But now this growth model is stagnating, and China knows it needs to change to keep its economy growing.
China has always been a country that copies its way to success, not a place where creativity thrives. So are China’s plans to turn into an innovation superpower realistic?
The answer may lie in China’s tech capital, Shenzhen. It’s a city that was built on the back of achieving the Chinese dream.
And at a busy traffic junction in the city, you can see a tribute to the man who started the Chinese miracle: Deng Xiaoping, who is credited with the economic success of modern China.
In the 1980s, he began experimenting with special economic zones as a way to create economic growth, and Shenzhen was the first place he tested this theory out. Dozens more were created across the mainland, all to emulate Shenzhen’s success.
Manufacturing firms cropped up all over Shenzhen, producing goods for customers all over the world. Consumerism became king in communist China - on the government’s orders.
And in the frenzied pursuit of profits, it didn’t matter whether what was produced was shoddy or a knock-off.
There’s no shortage of funding for a good idea here. But can top-down innovation work?
I travelled to Beijing to find out, and there I got a chance to see one of China’s newest companies emerging on the global innovation stage: Cheetah Mobile.
Cheetah used to make mobile security software and created a 650-million-strong community of users. That’s just behind Facebook and Tencent. But Cheetah’s boss, Fu Sheng, didn’t want to stop there. He had bigger dreams.
"Chinese mobile internet products are actually pretty good," he told me as we walked around his Silicon Valley style office. "So I was convinced that my idea was sound. But every time I brought it up to my colleagues the response was, ’OK, good.’ And then went back to their own work."
Mr Fu pauses for effect and smiles. "Until one day, I brought them all to the US for a meeting. That night, we stayed in a very cheap hotel and bought some wine.
"After a few glasses, I said to them, ’Let’s not just target the Chinese market. Let’s go for the overseas market - especially the US.’ They must have all been drunk, because they all agreed. And so we embarked on this path to go global."
Cheetah now makes mobile games and applications. Some 60% of its revenues now come from its overseas markets. Cheetah is also developing a live broadcasting tool called Live.me to take on the likes of Periscope and Facebook Live. Mr Fu says Chinese firms must aim higher and compete with US firms.
猎豹移动现在的业务是开发手机游戏和应用软件。公司60%的利润来自于海外市场。猎豹目前正在开发一款名为“live.me”的直播工具,有点类似于Periscope和Facebook Live. 傅盛表示,中国企业必须把目标放得更长远一点,并且和美国企业相竞争。
"American companies are leading globally without working as hard as us," Mr Fu told me. "It’s not because they have the leading technologies, it is because of the way they think.
"Chinese companies value knowledge and hard work, American companies value direction and vision. That was when I realised we needed a bigger goal: to go global."