Acta Geographica Sinica ›› 2016, Vol. 71 ›› Issue (6): 969-983.doi: 10.11821/dlxb201606006

• Industrial Development • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Evolution of export product space in China: Path-dependent or path-breaking?

Canfei HE1,2(), Yao DONG1, Yi ZHOU1,2   

  1. 1. School of Urban and Environmental Sciences, Peking University, Beijing 100871, China
    2. Peking University-Lincoln Institute Center for Urban Development and Land Policy, Beijing 100871, China
  • Received:2015-07-10 Revised:2015-11-18 Online:2016-06-30 Published:2016-06-30
  • Supported by:
    National Science Fund for Distinguished Young Scholars, No.41425001;National Natural Science Foundation of China, No.41271130


Regional economic development is closely related to its productive structure, which evolves constantly. Economic geographers argue that the evolution of regional productive structure is path-dependent and stress the importance of technological relatedness. However, recent studies also suggest that regional and industrial policies may help create a new path of regional development. This study follows the method proposed by Hidalgo to measure technological relatedness and generate product space of Chinese exports using the trade data of China's 31 provinces during 2001-2013. The results show that China has experienced substantial structural transformation in export products, but there are significant regional differences. The coastal region has shifted from the labor intensive to capital and technology intensive products, the central and northeastern regions have first evolved from the resource intensive to labor intensive products, and then to capital and technology intensive products. The western region has transferred from the resource intensive to labor intensive structures. Econometric analysis reports that the evolution of export products of the four regions was significantly driven by technological relatedness during 2001-2007. Technological relatedness still played its role during 2008-2013 for the eastern, central and northeastern regions. But in the western region, regional and industrial policies support the structural transformation of export products. The significance of technological relatedness implies that the evolution of regional export products in China is path dependent. The role of regional policies suggest that institutions may create a new development path.

Key words: evolutionary economic geography, product space, technological relatedness, Chinese trade