China’s AI Investment Landscape: Navigating Choppy Waters in 2024


  • Despite the global AI frenzy in 2023, China’s AI startups are experiencing a decline in investor interest.
  • China recorded a 38% YoY drop in AI investments, with funding dropping by 70% in 2023.
  • Discrepancies in funding figures between reports suggest discreet US dollar financings and highlight a need for more accurate tracking methods.
  • China’s AI startups face challenges due to reduced American venture capital and geopolitical tensions.
  • Capital-intensive nature and unproven business models deter risk-averse local funds.
  • Few influential AI startups thrive, while others explore niche markets or rely on tech giants with AI chips.
  • A shortage of AI chips and strengthened regulations impact China’s large language model development.
  • Some startups turn to global markets, introducing new challenges.
  • Adventurous firms seek foreign investors, but corporate structure and passport issues persist.
  • 2024 poses significant challenges for China’s AI startups as they redefine strategies in a competitive landscape.

Main AI News:

Despite the global frenzy surrounding artificial intelligence in 2023, driven in part by the rise of ChatGPT, China’s AI startups find themselves facing dwindling investor enthusiasm. In a nation where OpenAI’s chatbot remains unavailable, local entrepreneurs and tech giants have scrambled to create their own AI models and applications, often drawing inspiration from American innovators. Some dedicated AI enthusiasts have even resorted to accessing ChatGPT through unauthorized virtual private networks, determined to keep the AI flame alive.

At first glance, it may seem like generative AI is flourishing in China, but a closer examination reveals a different story. Despite the hype, venture capitalists have not embraced this emerging technology as fervently as one might expect.

In 2023, China witnessed approximately 232 investments in the AI sector, marking a staggering 38% decline compared to the previous year, according to research firm CBInsight. The total funding raised by China’s AI firms amounted to around $2 billion, a substantial 70% decrease from the previous year.

Another report from a Chinese database, ITJuzi, paints a similar picture, showing a decline in AI funding. During the first 11 months of 2023, China recorded 530 funding events in the AI sector, reflecting a 26% drop year-over-year. These investments totaled 63.1 billion yuan ($8.77 billion), which was 38% less than the previous year and significantly lower than the peak reached in 2021 at 248.78 billion yuan.

The disparity in investment figures between these two reports may be attributed to differences in counting funding rounds. ITJuzi, being more closely connected to local funding activities, might provide a more accurate representation of the situation. This could be partly because Chinese AI startups have become increasingly discreet about their US dollar financings, fearing potential US regulatory scrutiny over capital flows into their AI ventures.

Zooming out, the slowdown in China’s AI funding is not entirely surprising, given the broader sluggishness in global venture capital investments. However, Chinese AI startups face unique challenges. The decline in American venture capital, historically a driving force for growth in China’s internet sector, has accelerated due to US-China tensions. The prospects of Chinese tech firms listing on US stock markets have also dimmed, causing investors to exercise caution when considering investments in high-potential yet uncertain businesses lacking clear exit strategies and monetization plans.

Furthermore, the capital-intensive nature of AI startups, combined with unproven business models, can deter risk-averse local RMB funds. While a few Chinese AI startups with influential founders continue to attract substantial funding, the majority of smaller players encounter increasingly conservative investors. The mission of creating China’s counterpart to ChatGPT now rests with deep-pocketed tech giants who have stockpiled AI chips, while resource-constrained startups explore niche industry applications based on open-source technology or homegrown AI models.

Meanwhile, China’s ability to develop large language models faces uncertainty due to an ongoing shortage of AI chips. Amid the escalating US-China tech tensions, Washington imposed an export ban on Nvidia’s high-end graphic processing units to China, further exacerbating the challenge.

Internally, strengthened regulations have raised compliance costs for AI startups. Unlike their larger, well-funded peers, many startups lack the financial and bureaucratic resources to obtain the necessary AI licenses or meet the country’s internet censorship requirements. Some have turned their sights to the global market, which presents its own set of challenges. While regulatory and political uncertainties may be less prominent obstacles, these startups must navigate new user behaviors and an internet ecosystem completely disconnected from their home market.

In a bold move, some adventurous AI firms may seek foreign investors, primarily from the United States, for financing and assistance with go-to-market strategies. However, before they can engage with American institutions, they must establish the appropriate corporate structures, offshore data storage solutions, and even secure foreign passports for their founders, ensuring that Silicon Valley investors are not burdened by concerns about violating US restrictions on China-related investments.

With limited funding opportunities on the horizon, 2024 could be a pivotal year for many AI startups in China as they grapple with these complex challenges and seek to redefine their strategies for success.


The declining investor enthusiasm for China’s AI startups in 2024 reflects a complex set of challenges, including reduced American venture capital, geopolitical tensions, and regulatory hurdles. While some startups persevere and seek global opportunities, the majority must navigate uncertain waters, potentially reshaping the landscape for AI development in China.