HEFEI－In a sprawling workshop about the size of 180 soccer fields in East China’s Anhui province, huge glass substrates move slowly on the automated production line. They will be cut and made into LCD screens for TVs.
The Generation 10.5 TFT-LCD production line of China’s leading LCD panel maker BOE Technology Group, also the world’s latest generation, started mass production in Hefei, capital of Anhui, more than a year ago.
Now, the monthly capacity of the LCD panel production line has reached 120,000 sheets of glass substrates upon full operation, with a yield of 96 to 97 percent, representing the highest level of its kind in the industry.
“Adhering to the development path of independent innovation is the secret to our success,” said Zhang Yu, vice-president of the company.
Last year, BOE applied for more than 9,000 patents, of which over 80 percent were for inventions. The company has invested more than 6 percent of its annual revenue in R&D in recent years.
For many years, Anhui has been fostering a number of emerging industries, which provide strong impetus for the high-quality development of the traditionally agricultural province.
Since 2008, the Hefei municipal government has cooperated with BOE through an industrial fund to build several advanced panel production lines and the company has attracted more than 80 domestic and foreign companies to the city, making Hefei one of the largest display panel production bases in the world.
At present, more than 110 projects have been carried out in the base, with a total investment of over 140 billion yuan ($19.83 billion).
Also, thanks to the province’s support for innovation and entrepreneurship, iFlytek, based in Hefei, has grown from a cash-strapped startup two decades ago to China’s leading artificial intelligence firm, with a more than 70-percent share of the Chinese voice recognition market.
By the end of September, the number of developers on iFlytek’s open platform exceeded 1.05 million with more than 690,000 applications, and the cumulative number of end users hit 2.53 billion.
“Only when the company masters the core technology in the industry and the products are in line with the future direction of human development can we achieve high-quality development,” said Liu Qingfeng, chairman of iFlytek.
Hefei’s intelligent voice recognition and AI industry base, dubbed China’s Sound Valley, was established by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and the provincial government of Anhui about six years ago.
As the only national AI industrial base, Sound Valley led by iFlytek boasts more than 630 AI enterprises and has incubated and cultivated about 130 AI products in the fields of education, medical care and automobiles.
Now, a group of industrial clusters focusing on integrated circuits, display panels, industrial robots and AI are taking shape in Anhui. Driven by the emerging high-tech industries, the province’s GDP grew by 7.8 percent in the first three quarters of this year.
“The economic growth momentum of Anhui indicates the confidence and tenacity of the Chinese economy,” said Li Jinbin, Party secretary of Anhui province.
Liu Qingsong remembers clearly that he was confused about the slogan “Talent Highland” displayed on a highway when he came to Hefei for the first time in 2012. However, in the following years, the young researcher who graduated from Harvard Medical School and worked in the United States for a decade, gradually came to understand what it meant.
“The local government rolled out a host of measures to nurture talent no matter whether the individuals were in Anhui or not. Their respect for knowledge impressed me a lot,” said Liu.
In 2015, Liu, together with other six postdoctoral fellows from Harvard, set up Precedo, a startup specializing in cutting-edge cancer cell research.
“In the beginning, almost nobody understood what we were doing. What moved us was that an official in Hefei high-tech zone was willing to provide a warranty for our company,” said Liu, president of Precedo.
The following year, he became the leader of a major national science project focusing on precision medicine at the age of 38, which is rarely seen in other regions in the country.
After four years of efforts, the company has built the world’s largest high throughput cell selection bank based on cancer kinase targets and plans to establish a Living Primary Cancer Cell Biobank in the next one to three years to provide support for pathological research and industrial development in China.
“What we value most is the great space for development the city gives us,” he said. “It’s a place where dreams can come true.”
Liu and his peers’ dreams set sail from Science Island, also known as the Hefei Institutes of Physical Science, which is part of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
Located on the outskirts of Hefei, the scenic island, home to eight research institutes and more than 2,000 top researchers, has set up two large scientific installations and is building a third one.
Among them, the experimental advanced superconducting tokamak－or Chinese artificial sun－which is key to developing a nuclear fusion reactor in the future, achieved an electron temperature of more than 100 million C in its core plasma and set a new world record last year.
A 10-square-kilometer world-class zone for large scientific installations also started construction in 2018, said Kuang Guangli, president of the Hefei Institutes of Physical Science.
Science Island’s achievements over the past decades mirror Anhui’s endeavor to build itself into a Chinese science hub.
Hefei is pushing forward the construction of a comprehensive national science center, joining China’s three other such centers in Shanghai, Beijing and Shenzhen, which is encouraging large numbers of overseas Chinese researchers to return home.
The provincial capital also ranked third among the most attractive Chinese cities for foreigners, according to an annual poll launched by the Ministry of Science and Technology in 2018.
Meanwhile, Anhui is teaming up with Shanghai, Jiangsu and Zhejiang to accelerate the regional integration of the Yangtze River Delta, a national strategy aiming to build a regional cluster of high-quality development and seeking to use the innovation community to make breakthroughs in several key technologies including nuclear fusion, biomedicine and quantum communications.
At present, there are more than 6,000 scientific research institutions in the province, while scientific and technological progress contributed 56 percent of Anhui’s economic growth.