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The Rise of Robots in China


  • Hong Cheng
  • Ruixue Jia
  • Dandan Li
  • Hongbin Li


China is the world's largest user of industrial robots. In 2016, sales of industrial robots in China reached 87,000 units, accounting for around 30 percent of the global market. To put this number in perspective, robot sales in all of Europe and the Americas in 2016 reached 97,300 units (according to data from the International Federation of Robotics). Between 2005 and 2016, the operational stock of industrial robots in China increased at an annual average rate of 38 percent. In this paper, we describe the adoption of robots by China's manufacturers using both aggregate industry-level and firm-level data, and we provide possible explanations from both the supply and demand sides for why robot use has risen so quickly in China. A key contribution of this paper is that we have collected some of the world's first data on firms' robot adoption behaviors with our China Employer-Employee Survey (CEES), which contains the first firm-level data that is representative of the entire Chinese manufacturing sector.

Suggested Citation

  • Hong Cheng & Ruixue Jia & Dandan Li & Hongbin Li, 2019. "The Rise of Robots in China," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 33(2), pages 71-88, Spring.
  • Handle: RePEc:aea:jecper:v:33:y:2019:i:2:p:71-88
    Note: DOI: 10.1257/jep.33.2.71

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    Cited by:

    1. Scott Rozelle & Yiran Xia & Dimitris Friesen & Bronson Vanderjack & Nourya Cohen, 2020. "Moving Beyond Lewis: Employment and Wage Trends in China’s High- and Low-Skilled Industries and the Emergence of an Era of Polarization," Comparative Economic Studies, Palgrave Macmillan;Association for Comparative Economic Studies, vol. 62(4), pages 555-589, December.
    2. Chen, Feng-Wen & Tan, Yulu & Chen, Fengzhang & Wu, Yong-Qiu, 2021. "Enhancing or suppressing: The effect of labor costs on energy intensity in emerging economies," Energy, Elsevier, vol. 214(C).
    3. Abeliansky, Ana & Algur, Eda & Bloom, David E. & Prettner, Klaus, 2020. "The Future of Work: Challenges for Job Creation Due to Global Demographic Change and Automation," IZA Discussion Papers 12962, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    4. Szunomár, Ágnes, 2019. "A digitális nagy ugrás. Lassulás és modernizációs stratégiaváltás Kínában [The great digital leap. Deceleration and a change in modernisation strategy in China]," Közgazdasági Szemle (Economic Review - monthly of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences), Közgazdasági Szemle Alapítvány (Economic Review Foundation), vol. 0(12), pages 1312-1346.
    5. de Vries, Gaaitzen J. & Gentile, Elisabetta & Miroudot, Sébastien & Wacker, Konstantin M., 2020. "The rise of robots and the fall of routine jobs," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 66(C).
    6. Johnston, Lauren A., 2020. "China’s Economic Demography Transition Strategy: A Population Weighted Approach to the Economy and Policy," GLO Discussion Paper Series 593, Global Labor Organization (GLO).
    7. Bernardo S Buarque & Ronald B Davies & Ryan M Hynes & Dieter F Kogler, 2020. "OK Computer: the creation and integration of AI in Europe," Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society, Cambridge Political Economy Society, vol. 13(1), pages 175-192.
    8. Ana L. ABELIANSKY & Eda ALGUR & David E. BLOOM & Klaus PRETTNER, 2020. "The future of work: Meeting the global challenges of demographic change and automation," International Labour Review, International Labour Organization, vol. 159(3), pages 285-306, September.
    9. Burkhard Heer & Andreas Irmen & Bernd Süssmuth, 2020. "Explaining the Decline in the US Labor Share: Taxation and Automation," DEM Discussion Paper Series 20-20, Department of Economics at the University of Luxembourg.
    10. Belloc, Filippo & Burdin, Gabriel & Landini, Fabio, 2020. "Robots and Worker Voice: An Empirical Exploration," IZA Discussion Papers 13799, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    11. Ott, Ingrid & Savin, Ivan & Konop, Chris, 2021. "Tracing the evolution of service robotics: Insights from a topic modeling approach," Kiel Working Papers 2180, Kiel Institute for the World Economy (IfW).
    12. Philippe Aghion & Céline Antonin & Simon Bunel, 2019. "Intelligence artificielle, croissance et emploi : le rôle des politiques," Sciences Po publications info:hdl:2441/32clie4jki8, Sciences Po.
    13. MORIKAWA Masayuki, 2020. "Heterogeneous Relationships between Automation Technologies and Skilled Labor: Evidence from a Firm Survey," Discussion papers 20004, Research Institute of Economy, Trade and Industry (RIETI).

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D24 - Microeconomics - - Production and Organizations - - - Production; Cost; Capital; Capital, Total Factor, and Multifactor Productivity; Capacity
    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity
    • L23 - Industrial Organization - - Firm Objectives, Organization, and Behavior - - - Organization of Production
    • M11 - Business Administration and Business Economics; Marketing; Accounting; Personnel Economics - - Business Administration - - - Production Management
    • O14 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Industrialization; Manufacturing and Service Industries; Choice of Technology
    • P23 - Economic Systems - - Socialist Systems and Transition Economies - - - Factor and Product Markets; Industry Studies; Population


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