Handbooks of Research on Contemporary China series
Edited by Michael Keane
Chapter 4: The makers are coming! China’s long tail revolution
In February 2014, the US-based Tea Leaf Nation, a news site dedicated to Chinese citizens and social media, published an editorial ‘It’s official: China is becoming a new innovation powerhouse.’ The title should surprise no one well informed of the scale and strategy of China’s national innovation policies. Vacillating between an alarmist message that ‘the world’s factory is turning into an R & D machine’ and a consolation sentiment that China will not out-innovate the US anytime soon, the article ponders statistics that seem to work in China’s favour. Data reveal a spike in Chinese college graduates, from less than a million in 1999 to almost 7 million in 2013; more revealing, however, is the fact that 31 per cent of these graduates received engineering degrees, in stark contrast to the 5 per cent engineering degree recipients in the US In addition, other data show the US share of global R & D dropping from 37 per cent in 2001 to 30 per cent in 2011 while China’s share jumped from a low 2.2 per cent in 2000 to 14.5 percent in 2011 (Wertime 2014). By way of downplaying these startling numbers, the editorial draws attention to the weakness inherent in Chinese-style education whereby rote learning is prioritized over creative thinking. Not all is as it seems, however, and change is a constant in China. While contemplating these issues, I indulged myself in ‘binge viewing’ of a popular Chinese TV serial Tiger Mom (huma maoba) and stumbled upon the trend of ‘creative education’.
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