As water security becomes an increasingly important issue, the analysis of the conflict between water supply and demand has gained significance in China. This paper details a bibliometric review of papers published between 2003 and 2018 on the water footprint in China, one of the global hotspots of water resource research. The tendencies and key points of water footprint research were systematically analyzed based on 1564 articles, comprising 1170 original publications in Chinese from the China National Knowledge Infrastructure
database and 394 publications in English from the Web of Science
database. The results show that the literature associated with water footprint research has expanded significantly. The number of papers published increased from 104 in 2003–2006 to 735 in 2015–2018. Water footprint research has been applied to agricultural, industrial, and regional water resource management to quantify the impact of human activities on water resources and the environment. Water footprint metrics were extracted for regional comparisons. There are obvious regional characteristics of the water footprint in China, but the uncertainty of results makes further investigation necessary. Further water footprint modeling and field experimental research is needed to explore the water–ecological environment under complex systems.
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