From imitation to innovation: The discursive processes of knowledge creation in the Chinese space industry

Jianxiang Bi, David Sarpong, David Botchie, Rekha Rao-Nicholson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The quantum jump from ballistic missiles to space docking in recent decades symbolizes China's new product innovation potential in technologically complex industries. Drawing on theories of knowledge creation and discourse, we explore how the discursive practices of imitation, adaptation, and the reconfiguration of competitors' technologies help transform China from a duplicative assembler to a dynamic innovator in the global space industry. To this end, we argue that the processes of imitative knowledge-creation through oral, written, and gestural texts underpin China's new product innovation in the space industry. This innovation mechanism adopted by China, we found, involves discursively constructed ensembles of in-house knowledge generation for specialization in the production of space related products in context of high complexity and uncertainty. Discourse among sanctioned innovation actors in the industry, we argue, serve as a vital source of knowledge for integrating learning, strategic assets, and expertise to meeting the evolving needs of sole end-users. We conclude with some implication of our study to the theory and practice of imitability and transferability of knowledge and innovation in technologically complex industries.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)261-270
JournalTechnological Forecasting and Social Change
Early online date19 Jan 2017
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2017


  • China
  • Discourse
  • Imitation
  • Knowledge creation
  • Organizational mechanism
  • Space industry


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