does this actually means that Chinese scholars or publishers are not willing to share? The answer is no.
Though it is still in progress, my research on open access publishing in China now means that I have collated a list containing information on more than 1200 journals and I am checking many items of journal information against DOAJ criteria. The findings are quite exciting. I have not finished checking each journal, so I just provide my initial findings here.
Nearly no questionable journals found
In my list there are 1222 journals and the number is still increasing. As only state-owned organizations, such as universities, institutes, academic societies, government bodies and hospitals, are licensed to create a journal, among all the journals in my list, there are no questionable journals found. For any individual it is not possible to register a new journal in China. Some journals are registered overseas, with editorial offices in China, but as they only have one ISSN number and they could not be licensed with a CN series publication number from the Chinese authorities, these journals are not recognized in the academic system in China.
Open as free access
It is surprising to see that many Chinese journals are offering free reading and downloading of their current articles on their website. This could be something we call “free access” rather than true open access according to the BOAI definition and DOAJ practice. In my experience working as a DOAJ ambassador in China, making articles freely available in this way would be regarded as “open access” by many publishers and editors. There could possibly be 1,000 or so journals in my list that are applying this free access practice, as a best estimation at this moment. So we are actually quite open to sharing academic articles in China and editors and scholars are contributing to the open access movement.
Published in Chinese
Due to developments in technology, traditional print journals are now able to release their articles in both print and online format. But, although all the journals studied have a website, nearly all are in Chinese only, both for their website and articles and even abstracts. Making articles online for free access would definitely increase the impact of journals and that is one of the major motives for journal editors. So it is easily understandable that these journals were born in Chinese and their presence online is still in Chinese. However this makes the content only accessible for Chinese speakers in the world.
Some with embargo
Another common misunderstanding of open access in China is the accepted practice of imposing an embargo. As the majority of journals in China still operate under a subscription model for their print version, a period of embargo would certainly be beneficial for the journal, as the editorial office might still rely on the subscription fee of print journals to fund the publishing operation. I could not report an accurate percentage of embargoed free access journals but the feeling is that quite a large number of journals do have embargo policies in place.
Business model exploration
It was interesting to find that, though the number is very small among the 1200 journals in my list, some journals did cease to update their website with full text articles while keeping the site updated with news, announcements and even the table of contents or abstracts of the current issue. This may reflect the exploration of business models in recent years, as people embrace the open access idea but at the same time face financial challenges on sustainability. So some journals have changed back to a pure subscription model, using the website as a way to showcase the journal and increase awareness.
A very small number of journals are collaborating with commercial journal database vendors in China. While these journals provide extensive information online about the journal, for example, editorial boards, instructions to authors, current issue and archive article lists and even abstracts, access to the full text is directed to the commercial journal databases which then generally charge for the downloading of articles. Such commercial agreements would be likely to make a journal hesitate before converting to a free or open access model.
No open access statement and copyright statement
If there could be a clear statement of adherence to the BOAI definition of open access and adoption of Creative Common copyright licenses by Chinese journals, then we would be confident to say that we have quite a large number of open access journals in China, and to be able to increase the number of Chinese journals in DOAJ. However, this will require time and effort to communicate with editors to adopt best practices in academic open access publishing. As only state-owned bodies can be licensed to publish a journal, it generally means that the journals are managed by owners who are not publishers, the editorial office is often quite small and it is hard to make the move to a pure OA model. In fact, having so many free access journals in China is already quite a big step.
New model of creating open access journals in English
Of the 71 Chinese journals already indexed in DOAJ, 25 of them are published by Elsevier and 7 by Springer. This reflects a new model in academic publishing in China where a university, research institute or hospital could create an English-language journal in partnership with a big brand publisher. With platform and technology support from the publisher as well as funding for the publishing operation, these newly established journals can apply standard open access practice from the very beginning, and usually the publisher rather than the editorial office will then apply for inclusion in DOAJ.
In general, the Chinese government is encouraging sharing, innovative, green and sustainable principles in both economic and social development. The open access publishing model is seen as the trend for the future by editors, scholars, librarians and publishers in China. Due to the different understanding of what is truly an open access journal, there is still work to do in the community in China to move forward to achieve our goals.