Rural Violence: A Problematic Symptom of Change

Travelling the Silicon RoadBetween year-end deadlines and the MidWest and Appalachia getting hammered by an early Winter, I haven’t been posting here as much as I had planned, but that’s neither here nor there. In the course of conducting interviews for year-end stories that will be appearing on Electronic News over the course of the next few weeks, almost invariably people want to pick my brain about China, or just hear first hand about my trip.

That’s not really surprising, nor have peoples’ own various impressions of China at the moment, which have run the gamut. But recent civil unrest in a southeast China town, and the subsequent handling of it by the Chinese government, illustrates what I’ve been saying in this space and elsewhere: China has a lot of domestic issues to address on its way to becoming an economic and political superpower, many of them tied to its emerging middle class.

The story also brings to light a side of China that most Western business travelers, especially those that never make it beyond Shanghai, don’t see and perhaps don’t even realize exists. If one travels to Tiananmen Square in Beijing today, and sees the hordes of fashionably dressed Chinese tourists, the bloodshed of June 4th, 1989 seems far away, a seemingly long time ago.

But its memory bubbles just underneath the seemingly placid surface, I think. And while the student demonstrators in Beijing back then and the rural protesters of today have different motivations, the bigger issue is the same: dealing with the ever-quickening pace of social and economic change.

For those of you that haven’t been following the news, let me fill you in briefly. Last week residents of the village of Dongzhou in Guandong Province protested — or rioted, depending on which side of the fence one resides, I suppose — over land seizures. Specifically, Dongzhou residents were upset over compensation for land taken to house a coal-fired power plant. This is a growing problem in places outside of large urban areas as China’s staggering economic growth clashes with a still largely rural and agricultural countryside.

Official government reports say three villagers were killed when police opened fire during the clash; witnesses say as many as 20 people were killed. Nine were subsequently arrested for inciting rioting. But what is equally startling — in a good way, perhaps — is that the government on Sunday announced that the local police commander was in detention and that his “wrong actions” were to blame for the deaths.

Earlier the government had said that the deaths were justified, stating that the three people killed turned on police after attacking the coal plant armed with knives, spears and dynamite. The government also said it would address local land seizure grievances, and that it was sending in medical personnel to treat those wounded in the clash.

So where does the truth lie? Only the people actually there know for sure, but I suspect it lies somewhere in between “wrong actions” and justifiable killing. But the fact that the government feels the need to mollify the villagers perhaps illustrates just how problematic rural unrest has become. For all the many news reports of this phenomenon that have come out of China in recent years — a country where the media is still by and large state controlled — I wonder about how many of these protests and riots have taken place that we have not heard about.

But the larger issue here is the rapid pace of change in China. As it seeks to maintain its phenomenal growth, it has realized that it needs to improve the economic lot of its rural population; in fact it is depending on it. No less than Premier Wen Jiabao acknowledged in a recent speech that China must expand economic consumption on the part of its more than 800 million rural residents, because it is relying on that consumption to push economic growth.

In turn the government has relaxed requirements for citizens wanting to relocate to cities, in search of jobs. But this is naturally a two-edged sword, as China’s sprawling cities deal with the problems associated with exploding urbanization — and rural land is seized for development.

It’s a Tricky Thing, to Say the Least

And this is why I firmly believe that while China is destined to eventually become an economic powerhouse — many would argue it already is, and justifiably so — on par with the West, or its fellow Asian countries, such as Japan or South Korea, it is not destined to take over the world economically and reduce the rest of us to financial serfdom, as some pundits here fear.

As I’ve observed before, China doesn’t really seem interested in that, because it realizes that in the decades ahead, it has the difficult task of managing phenomenal growth coupled with the largest population on earth, a population in which many people live below the poverty line, by Western standards.

A population of 1.3 billion people, one in which half of them don’t have a cell phone or a land line, and yet the other half is depending on that first half to eventually buy a cell phone, in order to keep them employed and enjoying their disposal income. Granted, that’s a glib generalization, but one with a rather large grain of truth, as the premier’s statements attest.

Electronic News Travels to ChinaIt’s a tricky thing, indeed. But then, as I’ve also observed before, the Chinese can be a very pragmatic people, and their culture has lasted for thousands of years for a reason. I think they will be able to manage these changes.

But as Dongzhou illustrates, it will not be easy. And China’s political leaders may have to eventually accept some social changes along with economic ones.

