China's re-emergence has been treated mostly from economic and political standpoints. This article integrates these perspectives with a review of China's modern history of research and development (R&D). It starts with a brief retrospective of China's efforts in science and technology before the reforms of 1978. It then discusses China's principle R&D issues in the early 1980s and the most significant results of 20 years of rapid industrialization. Based on this historic review and a wide literature analysis, some observations are made about China's R&D capabilities in the first years of the new millennium as well as what challenges may still lie ahead for China before becoming a leading source of scientific and technological innovation.