Welcome to Silicon Delta
Copycats are out, innovators are in
ON A RECENT weekend several hundred academics and lawyers gathered in a hotel ballroom in Shenzhen for a discussion on “Innovation, inclusion and order”, an event jointly organised by the law schools at Peking, Oxford and Stanford universities. Legal conferences can be soporific, especially in China, and a scholar from Beijing duly set the tone by asserting that “order is important in the market.” But one of the local speakers livened things up by delivering a surprisingly stout defence of disruptive innovation. Xu Youjun, vice-chairman of the Shenzhen division of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, a government advisory body, said Shenzhen owed its success not to the government or the Communist Party but to its policy of allowing people to go “beyond the planned economy”. 最近的一个周末，数百位学者和律师齐聚深圳一家酒店的宴会厅，参加由北京大学、牛津大学和斯坦福大学的法学院联合举办的“创新、包容与秩序”讨论。法律会议，特别是中国的法律会议，往往让人昏昏欲睡。不出所料，一位来自北京的学者声称“在市场中秩序很重要”，为会议定下了基调。不过，深圳当地的一位发言人为颠覆式创新做出了非常强有力的辩护，令现场气氛活跃了起来。深圳市政协副主席徐友军表示，深圳的成功不是因为政府或共产党，而是它的政策让人们得以“超越计划经济”。
The city imposes few limits on freedom of movement (though only a minority of its population has an official hukou, or household-registration certificate), is relaxed about employment contracts and does not discriminate against outsiders. “People are the greatest source of our growth,” Mr Xu concluded. The contrasting views of the boffin from Beijing and the local apparatchik help explain how disruptive entrepreneurs turned Shenzhen into one of the world’s most innovative cities. 深圳市对于自由流动的限制很少(虽然只有少数人具有正式户口)，对就业合同较为宽松，也不歧视外地人。“人是我们增长的最大源泉。”徐友军总结道。来自北京的学究和当地官员的观点大相径庭，这有助于解释颠覆性创业者如何让深圳跻身世界上最具创新力的城市之列。
Between 1980 and 2016 Shenzhen’s GDP in real terms grew at an average annual rate of 22% and today stands at 2trn yuan. The city’s Nanshan district, home to about 125 listed firms with a combined market value of nearly $400bn, has a higher income per person than Hong Kong. Unlike Beijing, which has many top-flight universities, Shenzhen has only a handful of lacklustre institutions of higher learning; but so many graduates from all over China flock to the city that they make up a greater share of its population than do graduates in Beijing. 从1980年到2016年间，深圳的实际GDP以年均22%的速度增长，如今已达2万亿元人民币。该市南山区有约125家上市公司，合计市值约4000亿美元，该区人均收入超过香港。和拥有很多顶级学府的北京不同，深圳只有几家乏善可陈的高等院校，但来自全国各地的大量高校毕业生蜂拥而至，占人口的比例甚至比北京更高。
Shenzhen spends over 4% of its GDP on research and development (R&D), double the mainland average; in Nanshan the share is over 6%. Most of the money comes from private firms. Companies in Shenzhen file more international patents (which are mostly high quality, unlike many of the domestic Chinese ones) than those in France or Britain (see chart). 深圳花费在研发上的开支超过GDP的4%，是内地平均水平的两倍;而在南山区这一比例超过了6%。大部分资金来自私人公司。深圳公司提交的国际专利数量(与很多中国国内专利不同，这些大多是高质量专利)比法国和英国都要多(见图表)。
The official story attributes Shenzhen’s success to brave party leaders and far-sighted policies. Deng Xiaoping islaudedfor liberalising the region’s economy. Later political leaders receive praise for investments in infrastructure that enabled rapid growth. That is an incomplete version of history. 官方说法将深圳的成功归功于勇敢的党的领导人和有远见的政策。邓小平因解放了该地区的经济而备受称赞。后来的政治领导人则因投资于基础设施，促成高速增长而受到好评。而这一版本的历史并不完整。
