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Executive summary: Chinnovation

A counter-argument to "Chinese people aren’t entrepreneurial! They don’t create things. They’re just good at ripping them off."

CHINNOVATION: How Chinese Innovators Are Changing the World
(Wiley)
Yinglan Tan

A prominent Silicon Valley VC once told Tan, a Kauffman Fellow and Nanyang Business School professor, “Chinese people aren’t entrepreneurial! They don’t create things. They’re just good at ripping them off.” The counter-argument to that bit of received wisdom is spread across these 300 pages. Tired of being the world’s factory, innovation is now a buzzword at the highest levels of Chinese business and government.

Tan’s book is both a case study for a western audience of the emerging Chinese approach to innovation and a text on innovation generally—still a concept poorly understood in concrete terms. In the Middle Kingdom, the ongoing struggle is to balance innovation and “low-value reproduction,” both in products and in business practices. In one example, several Chinese entrepreneurs tell Tan that VCs refused to fund them because their business model wasn’t based on a proven American one. The density of China’s human capital, and a cultivated ability to “remix” ideas, combining the best “across sectors and geographies” with intriguing results (such as a supermarket that uses roller-coaster-style cars to take shoppers through the aisles) are creating an environment where those “who do not innovate after copying usually do not survive.”