Editor’s Note: As explained at length elsewhere on this site, this is a blog entry of mine that originally appeared on the now-defunct Electronic News’ website, which is long gone. While its former sister pub Electronic Design News (EDN) currently holds the copyright to all Electronic News copy (to the best of my knowledge), as far as I know, this blog content isn’t hosted anywhere else on the Internet, hence my reproduction here.

Original Comments

Editor’s Note (slight return): D’oh! Once again, when I downloaded the Silicon Road microsite, Adobe Acrobat didn’t manage to grab the 13 comments that were attached to this blog entry – it grabbed more than a thousand other pages (most of them empty; I guess it’s an inexact science), but not that one. Damn.

Let Us Set the Record Straight

Travelling the Silicon RoadSHENZHEN, China — I was just going through the comments section of this blog to make sure all of the submitted comments had been cleared, when I came across one in an earlier post that was still pending. You see, in order to keep out spam and profanity, we review all the comments that are submitted prior to them appearing live on the site.

And it was the straw that broke my metaphorical camel’s back.

You can find it here. But it doesn’t really matter; there have been similar ridiculous comments. Being a journalist, I’m pretty thick skinned; we’re like lawyers: everybody loves to hate us, and you either get used to it or go into PR. But everyone has their limits.

So, let’s get one thing straight, and I’ll spell it out nice and simple even for the narrow-minded and thick-skulled (which fortunately seem to be in the minority). I am not an apologist for China’s communist government. Yes, I was very surprised at the openness and passion of the officials that I’ve met, both locally and nationally. They were not the automatons I expected.

But NOWHERE have I said, despite several self righteous reader comments to the contrary, that I think China’s political system is a good thing, or its repression acceptable.

I’m a journalist, and freedom of speech and the press is my birthright as an American, after all. I’d take up arms to defend that right. I do not say these words lightly; in these days of the Patriot Act, I sometimes wonder if it will come to that. But the Chinese don’t have freedom of the press here; there are journalists in prison in China, jailed for what they have written. Of course I think this abhorrent.

Got it? One more time, follow along: Jeff say repression bad; free speech good.

The thing that people in the West need to understand is that your average Chinese citizens, while not enjoying all the freedoms we have in the West, don’t appear to be, nor to they think of themselves as, repressed by a totalitarian system.

I know it’s a blow to you ideologues out there, but I’m afraid it’s true. But again, for the narrow-minded, indignantly self-righteous, let me spell it out in tiny little words that even you can understand: I’m not personally justifying the Chinese political system. Just telling you what I’ve observed and experienced — whoops, sorry, let’s say “seen and heard” — this past month. Don’t shoot the messenger.

If you don’t believe me, come here and see for yourself and talk to them, like I have.

It’s a difference in culture between East and West. Like I’ve explained here before, the Chinese people are perfectly capable of revering Mao Zedong as a hero while acknowledging that the Cultural Revolution was a horrendous mistake. And while people like me, being an American, can’t completely understand how Chinese people can be so patient and complacent about things like freedom of speech, nevertheless, they are.

I’ve had a lot of conversations with Chinese people about this issue, and my interpreter, Zhike, a 24-year-old Chinese graduate student, put it best: “We have freedom of speech in China, just not in the media.” He said it with a knowing smile. This is such a thoroughly Chinese way of looking at the world; it was a very Chinese thing to say.

To understand why, ultimately, I think you have to come here and know China for yourself. But I’ll add this: the specter of the Cultural Revolution does still lingers here, as does what happened in Russia following the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Chinese are an ancient people, and are nothing if not patient; they are happy with the changes that have been made over the past two decades, but they are concerned about what might happen if things move to fast — after all, look at the last revolution they endured.

I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”
— Voltaire

Now, second of all, it is time for some self-righteousness indignation of my own; this is a subject I’m unapologetically passionate about. Read it and weep.

This business of anonymous ideologues posting morally indignant comments about me or what I supposedly said, and then not having the courage to put their names to it, is quite frankly pathetic. There is no excuse, and you should be ashamed.

You see, people have died protecting this right that we in the West enjoy, the right to express our political beliefs, whatever they may be, in a public forum like this. You do those people a disservice — if not an outright insult — by hiding behind anonymity. You insult their bravery with your cowardice. As far as I’m concerned you might as well run though Arlington cemetery kicking over gravestones.

It’s rather sadly ironic in these times of right-wing, red-white-and-blue dogma in the United States.

So say whatever you wish; ultimately I don’t care, nor do I care who you are. But you should nevertheless have the decency and courage to put your name to what you say.

This isn’t the kind of forum that you have to worry about your spouse or boss finding out you frequent, after all. And this is a U.S.-based site; there are no government goons monitoring it. Not yet, anyway.

