David Li, co-founder of Shanghai’s first Maker Space (XinCheJian), recently told The Economist that the Maker Movement is helping to inspire the creation of legitimate and innovative products, as socially progressive Makers team up with more traditional manufacturers in China.
According to the publication, Maker spaces such as XinCheJian are supported by monthly membership fees and operate independently of the state. Although expats played a major role in kicking off XinCheJian, more recent Maker Spaces such as Beijing’s Maxpace and Shenzhen’s Chaihuo are entirely home-grown.
Another example of China’s rapidly evolving Maker Movement is the Shenzhen-based Seeed Studio which specializes in open-source hardware. Seeed also supports an entire ecosystem of open-source production, with members pitching ideas on the company’s website. Over 130 projects were successfully crowd-sourced in 2012 – numbers that are expected to double in 2013.
Eric Pan, the founder of Seeed Studio, quit his tech-industry job way back in 2008 to design hardware with a friend in their respective apartments. Since then, Pan has achieved a rock-star status of sorts among young Chinese geeks. Indeed, Seeed now employs more than 100 people and has expanded its range of products to include wearable electronics and a new generation of sensors.
Unsurprisingly, Chinese government officials are taking a keen interest in the Maker Movement due to its economic and educational potential. To be sure, Shanghai’s municipal government has backed plans to build 100 Maker Spaces throughout the city. Each location is slated to be equipped with a 3D printer and will host staff to help visitors with traditional crafts such as woodworking.
As the Economist concludes, China’s distinctive take on the Maker Movement – Makers with Chinese characteristics, to paraphrase Deng Xiaoping – is definitely worth keeping an eye on.