Ten years ago, if I typed “Chinese startups” into a search engine, one phrase would come up more than any other to reflect a belief that many people shared: “Copy to China.” Five years later, despite how the outside world looked at China, the Chinese internet industry began to realize just how innovative Chinese technology really was. Innovation isn’t confined to a rigid structure. In fact, there are many types, known as “micro-innovation.” So how should Chinese innovation be defined?

If “Made in China” once represented cheap and inferior quality, then the globalization of China’s “Big Four” domestic brands Huawei, Xiaomi, OPPO, and VIVO has shifted the term to represent sustainable and inexpensive. In the past, Chinese technology, especially in the internet industry, copied almost all innovation from Silicon Valley. But the emergence of Mobike and ofo in the O2O and shared economy sector, Hema and Alipay in new retail, and a WeChat-centered super-ecosystem has made China’s innovation unique in the global market. In the fields of artificial intelligence, blockchain, drones, virtual reality, and many others in science and technology, China has made great strides alongside the United States. Today’s Chinese companies and capital are not only focused on China, but on the global market.

Shenzhen’s innovation has undergone its first reshaping, from “copycat” to the “Silicon Valley of Hardware.” Now, it’s undergoing a second reshaping: Huawei/OPPO/VIVO are already the backbone of the global mobile phone industry, and the industrial design concept empowers tradition. The combination of technological R&D from Hong Kong and manufacturing from Shenzhen’s Dawan District, along with an increasingly internationalized innovation ecosystem, are all manifestations of this innovation reshaping. Shenzhen is more than just hardware.

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Suzanne Tsai

Suzanne Tsai is a social media manager based in Beijing. You can contact her at suzannetsai@technode.com.