Makers in China want to change China’s image

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When Xinchejian, China’s first hackerspace, opened in 2010 it took only three months for the DIY enthusiasts to outgrow their workspace and move to a bigger location. The hacker movement has since grown to hackerspaces across several cities including Shanghai, Shenzhen, Beijing, Ningbo, Hangzhou and Guangzhou. Hackerspaces, also called makerspaces, are communal work areas for entrepreneurs, startup hopefuls, DIY enthusiasts and anyone who enjoys tinkering with 3D printing and other technology to design and create innovative products and artwork.

With an estimated 1,000 plus hackerspaces across the globe, hackerspaces are becoming a significant global phenomenon.

The movement has attracted the attention of the Chinese government who is keen to change China’s image as the world’s factory to one of innovation leader. One year after the founding of XinChejian, authorities in Shanghai announced a plan to launch 100 ‘innovation houses’ in the city, supported by up to RMB50, 000 in funding for each makerspace. Chinese Premier, Li Keqiang, on visiting the hackerspace Chaihuo in Shenzhen referred to the importance of innovation in the development of the Chinese economy.

The aim is for products to not have the label ‘Made in China’, but ‘Designed and made in China’.

Since the launch of the first hackerspace in Shanghai, 30 independent hackerspaces have been launched across the country. In China these activity hubs are not just for technology geeks and entrepreneurs developing prototypes. Hackerspaces offer a social element and real-world interaction.MFK (Make for Kids) Shanghai in is a platform targeting a younger generation of future makers. Encouraging cross-disciplinary, peer-to-peer learning, and promoting cooperation through open source software and hardware, MFK offers courses in 3D printing, physical computing, sewing, robotics and electronics to children and teenagers aged 7-15.

In Beijing, Hackathons have become popular events among local makers and students. These 24- to 48-hour events see computer programmers, graphic designers, interface designers and project managers come together to collaborate on software and businesses spanning the useful to the weird. Beijing Makerspace organises fun workshops, seminars and other events for people who'd like to turn their ideas into physical prototypes or products. Its founder Justin Wang Shenglin sees Beijing Makerspace as a social enterprise. Most of the activities are open to the public. ‘’People who join us come from all walks of life: IT engineers, programmers, designers, artists, students - even psychologists. The thing they have in common is a desire to make cool stuff,’’ he told South China Morning Post.