How a Dying Factory Became a Symbol of China’s Tech Might

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A quarter-century ago, Beijing Electron teetered on the brink of collapse, a government behemoth brought to its knees by superior foreign technology. Decades later, fueled by billions in state funds, a re-christened BOE Technology Group Co. does business with Apple Inc. and has its sights on becoming the biggest supplier of next-generation screens.

It’s a turnaround authored by Wang Dongsheng, an accountant who took over an ailing vacuum-tube factory — then begged his underlings for bailout money, at one point dabbling in producing mouthwash to make ends meet. But he ultimately secured capital from Beijing to build the biggest producer of flat displays, and devised BOE’s ascension to the pinnacle of screen-making: mastering bendable displays set to underpin a generation of malleable smartphones from the Samsung Fold to — maybe — a future iPhone.

Today, BOE is a symbol of China’s remarkable technological ambitions. Its brush with death — it came close twice — is nowhere in evidence on a stroll through a $7 billion factory on the outskirts of Chengdu, a western Chinese city better known for spice and pandas. Big enough to cover 16 football fields, it cranks out expensive organic light-emitting diode displays that Apple and Huawei Technologies Co. are keen to put in their marquee devices.

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