China has greatly increased the number of published works indexed in the Web of Science since 1980. This corpus of scholarship allows analysis of the creativity or innovation of that contribution, where creativity is indicated by deep conventionality and high novelty. A test is applied to analyze reference pairs in articles to search for unexpected referencing combinations at the journal-journal level. The method has shown that atypical reference pairs occur in more highly cited articles. Using articles with at least one Chinese address as indexed in Web of Science for the publication year 2007, we tagged articles based on the conventionality and novelty of the reference pairs, seeking, in particular, those articles that reveal atypicality. This atypical set of articles represented 8% of all Chinese articles, compared to the world level of 7% in 2005. China’s atypical work is also more highly cited than a similar set of records at the world level for the years 1980 to 2000. The findings suggest that China has advanced in its goals of establishing itself as a full participant in global science and technology.