A study of graduate entrepreneurs in urban China : the case of Shenzhen

Student thesis: PhD Thesis (Lingnan)


With reference to the Chinese government’s effort to promote innovation and entrepreneurship amongst university graduates over the past few years, this thesis explores the complexity and dynamics of young graduates’ entrepreneurship experiences in China’s innovation centre, Shenzhen. This research focuses on why and how graduates pursue their entrepreneurial ventures in Shenzhen and how the complex political, cultural and socio-economic nexuses of this city influence their experiences. In addition to in-depth interviews and social listening, this study applies the quadruple helix model on the local innovation system and adopts sociological theories on the employment destination choice of university graduates and guanxi theory to examine graduate entrepreneurship in a rapidly transforming Chinese society.

Three layers of analysis are presented in this thesis. The first layer focuses on the uniqueness of the local innovation system in Shenzhen. By adopting the quadruple helix framework of higher education institutions (HEIs), government, industry and society, the analysis shows that the local innovation system in Shenzhen is facilitated by its all-embracing and adaptive government, catching-up HEIs, strong industrial R&D and open social environment as a migrant city. The second layer examines how people think about local innovation and entrepreneurial environment in Shenzhen, with a specific focus on the role of local government and guanxi. A text analysis of 453 online posts related to the innovation and entrepreneurship environment of Shenzhen reveals that most of these posts show a positive attitude towards the institutional environment of the city. Shenzhen is considered competitive because of its supportive government, close linkages with Hong Kong and relatively equal environment created by migrants. However, the city also faces challenges brought about by the rising costs and lack of local HEIs. The third layer contests the complex role of social network and guanxi practices in influencing graduate entrepreneurship. Two distinct types of networks are identified, namely, the network facilitated by kinship and regionality and the professional network represented by the old boy’s society of giant companies. The analysis reveals how social network practices reconfigure and adapt themselves to the socioeconomic changes in urban China. Two important features are identified. The first feature is the blurred boundaries that separate the traditional classifications of social capitals and networks. Professional ties, which initially take the form of weak ties and bridging social capital, can transform into ties that are exclusive in nature. Meanwhile, traditional guanxi networks that usually take the form of strong ties can move beyond their dyadic or triadic structures to a broader scope that is linked with the society and public. The second feature is the need to include society and public interest as a unit of analysis in studying guanxi. The relational base of guanxi in the existing literature is confined to individuals that are involved in exchange relationships, such as favour seekers, favour givers, brokers and small communities (e.g. kinship networks or villages). However, the Chinese evaluation of self-achievement is strongly socially oriented. Given that compensation to others and wellness of the collective are essential means of self-actualisation, both the public and society are included as units of analysis in studying guanxi.

Date of Award7 Aug 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Lingnan University
SupervisorKa Ho Joshua MOK (Supervisor) & Jin JIANG (Supervisor)

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