BEIJING—A corruption probe has so far snared more than 50 scientists and research administrators in Guangdong, one of China’s wealthiest provinces.
On Friday, a Guangdong government website  revealed that the provincial science bureau’s former deputy director, Wang Kewei, was under investigation for “serious violation ” of antigraft regulations. The bureau’s director, Li Xinghua, was removed  from his post and stripped of Communist Party membership last month. Among other stings, 21 employees of the science department of Foshan city in December were charged with skimming money from government R&D subsidies intended for local companies.
Guangdong’s prosperity made it a tempting target for graft. In 2012, provincial Chinese governments spent 224 billion yuan (about $36 billion) on science and technology; Guangdong alone spent nearly $4 billion, a disproportionately large share. The Guangdong Science and Technology Department’s budget that year was a hefty $623 million.
The Guangdong corruption probes may herald a new era of more stringent oversight of China’s research funds, says Cao Cong, an expert on Chinese science policy at the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom. “I think the current national leadership is very serious about corruption; they really want to crack down,” Cao says. And the central government appears to be increasingly concerned about the return on its S&T investment, now second only to the United States. “If China spends so much money, why haven’t we achieved more significant accomplishments?” Cao says. “Part of the reason may be that much of the money is stolen.”