In This Article Technology Transfer in China

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • History of Early Reform Era Technology Transfer
  • R&D and Absorptive Capacity
  • Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and Multinational Corporations (MNCs)
  • Returnees
  • Industry Segmentation/Value Chain Organization
  • Regional Clusters
  • Personal Networks and Guanxi Ties
  • Public Policy
  • Universities
  • Intellectual Property Protection during Technology Transfer

Chinese Studies Technology Transfer in China
by
Douglas B. Fuller
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 April 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920082-0173

Introduction

The issues surrounding China’s technology transfer as a social phenomenon have changed just as radically as China’s economy has over the course of the four decades of the reform era. Not surprisingly, the concerns of the literature on technology transfer have transformed as well in order to try to keep pace with the dramatic changes in China’s economy. For this very reason, this bibliography will place a priority on the more recent scholarship, generally published in this century, because the scholarship on China’s technology transfer, and on its economy in general, has had a nasty habit of becoming quickly outdated. The bibliography also takes a wide lens on the issue of technology transfer, because one continuity across the decades of reform has been the persistence of the problem of technology absorption and assimilation, related to the weak capabilities of certain firms in China, and this problem and the concomitant weak capabilities of a substantial portion of Chinese firms over time can only be fully articulated by expanding beyond firm-level characteristics and motivations to encompass China’s institutions, politics, and past history. Such a multifaceted approach is required not only due to China’s own particular trajectory and institutions, but also because scholars have begun to recognize how various aspects of globalization, such as global value chains and networks of returnees, interact with domestic institutions to create a widely uneven institutional landscape for social phenomena, including technology transfer.

General Overviews

From the 1990s onward, a private economy emerged in China, and this key structural change both heralded more avenues for successful technology transfer and concomitantly heightened the likelihood of policy success. However, there have been ongoing issues with the assimilation and absorption of technology, as pointed out in the overviews presented below. Feinstein and Howe 1997 provides several chapters delineating the problems of assimilation and absorption as they stood at roughly the halfway point (up to now) of the forty years of economic reforms. Guerin 2001 examines these issues through an emphasis on legal and cultural contexts. Given the key role defense considerations have had historically in China’s science and technological development, Cheung 2008 reexamines the defense industry’s contemporary role in transfer and assimilation of technology. Cheung concedes that the conventional arms side of the defense industry has been characterized by siloing and a lack of cooperation that resulted in China falling behind the international technology frontier. However, Cheung also views the strategic arms side as successful in fostering innovation, as powerful sponsors were able to cut through the bureaucratic red tape holding back the system, suggesting some positive changes in the defense industry system and a rise in effective civil-military integration, although this work is an outlier in terms of its optimism. Suttmeier 2014 provides a wider and relatively up-to-date overview of the bureaucratic agencies involved in technology transfer, and thus serves to underline the continued large role played by the Chinese state in technology transfer. Additional scholarship presented in the Public Policy section fingers the state’s preference for state-owned firms as particularly at fault for the continuation of these absorption and assimilation difficulties.

  • Cheung, Tai Ming. Fortifying China: The Struggle to Build a Modern Defense Economy. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2008.

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    Cheung provides an overview of China’s defense industry developments from the Maoist era into the 21st century. Cheung provides an upbeat forecast, where state retreat leads to less bureaucracy and more entrepreneurial activity in the defense economy. In turn, this policy transformation leads to rapid absorption and diffusion of technology and a rise in civil-military technological integration. However, Cheung’s policy transformation prediction is probably overly optimistic at this juncture.

  • Feinstein, Charles, and Christopher Howe, eds. Chinese Technology Transfer in the 1990s: Current Experience, Historical Problems and International Perspectives. Cheltenham, UK: Edgar Elgar, 1997.

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    This edited volume debates the necessity of the centrality of technology transfer to China’s continued development. While many of the chapters do not deal with China directly, the contributions by Chinese authors, such as Tang Shiguo, Xu Jiangping, and Ding Jingping, serve as a good benchmark for the state of technology transfer and China’s technological development in the late 1990s, with a particular emphasis on the problems of technological absorption and assimilation.

  • Guerin, Turlough F. “Transferring Environmental Technologies to China: Recent Developments and Constraints.” Technological Forecasting and Social Change 65 (2001): 55–75.

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    This article presents the key issues in technology transfer to China (legal context, poor IPR enforcement, limited financing, cross-cultural issues) and Southeast Asia, and then discusses these issues using environmental technologies as a vantage point.

  • Suttmeier, Richard P. Trends in US-China Science and Technology Cooperation: Collaborative Knowledge Production for the Twenty-First Century? Report to U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, 11 September 2014.

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    This report examines bilateral US-China technology cooperation, but through the detailed examination of these projects, one arrives at a nuanced understanding of the objectives and operations of various Chinese agencies involved in technology transfer.

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