The power of “a visible hand” to the building of innovation capabilities – a study of China’s ICT technologies

Xiaobai Shen, J Naughton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose - This paper provides an analytical account of the process by which China has developed its complex and infrastructural ICT systems over the last three decades, as today it has become a key player in the global ICT sector. This paper discusses the role of the Chinese government in supporting and coordinating large-scale ICT system deployments and implementation and – by-passing dilemmas that have beset more laissez-faire economies.
Design/methodology/approach – this paper is based on two case studies in China, public digital switching systems in the 1990s and 3G mobile standards recently, of which the former is typical “complex systems” and the latter “infrastructural technology”. From the tradition of Science & Technology Studies, it incorporates historical approach into a socio-technical discourse of the process and examines the operational practices of the Chinese government in different stages.
Findings – the paper demonstrates the pivotal role of the government for a late comer country like China in developing and implementing complex and infrastructural systems. While development of such socio-technical systems has presented challenges in many countries, our findings show the transition of socio-technical context in China has provided the best operational platform for the government to perform its roles.
Originality/value – most researches on innovation capabilities keep eye on technological matters, while this paper focus on the wider social context, institutional mechanisms and roles for coordinating different resources and players involved. Thus it raises questions for conventional thinking in the West that market systems can perform the best in innovation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)195-213
JournalJournal of Science and Technology Policy in China
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2013


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