Trust me, it’s not hard, I do it every day. I still do it, even though I’ve had my life threatened because of what I’ve written more than once. I’ve been threatened with lawsuits a number of times. I’ve even had a brick through my window and my car vandalized.

And yet I still put my name to what I write, not because I’m brave or thick skinned, or that I think my writing is particularly brilliant, but because it is my right. And it’s yours too.

The only excuse you might have to utilize anonymity here is if you are perhaps a Chinese political dissident, still on the mainland, but I’m reasonably sure “Dave in Dallas” or whoever is not a political dissident.

Electronic News Travels to ChinaLet me just add that I realize that many will take this as just my own inane blah blah blah, and those few at whom this was directed will surely have missed the point. The only thing I’ll say in my defense is that my real name is proudly displayed with it, blather or not.

Neener neener :p

Jeff Chappell

Editor’s Note: As explained at length elsewhere on this site, this is a blog entry of mine that originally appeared on the now-defunct Electronic News’ website, which is long gone. While its former sister pub Electronic Design News (EDN) currently holds the copyright to all Electronic News copy (to the best of my knowledge), as far as I know, this blog content isn’t hosted anywhere else on the Internet, hence my reproduction here.

Original Comments

at 11/4/2005 12:16:34 PM, William Woodley said:

Good for you! I have the same beliefs after visiting China.

at 11/4/2005 12:41:45 PM, Mike Jones said:

There are a lot of people in the USA still operating with an ethnocentric mentality. This is a way of thinking that can’t imagine anyone else in the world having a valid idea or way of life different than ours. And our success has only fostered this kind of thinking because it is very easy to translate success into righteousness.

What is coming next is a worldcentric mentality. This viewpoint will be a result of globalization and its challenges. In general many Europeans and Asians are ahead of the game in this regard. The rightwing in the USA just does not like the fact that they are not the center of the universe.

It is much like what the Catholic Church had to go through when it was demonstrated that the earth was not the center of the universe. And the pain the USA will suffer may be no less. All right wingers take note: we live on planet Earth and the USA is not the Garden of Eden and you are not God’s chosen people. We are all related right down to our genetic material. Mike Jones mike@integralate.com

at 11/4/2005 12:45:47 PM, David Naegele said:

Jeff, First let me say that I have enjoyed everything that you have shared. I doubt I will ever have the chance, or time/money, to go that far away.

With that said, I must also say this about the anonymous postings. In the local news paper all letters to the editor must be signed. In this day of political correctness, many topics are off limits to anyone who wants to keep their job. Some things could easily be misconstrued by ideolouges and cost you a fortune defending yourself against what turns out to be perfectly legal actions. Innocent verdicts don’t restore your bank account.

Take a look into the actions of the BATF in recent years for some overly blatant abuses. There are many agendas being pushed, for good and not so good. I don’t want to get caught on the wrong side of somebody’s agenda. For this reason, letters to the editor once had a “name witheld by request”, but that is no longer the case. Yes, we too have freedom of speech in the U.S., but I don’t believe we have it in the media here either.

at 11/4/2005 12:49:47 PM, cmichaud@mcintoshlabs.com said:

RIGHT ON.WRITE ON !!!!

at 11/4/2005 1:05:29 PM, BobboMax (aka bfank@aol.com) said:

I also enjoyed those paragraphs that ended w/ neener, neener. My sentiments exactly. Things have gotten to the point that the atitudes expressed in the “Patriot Act” require honest patriots to step in front of the tanks in the Capitol Ma– um, ahh, I mean Tienanmen Square.

Some of us are going to get squashed, just like the men and women in Iraq, both Iraqis and Americans. It’s still true that blood is the price of freedom and it must bought again every generation. Buying oil with blood is another matter.

at 11/4/2005 1:05:37 PM, Joseph Kagan said:

Jeff I enjoyed reading all your articles. They made reading Electrinic News alot more interesting. I agree with your article “Let us set the record straight”. I was in China in May making a study of the dairy industry. My impresions of China were similar to yours. I wish you continued success in your work. Joe K.

at 11/4/2005 1:27:49 PM, P. C. Chen said:

Right On, Jeff! One learns sooner or later in life that whatever one does, there will always be people putting a negative twist to it for their own hangups. A lot of people these days seem very hung up on their own perception of the world, regardless of reality. My philosophy is that, as long as I do things to the best of my ability and with a clear conscience, I don’t really give a hoot to what some narrow-minded people might think or say.