An incisive new book, “Learning from Shenzhen”, edited by Mary Ann O’Donnell, Winnie Wong and Jonathan Bach, reveals that many of the advances seen since the city was opened up in 1980 came disruptively from below. For example, early reformers pushed ahead with unauthorised investment deals with non-mainland companies and retroactively逆动/追溯 developed the legal framework needed to protect foreign firms. Time and again, grassroots innovators hit on better ways of doing things, even though strictly speaking they were not permitted. When their risk-taking proved successful, communist leaders typically took the credit. So the best way to study innovation in Shenzhen is to examine it through the eyes of its entrepreneurial firms. 由玛丽·安·奥多奈尔(Mary Ann O’Donnel)、黄韵然(Winnie Wong)和乔纳森·巴赫(Jonathan Bach)合编的新书《向深圳学习》(Learning from Shenzhen)一针见血地揭示了这座城市自1980年设立特区以来的诸多发展都是从底层颠覆性地发生。例如，非内地企业的投资协议尚未获批，早期的改革者就推进项目，之后才开发出保护外国公司所需的法律框架。草根创新者一次又一次发现了更好的做事方法，即便严格来说它们是不被允许的。当他们的冒险取得成功之后，共产党领导人通常会归功于自己。因此，要研究深圳创新的最好办法，就是以创业企业的视角去观察它。
The common perception that China is incapable of innovation needs re-examining. According to a widely quoted study published earlier this decade, the value added on the mainland to Apple’s iPods (nearly all of which are assembled there) represents less than 5% of the total, reinforcing the stereotype of Chinese factories as low-end sweatshops. However, a more recent study by Britain’s University of Sussex and others for the European Commission concludes that the iPod example “is far from representative”. These researchers calculate that the average value China adds to its exports is 76% (the EU’s is 87%). The World Bank reaches similar conclusions. 认为中国没有创新能力的普遍看法需要重新审视。根据几年前发表的一份被广泛引用的研究，中国内地为苹果公司的iPod播放器(几乎全部在内地组装)增加的价值不到其总价值的5%，这强化了中国厂家是低端血汗工厂的刻板印象。然而，英国萨塞克斯大学和欧盟其他大学最近做的一项研究称iPod的例子“远不具有代表性”。这些研究人员计算出，中国对其出口品的平均附加值达到了76%(欧盟为87%)。世界银行也得出了类似的结论。
The PRD’s companies, which account for a huge chunk of China’s innovation, have been moving up the value chain. Local firms that used to rely entirely on imported know-how and parts have started to work on their own inventions and methods. Foreign firms that used to come to the delta to harness its brawn肌肉 are now tapping into its brains as well. Today, Shenzhen is attracting many entrepreneurs keen to develop new ways of making things. The innovators are transforming the entire delta into an advanced manufacturing cluster. Many multinationals have a listening post in the city to stay close to the latest trends. 为中国创新贡献巨大的珠三角企业已经在向价值链的上游迈进。本地企业以前完全依赖进口专业知识和零件，但现在已开始研究自己的发明和方法。外企来到珠三角一度是冲着这里的体力，如今也开始利用其脑力。今天，深圳吸引了许多热衷于开发新生产方法的创业者。创新者们正将整个珠三角变成一个先进制造集群。许多跨国公司都在深圳设有“情报站”以跟上最新的趋势。
Making it, better
Foxconn, a Taiwanese contract manufacturer which employs over 1m workers on the mainland, is sometimes represented as a low-tech sweatshop; in fact, it holds international patents in areas ranging from electrical machinery to computing to audio-video technology. It is expanding its Shenzhen facility to support rapid prototyping by Apple’s new R&D centre in the city. Its joint venture with Japan’s Sharp is investing $8.8bn in Guangzhou to make advanced liquid-crystal displays. It is also developing industrial robotics in Shenzhen.
