After decades behind, China’s technological innovation is competing on the world stage. He helped define what Chinese nationalism looks like today.
For many educated professionals in urban China, the government’s plan to make China a world leader in scientific research and technological innovation is not just government propaganda.
Chinese political leaders and social elites have long argued that outdated scientific and technological development was one of the main reasons the country lagged behind the West, ever since its defeat in the First World War. opium in the middle of the 19th century.
Techno-scientific development has become linked to national security and economic growth, especially to reduce import dependence, pursue exports and capitalize on increasingly global value chains and shift the China beyond its “factory of the world” status.
Certainly, the Chinese people have been repeatedly exposed to this narrative through decades of formal education and official media, but there is more to it.
This narrative provides them with the language to reflect on and make sense of economic and technological practices in their daily lives.
Nationalism is an emotional connection that some citizens feel with their country. For many educated professionals in China, their expression has taken on a distinctly techno-nationalist sentiment.
From engineers and technicians to lawyers and accountants, educated professionals have worked with and for – directly or indirectly – small workshops and large assembly-line factories that have provided the impetus for the country’s rapid economic growth since the end of of the 1970s.
In their eyes, China being “the factory of the world” is not just an expression used by the media, but describes their daily encounters.
Lu is a lawyer based in Foshan in the Pearl River Delta region, one of China’s industrial hubs. During her two decades of practice, Lu has regularly dealt with small business owners who manufacture clothes, shoes, toys, electrical appliances and other daily consumer items.
However, according to Lu, these businesses involved “very little or no technology” (meiyou jishu hanliang) and had nowhere to upgrade.
Shao, an engineer, has similar observations. Shao works for a European company that has been supplying machines to factories in the same region for more than a decade. Shao dealt with factories that used and produced more technologically sophisticated items such as solar batteries and computer chips. Nevertheless, for him, many Chinese factories were “there to provide a simple assembly service”. Key technologies were “in foreign hands”.
Lu and Shao are by no means unique in their understanding of technology and economics. Many professionals understand that profit extraction largely comes from controlling technologies and related intellectual property rights, and that most of the profits flow out of the country because many Chinese companies do not own key technologies.
When the economy slowed, many of them had firsthand experience of seeing factories bend as foreign investors pulled out and labor costs in the region rose. Many professionals come to the conclusion that what China earns is “xuehan qian” – literally, blood and sweat money.
The success of small businesses and assembly-line factories (and, by extension, of the Chinese economy) lay in cheap labor, thanks to the large number of workers from rural areas.
China’s development achievement is “sweatshirt modernity”, a form of low-end modernity. The contribution of professionals to this, important as it is, is largely overshadowed by the cheap labor that attracted capital investment in the first place.
The opportunities and earnings from the process of developing such “sweatshop modernity” have undoubtedly enabled Lu, Shao, and other professionals to enjoy the upward social mobility that many of their peers yearn for.
Thanks to the vibrant economy made possible by labor-intensive businesses and factories, the middle class has experienced a sea of change in their material lives.
In the 1980s and 1990s, when Western societies benefited from the convenience brought by technological advancements such as computers and cell phones, many urban Chinese families still did not have landlines.
Today, two decades into the new millennium, many middle-class families are using the same technologies as their Western counterparts – managing work and life on the smartphone through services provided by Chinese platforms.
It gives the Chinese middle class the feeling that their lives are finally in sync with those of their peers in the developed world after decades of delay. It connects middle-class citizens to the country through the prism of technological development.
This feeling is as much about pride as anxiety. The rise of nationalism among many urban professionals as Chinese tech company Huawei faced various charges overseas is not simply the result of the government mobilizing its propaganda machine.
It’s also a techno-nationalist sentiment born out of a sincere need to move forward and beyond.
(This story has not been edited by the Devdiscourse team and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)