The scale and success of Chinese investment in research was reflected in findings released last month by Thomson Reuters - drawing on data collected for the Times Higher Education World University Rankings - which showed that the country's elite C9 League now generates more income per academic staff member than the UK's Russell Group.
The top Chinese universities also award the highest number of doctoral degrees per academic.
Despite a vast increase in output over the past decade, there has been no discernible dip in standards, and the quality of the research produced by Chinese universities has remained at about the world average.
Sir Paul Nurse, president of the Royal Society, presented the award last week, during the Chinese premier's three-day visit to the UK.
The King Charles II Medals have been given since 1998, in recognition of "heads of state and of government who have displayed commitment to science and a belief in what it can achieve for their people," Sir Paul said.
He hailed Mr Wen as "a fellow scientist, a geologist and an engineer" and stressed that "the British government is a great supporter of UK/China scientific collaboration".
In accepting the award, Mr Wen said he regarded himself as "a member of the scientific community". At a global level, he argued, "science and technology are crucial for overcoming the financial crisis - they know no borders".
While admitting that corruption and unfair income distribution still exist in China, Mr Wen said these problems were being tackled through "the advance of socialist democracy under the rule of law".
Tomorrow's China would be "more advanced, open and harmonious", with "the conditions for the people to oversee and criticise the government", while research would be undertaken in a climate of "innovation, risk-taking and the acceptance of failure", he said.
The country would continue to be "an engine of growth", he said, adding that he hoped China and the UK could "lift our cooperation to a new level."