Glad to see you think likewise. I enjoyed your columns very much. My admirations for staying cheerful and objective when in a very different cultural environment.

at 11/4/2005 1:29:42 PM, Herb Smith said:

I decry the religious repression in China, and also the government censorship and monitoring of various media. And yet…one of the best ways to change a repressive system is to expose it to capitalism, however imperfect THAT is. The Chinese government attempt to crush Christianity will also fail. The Church thrives on reporession. So China is going to change, and in ways the government will not be able to control.

at 11/4/2005 1:40:30 PM, Bob Duncan (in Dallas) said:

Jeff, thanks for sounding off against those gutless critics. I enjoy your insight into China and want to learn more about the country than just who’s in power today. Your blog has been terrific! Too bad you have to come back! I also share your concerns about the way our government is treating our personal liberties. Waving the flag and threatening us with terrorist attacks has helped the Bush crowd hide their rape of the American people, both our tax dollars and our privacy.

at 11/4/2005 6:40:10 PM, Al Giese said:

Hello Jeff, I have been enjoying reading your reports from China. I traveled to China in the very early years when the doors to China first opened (first trip in 1977) and sold Thermco Diffusion Furnaces through MEI in Beijing to the then small Semicionductor factory in Wuxi. In those days we traveled on simple and slow local trains and the best hotel in Beijing at that time was the Friendship Hotel. Only old timers will remember this hotel.

Needless to say there were no fancy restaurants, high speed trains and the best you could hope for as local transportation was an old Russian build Limosine with a poorly working heater in the deep of winter. The reason I’m sending this note is to express my full support for the position you have taken in the above article.

There are always some jokers that try to mess up business with narrow minded and arrogant political views. After these early business visits to China which were very successful, I didn’t believe that China would ever manage to build a Semiconductor business or any other high tech business. But I have to give them credit, with support from Beijing and from local Government agencies, it is an unbelieveable success story and as you have said, one has to visit the country to believe it.

The positive changes in business and the changes for the majority of the Chinese population are real and amazing, especially for one who has been there and observed the country 25 years ago. Jeff, please keep on writing. You are doing a great job and don’t let ignorant, narrow minded readers disturb you. Best regards Alfred W. Giese IBC,International Business Consultant

at 11/5/2005 1:45:09 AM, Jeff Chappell said: Wow. Rather just the opposite of the reaction I had expected. A gracious thank you to one and all.

at 11/5/2005 12:33:37 PM, Tom Murphy said:

Interesting observation about PR. I was a journalist for more than 10 years before I was laid off for the fourth time and then took a job in public relations. There were times in journalism were I was villified by readers for something I wrote. But I did not feel the true wrath of criticism until I was involved in client-vendor relations as a PR practitioner.

Even ten years of having rocks thrown at me as a journalist barely gave me thick enough skin to deal with the pressure here. People get fired based on the whims of an executive. That’s pressure. Journalists are protected by the first amendment and sometimes by a publication with a backbone. PR practicioners don’t have that and when you’re dealing with a publicly traded company and the entity’s shareholder value is on the line there is just a great deal at stake. That’s something I was never exposed to as a journalist but it is an experience that is highly valuable.

at 11/6/2005 2:25:13 PM, Clayton Werner said:

Onya Jeff! Too many of us from across the oceans see only the bad side of this North amero-centric push. The world is full of real people, different languages, cultures and the like, viva diversite’ (from the land of Oz) Clayton

at 11/6/2005 6:54:45 PM, Mei said:

Hello, I am Chinese, and love to read Jeff’s writings. What Jeff wrote here is quite to the point.

Sobering Realization in Shanghai

Travelling the Silicon RoadSHANGHAI — Well, we’re sitting in the Shanghai Hongqiao airport, waiting to board a flight to Xiamen.

The voyage along the Silicon Road is half over; two weeks down, two weeks to go. There is so much to write about in terms of this blog after traveling two weeks in China, I hardly know where to begin. I thought a few days’ break over the weekend would be good — a chance to ponder everything I’ve absorbed since I’ve been here.

But I’m still not sure where to begin.

One important thing I’ve realized the past few days in talking with people and conducting interviews is that I was coming close to making the same mistake that I think many Westerners make when they see a developed foreign country: they assume it’s just like the West.

Shanghai especially encourages this mistaken line of thinking, given its history and its present role as a port city key to international trade. If there is a laowai-friendly city (“laowai” means Caucasian foreigner to those of you haven’t been paying attention), it is Shanghai.

