Experimenting with Entrepreneurship: Government, Globalization, and the Rise of Tech Startups in China
Though often considered a political economy antithetical to liberal market economies that are conducive to tech entrepreneurship, China now has a thriving tech entrepreneurial ecosystem, including the world’s second largest venture capital market, and young tech firms play an important role in the economic and technological advance of this emerging power.
In this project, I argue that the Chinese state’s embrace of transnational networks and institutional innovations that creatively combine state activism with private initiatives created a vibrant tech startup sector that is both globally integrated and comparatively distinct. Drawing on a Schumpeterian conception of development and using sectoral case studies of semiconductors and pharmaceuticals, I further argue that vibrant entrepreneurship, increasingly supported and guided by the state, has encouraged the exploration of new markets, products, and organization of production, thereby facilitating China’s exploitation of opportunities in the challenging global high-tech landscape and deepening specialization and global integration, though the gains have been limited by the state’s weaknesses and pursuit of autonomy.
The project draws upon extensive fieldwork in China in 2018 and 2019, during which I conducted in-depth interviews with government officials, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and industry consultants in the tech hubs of Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, and Suzhou.