updated 1/9/2009 8:51:46 PM ET 2009-01-10T01:51:46

China honored two top scientists on Friday with awards created to encourage Chinese innovation as Beijing struggles to gain international recognition for its research.

Though China produces many scientists and engineers each year and boasts a space program that has sent six astronauts into orbit, its scientific achievements have lagged far behind its massive economic growth in the last several decades, as it attempts to move from imitation to innovation. Beijing has sharply increased its investment in both basic research and technology development. It has historically spent very little in those fields.

The government is spending on research ranging from stem cells to nuclear power, both to spur economic development and to win the prestige that comes from basic breakthroughs.

The two scientists honored Friday — 83-year-old neurologist Wang Zhongcheng and 89-year-old chemist Xu Guangxian — received the State Top Scientific and Technological Award, created in 2000, in addition to 5 million yuan ($730,000) each, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

Those working in science and technology should help businesses and rural areas become more productive, particularly during the financial crisis, Premier Wen Jiabao said, according to Xinhua. He said China's modernization depended on scientific development.

Wang published a noted book on neurology and developed surgical techniques for tumors of the brain stem and spinal cord, among other achievements, according to his official biography. Xu focused his research on physical chemistry and inorganic chemistry.

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