IRG 2-1: China’s Developmental State: Becoming a 21st Century Nanotech Leader

(Appelbaum, Parker, Cao, Burks)


This research stream aims at understanding where China stands in terms of innovation, R&D, and commercialization of nanotechnology, examining the degree to which China has a more centralized approach to funding for nanotechnology along the value chain, particularly towards the commercialization end. China is convinced that manufacturing prowess alone is insufficient to becoming a leading economic power in the 21st century. China’s overarching goal is to become an “innovation-oriented” society by the year 2020. Since the Third National Conference on Science and Technology in 1995 when “The Decision on Accelerating Scientific and Technological Progress” was announced, “indigenous innovation” (or zizhu chuangxin) has been heralded as the source of China’s future development, and science, technology and education were identified as the tools that will create national prosperity and reduce the inequality that currently threatens China’s rapid development. Our research examines the ways in which the debate over innovation is shaping national development in China, with nanotechnology providing a case study. We seek to better understand whether China’s relatively government-centered approach toward science and technology policy can succeed in creating the bases for genuine innovation, in light of its distinctive approach to technological leapfrogging, the institutional features of its innovation system, and nanotechnology’s status as an early stage emerging technology.


Previously this research stream focused on the research end of the research-development-commercialization process. In a May 2010 trip to China, Appelbaum, Cao, and Parker visited firms and policy-makers to get a better sense of how effectively China is commercializing its advances in nanotechnology. Interviews were conducted at the Chemical Engineering College, Beijing University of Chemical Technology; Key Lab for Thin Film and Microfabrication, Ministry of Education; Shanghai Nanotechnology Promotion Center; Research Center of Nano Science & Technology, Shanghai University; Wison, Genor BioPharma Co., Ltd., Pudong Shanghai; Suzhou Industrial Park Administrative Committee; BioBay Science/Innovation Park, Suzhou; Sirnaomics, Suzhou; Dow Chemical China Company Ltd,, Shanghai; OptoTrace, Suzhou; NanoMed, Suzhou; Hiwyteck, Suzhou; Suntech, Wuxi; and Jiansu Hehai Nanometer Science & Technology Co., Ltd., Taixing City. In January-February, 2011, Burks did a 6-week internship at Sinano in Suzhou Industrial Park; his interviews included Sinano and Suzhou Industrial Park. Cao is preparing an initial draft of a paper on Chinese nanotech commercialization based on this research (expected completion mid-March 2011).