Top 5 most secretive and mysterious research universities in China

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Top 5 most secretive and mysterious research universities in China





If you are a student of science or engineering looking for a “thrilling” exchange programme in China, this may be the right place for you. The universities on the list below enjoy high reputations in China and they all accept overseas students, but they rarely publish papers in international journals due to the sensitivity of their research, so you may not easily find their names on most world university rankings. If you visit them, don’t be misled by the peaceful and friendly atmosphere on campus. The old professor riding a dusty bike with fatherly smile and silvery hair along your way to class could be chairing the development of China’s most deadly space weapons.

SCMP staff reporters examined universities across China to formulate the below list based on the amount of work published in international journals, based on data from Nature Publishing Index China, Chinese Ministry of Education rankings for top universities involved in military research, and the overall rank of the university according to the Chinese University Alumni Association.


Northwestern Polytechnical University (NPU)

Located in Xian, Shaanxi province, NPU is engaged in research on aeronautics, astronautics and marine technology. With a more than 70 year history, NPU was the birthplace of the first small unmanned-air-vehicle (UAV, or drone), ground effect vehicle, autonomous underwater vehicle and on-board spacecraft computer in China.

Nature Publishing Index China ranking: 124 (the higher the number, the fewer papers published in international journals)

Domestic university ranking: 32

Military research ranking: 7


Beihang University (BUAA)

Formerly known as the Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Beihang was founded in 1952 by merging aeronautics departments of eight universities including Tsinghua University, and was China’s first aeronautics and astronautics institution of higher education. The school has 7 national level key laboratories, 3 national level engineering research centres, 42 provincial and ministerial level key laboratories, as well as 4 Innovative Research Groups of National Natural Science Foundation of China, 11 Innovation Teams of Ministry of Education, 6 Defence-Related Science and Technology Innovation Teams.

Nature Publishing Index China ranking: 55

Domestic university ranking: 26

Military research ranking: 4


Beijing Institute of Technology (BIT)

BIT was founded in 1940 in Yan’an, Shaanxi Province and was relocated to Beijing in 1949. The university has four faculties: Mechanical and Transportation Engineering, Information and Electronics, Natural Sciences and Materials, and the Humanities and Social Sciences. BIT claims that “high-level achievements have been made in navigation control, injury prevention and safety, mechanical and vehicle engineering, materials science, and information systems and warfare.”

Nature Publishing Index China ranking: 82

Domestic university ranking: 29

Military research ranking: 3


Harbin Engineering University (HEU)

The predecessor of HEU was the PLA Military Engineering Institute. The school developed the first experimental submarine, hydrofoil craft, shipboard computer, and swath bathymeter set in China along with other achievements such as duplex submersible vehicles, hovercrafts and gradient velocimeters.

Nature Publishing Index China ranking: 135

Domestic university ranking: 48

Military research ranking: 2


Harbin Institute of Technology (HIT)

HIT is one of only ten universities in the world to have designed, built, and launched their own satellites, with deep involvement in China’s manned space program. The university developed China's first simulation computer, the first intelligent chess-playing computer, the first arc-welding robots, the first world advanced-level system radar, the first CMOS chip IC card, the first giant computer-aided real-time 3-D image construction system, the first microcomputer-operated fibre twiner and the first large-scale tank-head forming machine.

Nature Publishing Index China ranking: 104

Domestic university ranking: 20

Military research ranking: 1