China’s rise as an economic power has been staggering. Its manufacturing prowess is well-established, having earned it the moniker, “the world’s factory.” Roughly half of its population now lives in urban areas, up from less than one in five three decades ago. Over 100 of its cities have populations of one million or more.
More than half of Americans already believe China is the world’s most powerful economy, according to Gallup polls, and a growing chorus of commentators believes that it will overtake the U.S. as the world’s largest economy by 2030. Some are projecting this to happen as early as 2016.
How rapidly can China’s economy move up the development ladder and become genuinely innovative and technology-driven?
Xu Xiaoping, one of China’s leading investors, “doesn’t think China will be able to produce its own equivalent of Steve Jobs or Bill Gates in this generation,” according to a recent article in The Washington Post. He expects that it will take “at least 20 years” before China’s economy becomes truly innovative and creative.
Surely its policies are directed toward that end: China has rapidly expanded its spending on universities and research and development; it has attracted R&D centers from abroad; and its level of innovation (as tracked by patents) has increased substantially.
A recently published study I conducted with my colleagues Charlotta Mellander and Haifeng Qian from Cleveland State University suggests China still has a long way to go before it becomes an advanced center for innovation and creativity. Our study, published in the journal Environment and Planning, assessed the knowledge economy across China’s major regions, tracking levels of college grads, the creative class, high-tech industries, and major universities and examining their effects on regional economic performance. Using the statistical technique of structural equation modeling, we gauged the effect of those factors over time, teasing out their strengths both individually and in combination with other factors.
The Atlantic Cities: Why China Lags on Innovation and Creativity
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