Journal of Economic Perspectives
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.