BGI, formerly known as the Beijing Genomics Institute, moved to Shenzhen to get away from northern bureaucrats. Seven years ago it was declared a “DNA superpower” by Nature, a science journal, after it bought so many genome-sequencing machines that it ended up owning more than half the world’s total. It is due to go public shortly. 原名北京华大基因研究中心的华大基因迁至深圳以摆脱北方的官僚。七年前，它购买了大量基因测序机器，最终拥有的机器数量占全世界总数的一半以上，被科学杂志《自然》称为“DNA超级强权”。该公司将于近期上市。
Mindray, a devices firm with $1bn in global sales, is developing new technologies for ventilators, digital operating rooms and surgical robots. The firm’s experience of managing both American and Chinese researchers is revealing. Its researchers in Silicon Valley are not just tutoring their counterparts in Shenzhen, it turns out, but also learning from them. Cheng Minghe, the firm’s president, observes that Westerners produce high-quality research but take a long time over it, whereas the locals are better at speedy development of new kit. 拥有10亿美元全球销售额的设备厂商迈瑞(Mindray)正在开发用于通风、数字化手术室和外科手术机器人的新技术。该公司管理美国和中国研究人员的经验引人深思。它在硅谷的研究人员不只是在指导深圳的同行，事实证明，他们也在向深圳学习。公司总裁程明和发现，西方人能够做出高质量的研究但需要的时间更长，而本地人则更善于迅速开发新的组件。
Huawei spends more on R&D than Apple does. The privately held Shenzhen firm made its name as a telecoms-equipment vendor, but is now a big force in smartphones and cloud computing too. Its revenues for 2016 are estimated at 520bn yuan, a 32% increase on a year earlier. It devotes an impressive 15% of its revenues and 82,000 of its 180,000 employees to R&D.
Huawei is innovating as it is globalising. Dieter Ernst of the East-West Centre, an American think-tank, praises the company for creating a “global innovation network” of the sort that only Western multinational companies used to have, with more than two dozen R&D centres the world over and a number of collaborative hubs run with leading multinationals and universities.
华为在全球化过程中不断创新。美国智库东西方中心(East-West Centre)的迪特·埃恩斯特(Dieter Ernst)称赞该公司建立了只有西方跨国公司曾经有过的“全球创新网络”，在全球拥有20多家研发中心，并和领先的跨国公司和大学建立了若干合作枢纽。
This has paid dividends. Huawei is one of the world’s most prolific generators of high-quality international patents. Along with Sweden’s Ericsson it is at the forefront of 5G, which will replace the current 4G networks for mobile telephony. Its narrow-band internet-of-things protocol, a cheap and low-energy way to connect machines to the cloud, was recently approved as a global standard.
Another way Shenzhen is rewriting the rules is by embracing open innovation. In the West, corporate innovation has generally been a secretive, top-down affair. Many factories in the city started by making clever imitations of Western goods, which led foreigners to dismiss the locals as mere copycats. That was a mistake. David Li of Shenzhen’s Open Innovation Lab argues that the copycats have since morphed into a powerful ecosystem of collaborative, fast-learning suppliers and factories. “Anybody can come to Shenzhen with an idea and get it prototyped, tested, made and put on the market at a decent price,” he says. Silicon Valley is obsessed with rich-world problems, he thinks, but China’s open innovators work on affordable solutions for the masses on everything from health care to pollution to banking. 深圳改变规则的另一种方式是拥抱开放式创新。在西方，企业创新一般都是遮遮掩掩、自上而下的活动。深圳的许多工厂靠巧妙地模仿西方商品起家，这导致外国人将当地人仅仅视为山寨商。这是一个错误。深圳开放创新实验室的李大维认为，山寨商已经演变成了由善于合作、快速学习的供应商和工厂构成的强大生态系统。他说，“任何人都可以带着一个想法来到深圳，制作原型、进行测试、制造产品，并以合理的价格投放市场。”他认为，硅谷痴迷于解决富裕世界的问题，但中国的开放创新者致力于为大众提供他们负担得起的解决方案，涵盖从医疗保健到污染治理再到银行业务的方方面面。
Mr Li says the already frenetic pace of Chinese innovation is speeding up further. Dealmaking used to involve long banquets and vast quantities of baijiu, a local firewater. Now introductions are made at the flick of a finger on WeChat, a remarkable messaging and payments app with more than 800m users. As soon as a WeChat group is formed, there is little need for phone calls or meetings. Tencent, the internet and online-gaming giant that invented WeChat, is also based in Shenzhen. Worth some $250bn, it is one of Asia’s most valuable firms. Its snazzy and green new headquarters in Nanshan towers over a modern neighbourhood of startups, incubators and funky coffee shops.
