China now boasts more people with Internet connections than any other nation, and is encouraging entrepreneurship of the creative industries.
It's all part of a comprehensive new plan for economic development set by President Hu Jintao of the ruling Communist Party. The president has been challenging their people to help achieve a goal of becoming an "Innovation Nation" as part of the country's five-year plan.
"Science and technology," President Jinto has said. "especially strategic high technology is increasingly becoming the decisive force in economic and social development and the focus of competition and comprehensive national strength."
China is not going to be simply a manufacturing center or sub-assembly and processing factory for other multinational corporations for too much longer, Chinese leaders say. It will turn out creative and innovative workers from the schools and soon reap the major investments they are already making in research and development.
To accomplish its goals, the Chinese government has authorized more than 70 billion Yuan, or $8.5 billion, for investment in science and technology in the last few years, and plans on doing the same for several more years in the future. This represents an increase of 20 percent annually.
The Chinese, however, plan to not only increase R & D spending. A huge propaganda campaign is planned to educate the masses, including online discussions on the topic and the formation of an "innovation demonstration team" to tour the country and promote the idea of China as an Innovation nation.
The government is also talking of the need to reform the financial and tax systems to provide incentives for the growth of cutting-edge industries, including such controversial areas as stem cells, gene therapy and genetically modified crops; and some areas where the United States has long dominated, including software, semiconductors and space exploration.
In the last five years alone we have seen state fiscal expenditures and infrastructure investment in the creative industries double.
China, has put art and music back into all the schools and mandated that all six grades in primary schools should have two class hours per week for music and fine arts. In addition, China plans to relax regulations and controls and to provide other incentives for growth in the sectors it has targeted like the creative industries.
It has also fostered art festivals, conferences and exhibitions extolling the merits of art education and entrepreneurship, and even provided low cost artist housing in cities like Shanghai.
Barriers Still Loom Large
The biggest challenges to China's ambitious goals, the United States has argued however, include changing its attitude on human rights and ensuring basic freedoms, which are the source of creativity and innovation. China also needs to loosen its grip on citizen use of the Internet.
More than 30,000 employees of China's Ministry of Propaganda routinely police Internet use, and Web companies such as Google, Yahoo and Microsoft block access to selected sites.
During the Cultural Revolution, creativity and innovation in people was widely criticized. Academics and students of higher learning were targeted for "retraining" in the countryside. That is changing along with promotion of cultural-based economic growth.
However, even though the universities are once again revered and respected, the system does not encourage dissent or even inquiry, which, as Einstein once observed, is the root of all learning.
Success in some areas will get through because China is simply so big.
There will be degree of innovative and creative discovery, and the restrictive attitude of China will be a footnote, some argue. Sure China has many obstacles to becoming a creative and innovative nation, but countries like the US should be worried.
Former Harvard Business School professor John Kao, author of "The Innovation Nation," said, "Our national capacity for innovation has declined to an all-time low, while rising powerhouses such as China, India, Finland, and Singapore have evolved policies to actively foster innovation."
As China and India and other nations target the high end of the U.S. workforce and more and more jobs are either outsourced or off-shored, what is America going to do?
What is America's plan for nurturing, retaining and attracting the creative and innovative work force we need to succeed, let alone survive, in the new global economy?
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