Official figures released on Friday showed that from 1978 to the end of 2012, more than 2.6 million Chinese studied outside the country, making China the world's top source of overseas students.
In 2012, 399,600 Chinese went to study abroad, funded by the government or their employers, or at their own expense, according to the Chinese Service Center for Scholarly Exchange under the Ministry of Education.
China ranked first in the world in terms of the number of overseas students.
Currently, around 74 percent of Chinese overseas students are studying in the United States, Australia, Japan, Britain and Canada, showed the data.
The center added that the number of younger students studying abroad is rising year by year.
Since the introduction of China's reform and opening-up policy in 1978, around 1.1 million Chinese overseas students have chosen to return to their home country after finishing their studies, accounting for 72.38 percent of the total.
In 2012, 272,900 Chinese returned, an increase of 46.57 percent from 2011, according to the figures.