One of Shenzhen’s most daring startups, Royole, is expanding its output of an extraordinary product: the world’s thinnest foldable full-colour touchscreen display. Liu Zihong, a mainlander, earned his doctorate in electrical engineering at Stanford University, where he dreamt of radical new ways for machines and humans to interact. When he started Royole, he says, he knew it had to be based in Shenzhen. Getting from early-stage research to manufactured product would require a massive amount of what he calls integrated innovation: “Materials, process, device design, circuit design—all needed to be innovated…if you changed one material, you had to change the process.” His team had to develop entirely new materials and factory tools, including custom-built robots, to make his screens, accumulating over 600 patents along the way. He insists this could not have been done even in Silicon Valley, because California cannot match Shenzhen’s ecosystem of “makers”.
With $280m in venture-capital investment, Royole is valued at $3bn. It is investing $1.8bn to build a heavily automated factory and integrated R&D complex which should propel sales past $3bn. But Mr Liu has even grander ambitions. He thinks his screens could be deployed more widely, in places such as cups, clothes, desks, even walls. “Last year the display industry was worth $150bn,” he says, “but flexible displays will double that.”
Hacking the future
Shenzhen has become the world capital for hardware entrepreneurs. Navi Cohen is the co-founder of Revols, a Canadian startup developing affordable, custom-fitted headphones. His firm raised a fortune on Kickstarter, a crowdfunding site. When it tried to develop its product in Montreal, it found things slow and expensive, so it moved to Shenzhen, where supplies were cheap and factories made prototypes quickly. It is now in production.
Another promising startup that moved to Shenzhen is Wazer, an American firm. A conventional metal-cutting machine on a factory floor costs $100,000 or more. Shenzhen’s know-how helped Wazer perfect a way to cut any material precisely with pressurised water. Its desktop cutter costs about $5,000 and will disrupt the industry when it comes to market later this year.
Revols and Wazer are among dozens of startups that have gone through a manufacturing boot camp run by Hax, a hardware “accelerator” based in Shenzhen’s Huaqiangbei, the world’s largest electronics-supplies market. Benjamin Joffe, a partner at Hax, reckons that Silicon Valley’s experience of hardware is “six to seven years out of date”. Big firms ranging from Johnson & Johnson, an American health-care firm, to Michelin, a French tyremaker, have entered into partnerships with Hax to get closer to these bright sparks.
The most successful of Shenzhen’s recent startups is Da-Jiang Innovations (DJI), reportedly worth over $8bn, which makes affordable commercial drones. Frank Wang, the founder, and his 1,500-strong R&D team had to invent vital bits of the technology needed for its flying robotic cameras. The privately held firm commands over half of the global market for small civilian drones, and is purportedly planning to go public soon. It is now diversifying its offerings. Paul Xu, the head of DJI Enterprise Solutions, says it is aiming for business clients in fields ranging from agriculture and energy to public security. It is also considering a services-business model where users can rent airtime.
Shenzhen has done more than any place on the mainland to debunk the outdated myth of “copycat China”, becoming the global hub of innovation in hardware and manufacturing. Its entrepreneurs are coming up with entirely new industries. It has been the driving force behind the upgrading that should help the PRD withstand competition. But what does its rise mean for Hong Kong, which has been the catalyst of investment and growth in the delta for decades? 为了破除已经过时的“山寨中国”的论调，深圳做得比中国内地任何地方都多，并成为了硬件和制造的全球创新中心。其创业者正在打造全新的产业。这里一直推动着是产业升级，应该能帮助珠三角抵抗竞争。但对于香港这个几十年来珠三角投资和增长的催化剂而言，深圳的崛起又意味着什么呢?