Hacking with Chinese Characteristics: The Promises of the Maker Movement against China’s Manufacturing Culture

Lindtner, Silvia
Science, Technology, & Human Values

From the rising number of hackerspaces to an increase in hardware start-ups, maker culture is envisioned as an enabler of the next industrial revolution—a source of unhindered technological innovation, a revamp of broken economies and educational systems. Drawing from long-term ethnographic research, this article examines how China's makers demarcate Chinese manufacturing as a site of expertise in implementing this vision. China's makers demonstrate that the future of making—if to materialize in the ways currently envisioned by writers, politicians, and scholars of the global tech industry—rests on taking seriously the technological and cultural fabrics of professional making outside familiar information technology innovation hubs like Silicon Valley: making-do, mass production, and reuse. I trace back to China's first hackerspace, documenting how a collective of makers began to move away from appropriating Western concepts of openness toward promoting China as source for knowledge, creativity, and innovation. This article demonstrates that when China's makers set up open hardware businesses and articulate a unique culture of "hacking with Chinese characteristics," they draw boundaries between the professional making they saw embodied in Chinese industrial production and the hobbyist making embodied in Western histories and cultures of hacking. In so doing, they position China as site of both technological and cultural expertise, intervening in dominant conceptions of computing that split manufacturing and innovation along geographical lines. This article contributes to critical scholarship of innovation and making cultures, technological expertise, and authorship.