Over many years, China has gained acclaim as the world’s manufacturing powerhouse. But today, innovation is flourishing in the world’s most populous nation, which is rapidly becoming a trendsetter with the potential to disrupt business models globally.
On a recent research trip to China, we were struck by the huge enthusiasm for locally developed smartphones and the entrepreneurial spirit sweeping the country. Indeed, the number of patents filed by Chinese residents has surged in recent years, both locally and abroad, to exceed the world’s largest developed economies.
Some companies have received international recognition. For example, Shenzhen-based Estar Technology Group won the prestigious 2015 CES Innovations Award for its takee1 smartphone, which allows users to touch and interact with its holographic screen. Meanwhile Chipscreen, recently received Chinese FDA approval for Chidamide, a novel treatment for lymphoma. It was the first domestically discovered and developed innovative drug to receive regulatory approval.
有一些中国企业已经获得了国际认可。例如，深圳市亿思达科技集团(Estar Technology Group)研发的钛客(takee1)智能手机获得了2015年美国消费者电子展(CES)创新奖。该款手机可以让用户触摸并与全息屏幕互动。微芯生物 科技有限公司(Chipscreen)研发的治疗淋巴瘤新药西达本胺(Chidamide)最近获得了中国国家食品药品监督管理总局(CFDA)的批准。 它是首例获得中国监管部门批准的本土企业研发的创新药物。
Smartphones showcase a sharper edge
Corporate innovation reflects the energy of the people. For example, we met Mr. Wang, a junior human resources administrator, in his modest room in Wuhan, the capital city of Hubei province in central China. During our conversation, Mr. Wang was transfixed by his new smartphone—a Xiaomi bought for Rmb700 (US$113) —and was intent on telling us how much better it was than our iPhones. We were impressed by its features and functionality.
企业创新反映了中国人的巨大能量。例如，我们在华中湖北省省会武汉见到了担任初级人力资源经理的王先生（音译）。在他布置简单的房间里聊天时，王先生对自 己花700元人民币（合113美元）新买的小米(Xiaomi)智能手机很着迷，他热切地告诉我们小米比iphone好多了。小米手机的特性和功能都给我 们留下了深刻印象。
Others we spoke to also wanted to share the excitement they felt in owning a piece of Chinese-made cutting-edge technology. This type of bottom-up passion can be especially powerful in a vast country like China, where local companies, seeking to commercialise a product, benefit from domestic demand and can build up Chinese distribution to test the waters before going global.
Investors are often slow to recognize a country making the leap from manufacturing to inventing. In Japan, for example, TV manufacturing peaked during the 1980s, when many in the West still saw “Made in Japan” as a sign of low quality. It wasn’t until the 1990s — when its TV-makers relocated production to eastern Europe and Mexico — that the country became recognised as a global innovator in the field. Similarly, we believe that it’s only a matter of time before a “Made in China” label—known in the West as a symbol of cheapness — will come to represent novelty and even chic.
一个国家从制造阶段向创造阶段跨越时，投资者往往不能及时看出。例如，日本的电视机制造产业在上世纪80年代达到巅峰，而当时许多西方人仍把“日本制造” 看作质量低劣的标志。直至上世纪90年代日本电视机制造商将生产转移至东欧和墨西哥时，日本才被公认为该领域创新的全球领导者。同样，我们相信，“中国制 造”的标签（西方普遍认为是廉价的象征）成为新颖乃至时髦的代名词只是时间问题。
New trends in retail connectivity
Trendsetting is already underway in the retail space. Urban, young Chinese consumers told us that they have a penchant for “showrooming.” In other words, they try on clothing in stores and then buy the item online for a better price, including inexpensive next-day delivery. This is facilitated by apps like TMall, part of China’s e-commerce giant Alibaba, which also owns online payment services Alipay. What’s more, clothing companies such as Fast Retailing actually endorse such behavior as it helps to track customer preferences and improve store and inventory management.
创新的风气已在零售业领域兴起。在中国城市中，年轻的消费者告诉我们，他们偏爱一种名为“展厅现象”(showrooming)的消费模式。换句话说，他 们在实体商店试穿衣服，然后到网上购买更便宜的同款商品，还包括便宜的次日到达配送服务。天猫(TMall)等网上商城的应用让网购更加便捷。天猫隶属于中国电子商务巨头阿里巴巴(Alibaba)，后者还拥有在线支付服务——支付宝。更重要的是，包括迅销(Fast Retailing)在内的服装企业实际上也在支持这种行为，因为它有助于追踪客户偏好，并改善仓储和库存管理。
Why is this happening in China? It’s because of the seamless connectivity between communications technology, payment systems and order fulfilment and logistics. The Alipay system is so smoothly integrated that the transaction can be completed in a couple of clicks — completely bypassing the major credit card companies. And delivery is often done in less than a day at very low cost.
China is well ahead of the rest of the world in this area. It has overtaken the US in terms of e-commerce trade. And it is reshaping the retail model in favor of businesses that are skilled at managing brands, merchandising and inventories, while those that don’t — like department stores — risk obsolescence. Once other countries catch up on the integrated technological front we would expect the “fast retailing trend” to spread to the young generation around the world.
China’s evolution as a hotbed of innovation is creating a pool of world-class management talent, expertise and experience in technology and e-commerce industries that will help it become a global leader in these fields. Ultimately, this might be the most profound change of all: instead of just charting its own course, China may soon be setting trends that the West will be compelled to follow. It may be time for investors searching for the next big thing to start looking east.
中国发展为“创新温床”将造就技术和电商行业的大批世界级管理人才，同时积累丰富的专业知识和经验，这将有助于中国成为这些领域的全球领导者。最终，所有 变化中最深刻的或许是：除了绘制自己的路线，中国可能很快会成为趋势的开创者，而西方国家将不得不跟随中国的脚步。寻找下一个巨大机遇的投资者现在也许应 该把目光转向东方了。
Tassos Stassopoulos manages the Emerging Consumer strategy at AllianceBernstein.