This research constructs a simple dynamic model to illustrate the micro‐mechanism of industrial upgrading along the global value chains. Our model predicts that as firms move up from downstream to upstream stages, (a) there is higher profitability if and only if the following three conditions are satisfied. First, the increasing rate of sunk cost (including R&D expenditure) over sequential stages of production cannot be sufficiently large (endogenous sunk cost effect). Second, the decreasing rate of change of intermediate input demand with respect to the price set by firms at a production stage cannot be sufficiently high (intermediate input price effect). Third, the decreasing rate of change of intermediate input demand with respect to the pricing dynamics over the sequential stages of production cannot be sufficiently large (sequential pricing uncertainty effect); (b) total cost is lower if and only if the decreasing rate of change of input demand with respect to the price is sufficiently large; (c) output is higher if and only if and the decreasing rate of change of input demand with respect to the price is not sufficiently large; and (d) the price decreases. We show that the empirical patterns revealed in China are consistent with our model's predictions.

%B The World Economy %G eng %U https://doi.org/10.1111/twec.13068