Applied Spatial Analysis and Policy

, Volume 12, Issue 4, pp 1031–1049 | Cite as

Absorptive Capacity and Regional Innovation in China: an Analysis of Patent Applications, 2000–2015

  • Jingyuan Zeng
  • Ye LiuEmail author
  • Ruoyu Wang
  • Peiyu Zhan


Absorptive capacity is viewed as a critical “moderator” in the process of knowledge creation, while inadequate focus has yet been directed to systematically inspect the role of regional absorptive capacity in shaping the geography of innovation. By incorporating the conceptual framework of absorptive capacity into regional innovation studies, this paper moves a step forward by re-evaluating the determinants behind regional innovation in the context of China, especially focusing on the moderating effect of regional absorptive capacity and its heterogeneity across cities. Empirically, this study first traces the spatiotemporal dynamics of innovation in China from 2000 to 2015 with the aid of a multi-scalar Markov chain analysis. Next, it unveils the extent to which regional absorptive capacity moderates the relationships between regional innovation and its major determinants by running a set of panel quantile regressions. Results uncover that regional absorptive capacity - especially for industrial R&D, government support and FDI, also proved as the most critical factors that facilitate regional innovation in China - is revealed only in highly innovative cities but not in less innovative ones. In this light, regional absorptive capacity in China unexpectedly serves as a self-reinforcing mechanism solely for highly innovative cities, which further advances the current understanding of the rising regional inequality of innovation in China.


Regional innovation Absorptive capacity Human capital Panel quantile regression 



This work was supported by the National Natural Science (grant numbers 41871140 and 41501151) and the Program for Guangdong Introducing Innovative and Enterpreneurial Teams (grant number 2017ZT07X355).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Geography and PlanningSun Yat-sen UniversityGuangzhouPeople’s Republic of China
  2. 2.Guangdong Key Laboratory for Urbanization and Geo-simulationGuangzhouChina

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