The approach to and challenges in measuring innovation in China

  • Dr. Yuxin Li Shanghai International Studies University
  • Dr Jiang Yang Business School, Leeds University
  • Professor Chris Warhurst Institute for Employment Research, University of Warwick


In China and elsewhere, innovation features strongly in government policy as a key driver of economic development. Being able to measure innovation performance is therefore important. This paper analyses China’s approach to measuring the country’s innovation performance. In doing so and using documentary analysis, it evaluates the conceptualisation and data collection that underpin and support that measurement. The findings show that China focuses on a science and technology approach to measuring innovation. The weaknesses of this approach are identified: first, the conceptual scope is too narrow due to its exclusion of non-technological innovation; second, relatedly, data gathering is limited quantitatively and qualitatively in its coverage of types of innovation; and, third, the sample population is biased, acting to excluding a significant number of firms and employees. These weaknesses undermine understanding of innovation performance in China. With this analysis, this paper provides the first evaluation of China’s innovation conceptualization and measurement and, based on the findings, provides suggestions to address these weaknesses and improve the measurement of innovation performance and which have applicability beyond China. For China and other countries such as those which are members of the OECD and EU, the evidence provided in this paper suggest that there is a pressing need to adopt this broader policy approach and support it through the development of appropriate measures and data collection.

Author Biographies

Dr. Yuxin Li, Shanghai International Studies University

Dr. Yuxin Li is an Associate Professor of the School of Economics and Finance at Shanghai International Studies University in China. She was a Research Fellow at the University of Warwick and got her PhD at the University of York in the UK. Her research interests are mainly in the labour economics areas covering employment studies, innovation and skills and education.

Dr Jiang Yang, Business School, Leeds University

Dr. Jiang Yang is a research fellow at the University of Leeds in the UK and also a co-founder and director of an innovative company, Liber Larus LTD. She holds a PhD in Employment Research and an MSc in Innovation and Entrepreneurship from the University of Warwick. Her research area is within innovation, job quality and business management.

Professor Chris Warhurst, Institute for Employment Research, University of Warwick

Chris Warhurst PhD is Professor and Director of the Institute for Employment Research at the University of Warwick in the UK. He is also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and the Academy of Social Sciences. His research interests focus on job quality, skills and the impact of technology on work and employment. He has published 18 books, over 70 book chapters and 60 journal articles.