China: proving that it can still invent

Putting paid to suggestions that all education in China thwarts innovation by stifling creative thought and enforcing regimentation.

While the Chinese invented the compass, papermaking, gunpowder and printing, it seemed like an age before they started innovating again. Of course they haven't been sitting on their hands in the interim as new ideas have in fact been generated in the past fifty years, like creating bovine insulin and inventing a novel wind turbine generator. But it did look to the outside world as if culture, schooling and upbringing were in general stifling creativity.

Now an article from Banyan in The Economist has, certainly for me at least, put paid to this negativity. An amazing white-goods manufacturer called Haier is pouring money into R&D with significant results. Fridges which respond in novel ways to meet unusual customer needs in Japan or Africa, for example. Importantly, Haier "boasts 9,258 patents and 2,532 certified inventions" reports The Economist.

The rest of the world might now wake up to the concept that the East not only copies and improves but creates thought-provoking and highly saleable innovations these days. China foremost amongst them. 

India's rivalry with China is nothing new, but as China's population ages the Indian economy is predicted to grow faster. One reason for recent Indian optimism stems from their technological supremecy. Much has been said in India about the Chinese manufacturing simpler product lines, for example. At present that might be true, but for how much longer?

It's not merely a matter of Chinese students being educated abroad and returning, as Chinese universities are churning out high quality graduates too. And if Haier is anything to go by, the Chinese will push boundaries in all sectors in future, even those which are the most technologically advanced. And Europe and America had better monitor their own capabilities more closely, measuring their successes again those of the Chinese. The management theories of Haier boss Zhang Ruimin are already analysed in US business school case studies, and it must be expected that Europeans and others are studying his methodology too.

Of course, regimentation persists in factories in China, but it's the re-emerging innovation capability which has to be monitored. And emulated, if other countries wish still to compete with this emerging superpower.

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