Institute of Economic and Cultural Geography Research Research projects
Regional Innovation Profiles in China: Innovation Conditions and Types of Innovation

Regional Innovation Profiles in China: Innovation Conditions and Types of Innovation

Led by:  Prof. Dr. Ingo Liefner, Dr. Henning Kroll (ISI, Karlsruhe)
Team:  Anna-Barbara Heindl
Year:  2020
Funding:  DFG Gz. 981/15-1
Duration:  2017 - 2020
Is Finished:  yes


More and more innovations are being generated in emerging economies. First and foremost, this concerns the adaptation of existing products and solutions to local markets, secondly and less commonly, the development of global novelties or radical innovations, thirdly, frugal innovations focusing on robustness as well as low cost in production and use. For adaptive innovations, the decisive factor is knowledge about local buyer preferences, radical innovations typically emerge from fast growing potentials in research and scientific capability whereas frugal innovations tend to need both as, despite their simplicity, they are not necessarily technologically obvious. Innovations can be generated by both foreign and domestic firms. In the case of China, moreover, the paramount importance of the state in all economic activity has to be taken into account. In China, all innovative activity displays notable spatial disparities. As commonly accepted, the large metropolitan areas of China's coastal rim harbor the highest innovative potential and have longest experience with innovation processes, most notable Beijing and Shanghai.

Innovations from less developed areas, to the contrary, typically receive far less attention even though, in these regions, substantial efforts are underway to improve regional economic capacities. Against this background, the spatial framework of China's innovative activities is changing dramatically. Already, notable parts of the high-tech production have moved inland, e.g. to Chongqing in the case of Laptops. Hence, the proposed research project puts forward the hypothesis that China's regions will not only develop innovative capabilities with different speed and momentum but also develop distinct regional innovation profiles in line with their respective potentials. Thus, they will differ not only with regard to the overall level of innovative activity but also with regard to the main drivers of innovative activities and, deriving from that, the locally prevalent type of innovation. Thus, the project aims to investigate the innovation potential, innovation types and innovation policy of Chinese regions and, on that basis, define typical regional innovation profiles. In doing so, it will make a contribution to general research on the spatial differentiation of innovation processes in emerging economies as well as the mutual relations of economically leading and lagging regions. Methodologically, the project will be based on policy analysis, on expert interviews (analytical hierarchy process) and interviews with representatives of the business sector, scientists and administrations in six selected metropolitan areas on China's coastal rim, interior and Southwest.


  • Liefner, I.; Kroll, H.; Zeng, G.; Heindl, A.-B. (2021): Regional Innovation Profiles: A Comparative Empirical Study of Four Chinese Regions Based on Expert Knowledge. Zeitschrift für Wirtschaftsgeographie. DOI: 10.1515/zfw-2020-0022
  • Kroll, H.; Liefner, I. (2021): User-Driven Innovation with Frugal Characteristics: A Multi-Case Analysis of China’s Innovation-Driven Economy. In: Agarwal, N.; Brem, A. (eds) Frugal Innovation and Its Implementation. Contributions to Management Science. Springer, Cham, 95-116. DOI: 10.1007/978-3-030-67119-8_5
  • Heindl, A.-B. (2020): Separate frameworks of regional innovation systems for analysis in China? Conceptual developments based on a qualitative case study in Chongqing. Geoforum 115 (34-43). DOI: 10.1016/j.geoforum.2020.06.016
  • Liefner, I.; Losacker, S. (2020): Low-cost innovation and technology-driven innovation in China’s machinery industry. Technology Analysis & Strategic Management 32(3), 319-331. DOI: 10.1080/09537325.2019.1656333
  • Zeng, G.; Liefner, I. (2019): Retrospect and Prospect of Research into China’s Equipment Manufacturing Innovation Network. Introduction to the Theme Issue. In: Erdkunde 73 (3), 161-165.
  • Liefner, I.; Kroll, H. (2019): Advancing the Structured Analysis of Regional Innovation in China. Integrating New Perspectives in an Comprehensive Approach. In: Erdkunde 73 (3), 167-184.
  • Lyu, G.Q.; Liefner, I.; Schiller, D. (2019): The Evolution of Cross-Border M&As and Innovation Strategies: Evidence from Chinese Construction Machinery Firms. In: Erdkunde 73 (3), 211-224.
  • Heindl, A.-B.; Liefner, I. (2019): The Analytic Hierarchy Process as a methodological contribution to improve regional innovation system research: Explored through comparative research in China. Technology in Society 59. DOI: 10.1016/j.techsoc.2019.101197

Presentations to Scientific Audiences:

  • Heindl, A.-B.: Interpretative Verfahren in fremdsprachigen Kontexten ohne Sprachkenntnisse? Das Beispiel innovationsgeographischer Interviewforschung in China. Jahrestagung des Arbeitskreises Qualitative Methoden für Geographie und raumsensible Sozial- und Kulturforschung (VGDH), Goslar. 09.03.2020.
  • Heindl, A.-B.: The discursive dimension of regional innovation in the 'West' of China, GeoInno 2020-Konferenz, Stavanger, 29.01.2020.
  • Heindl, A.-B.: A multitude of Regional Innovation Systems within a single region? Conceptual developments based on qualitative research in Chongqing, China. Konferenz des "Arbeitskreises Sozialwissenschaftliche Chinaforschung", Jacobs University, Bremen, 29.11.2019.
  • Heindl, A.-B.: Regional innovation Systems in heterogeneous places. Methodological developments based on qualitative research in Chongqing, China. Young Economic Geographers' Network meeting, Umeå, Sweden, 21.08.2019.
  • Heindl, A.-B.: Der Analytic Hierarchy Process als Schnittstelle zwischen quantitativer Modellforschung und qualitativer Systemforschung. Jahrestreffen des AK Qualitative Methoden, Goslar, 18.03.2019.
  • Heindl, A.-B.: Innovationsräume Chinas: vergleichende Studie. Jahrestagung AK Industriegeographie, Wiesbaden-Naurod, 16.11.2018.
  • Liefner, I.: Regional Disparities and Regional Distribution of Innovation Capacity in the European Union. Southwest University, Chongqing, 10.04.2018.
  • Liefner, I.: Innovation research and its methods in economic geography. Guiyang, Guizhou Normal University, 16. November 2017.
  • Liefner, I.: Innovation research and its methods in economic geography. Kunming, Yunnan Normal University, 13. November 2017.
  • Liefner, I.: Types of Innovation as a Topic in Economic Geography Innovation Research. Shanghai, East China Normal University, 19. September 2017.
  • Liefner, I.: Methods for Comparing Regional Innovation Profiles in China. Shanghai, East China Normal University, 18. September 2017.
  • Liefner, I.: Brexit, European Union, and the Mobility of Highly Skilled Workforce. Beijing, Beijing Academy of Science and Technology, 15. September 2017.