By some measures, China is already a science and technology powerhouse. Yet many mainland researchers still think the country does not spend enough on basic science. Their complaint is not without merit. The latest discovery of a “monster” black hole in the Milky Way by a team of Chinese astronomers has made international headlines, something that will help boost the argument that fundamental research is as important as applied technology with its more immediate uses. The black hole belongs to a type that current scientific theory says is too big to exist. Named LB-1 and located 15,000 light years from Earth – our cosmic “backyard” – it is estimated to be 70 times the mass of the sun. Current theory holds that it is too big for this particular type of black hole, even though much larger ones are known to exist at the centres of many galaxies. LB-1 belongs to a common type called stellar black holes, the remnants of stars that have died and typically have the mass of 10 to 24 times the sun. Now, an international team led by scientists from the National Astronomical Observatory of China are using the new discovery to help fill the gaps in the current understanding. The most likely explanation is that LB-1 was not formed by the collapse of a star into a supernova, but the merging of two black holes. The discovery would not have been possible without the Large Sky Area Multi-Object Fibre Spectroscopic Telescope, the world’s largest galaxy scanner located near Beijing. China’s spending on science and research funding is set to continue rising to 2.5 per cent of GDP this year, compared with 2.788 per cent in the United States. That is an impressive jump from less than 1 per cent two decades ago. As a matter of state policy, Beijing recognises the importance of basic research. But the numbers tell a somewhat different story. Such funding – which stood at 111.8 billion yuan (US$16 billion) last year – accounted for 5 to 5.6 per cent of overall research and development spending. In contrast, the US spends about 18 per cent on basic research while other developed economies spend between 15 and 20 per cent. With its leading edge in 5G development, China has proved it can compete technologically. But fundamental breakthroughs will still come from basic science. The nation still has much to do to catch up.