A central part of technological innovation for industrial firms involves search for new external knowledge. A well‐established stream of literature on firms' external knowledge search has demonstrated that firms investing in broader search may have a great ability to innovate. In this paper, we explore the influences of technology search on firms' technological innovation performance along three distinctive dimensions: technical, geographic, and temporal dimensions, using a unique panel data set containing information on Chinese firms that were active in technology in‐licensing and patenting during the period 2000–2009. Our findings reveal that Chinese firms' technological innovation performances are related to external technology search in quite different ways from the ones suggested in the extant literature using evidence from developed countries. We find that Chinese firms searching ‘locally’ along the technical dimension have better technological innovation performance than those searching ‘distantly’. However, when a Chinese firm in‐license relatively old (mature) technologies or those from geographically nearby areas, it will be less bounded to searching familiar technical knowledge.