And I think I may have given some readers the idea that indeed China is just like America, only it’s crowded and they talk funny and eat strange things like donkey and dog. It’s true that China perhaps shares more similarities with the West than other Asian cultures — it is more open to Western ideas and ways of doing things.

But this is a culture that is thousands of years old, and like any culture that history permeates it even today, even as modern Chinese culture is shaped by modern-day influences, such as its Communist government, economic growth — and problems — and the related overcrowding in its cities. It is a very different place culturally from the West.

A Problem to Address?

Nowhere is the gap between the Chinese nouveau riche and poor evident than here in Shanghai. Yesterday I gave Tony the Interpreter the day off to go visit old college chums that he hasn’t had a chance to see in two years. Of course this was the day that China’s ATM network decided to give foreigners problems, forcing me to wander far and wide outside my hotel in search of an ATM that would work.

Not knowing where I was going, I just kind of wandered, keeping my eyes out for banks and ATMs. It’s something I think every traveler should do in a foreign city — maybe not the safest thing when alone, but you see the city in way that you won’t from the back of a taxi or train. I quickly realized that while homeless and urban poverty are a problem in many cities in the U.S., it is on a much bigger scale here.

My stroll around the hotel last night only confirmed that opinion. Tony showed back up around 6 p.m., and wanted to go see The Bund at night. The Bund is one of the old colonial sections of Shanghai, where the European architecture is evident, but surrounded by gleaming new skyscrapers and office towers, all lit up spectacularly in the evening. Right on the Huangpu river, The Bund is a popular destination for both foreign and Chinese tourists , and it’s a good place to buy a “Rolex” for about 100 yuan, or about $12.50.

So after playing tourist we returned to the hotel about 11 p.m. I decided I needed some fresh air — too much wine with dinner, and too many thoughts swirling around inside my head, and the air in the hotel felt stuffy. Our hotel was right outside the central train station, in a cluster of business class hotels, so I walked around the block, circumnavigating the train station. There were many homeless people camped out in doorways, under awnings and roof overhangs — any place that offered shelter. Local police walked among them with flashlights — looking for what, exactly, I don’t know — but otherwise seemed to leave them alone.

There was also the Shanghai version of ladies of the evening out and about, risking harsh punishment under Chinese law. They consequently dress very discreetly, as ordinary people, and often pretend to hand out flyers to local restaurants or hotels to travelers, until a business prospect wanders by. Then the sales pitch changes; I quickly ascertained, and Tony later confirmed, that laowai businessmen, which are rich by Chinese standards and often traveling alone, are preferred customers.

It was quite a contrast to walking around The Bund and around the Shikumen Road area of Shanghai, where Tony and I had hung out earlier in the week. Back in 1920 the Communist Party held its second national meeting in the Shikumen Road neighborhood; today it is a trendy, upscale place of bars, clubs, shopping centers and bistros, many of them offering Western fare. Shikumen, incidentally, means “new world” in English. Indeed.

My colleague from EB China, Alma Wang, described Shikumen Road in recommending it to me as “crowded by a swarm of Shanghai bourgeois and also hippies.” Throw in a bunch of Western tourists and business types, and it describes the area perfectly.

As China embarks on its next five-year plan, with one of its stated goals being to narrow the gap between rich and poor, I can’t help but think of Western history, and the many times the rise of a bourgeois class led to violent, bloody struggles between rich and the poor. You never hear it in the censored Chinese state media, and reports rarely make it into media outlets outside China, but this country has already had problems in recent years with economic-related riots.

Electronic News Travels to ChinaI’m growing rather fond of this country’s people and their culture, though, (not their government, so you right-wing types, just relax) and I hope that it manages to keep history from repeating itself here. I think from now on, when I hear some chip executive rave about Shanghai, I won’t be able to help but think about the people outside the Shanghai train station after dark. …

Editor’s Note: As explained at length elsewhere on this site, this is a blog entry of mine that originally appeared on the now-defunct Electronic News’ website, which is long gone. While its former sister pub Electronic Design News (EDN) currently holds the copyright to all Electronic News copy (to the best of my knowledge), as far as I know, this blog content isn’t hosted anywhere else on the Internet, hence my reproduction here.

Original Comments

at 10/24/2005 12:21:59 PM, VANNROX said:

I’m going back to China this friday. This will be my fifth trip this year. This one will be a long one. Three to four weeks. Believe it or not, I have taken to the multi course meals in the little private rooms, and the after dinner karaoke’s. The Chinese conduct their business quite well.

But it is MUCH different than western business practices. You MUST go native to successfully conduct business there. That is the only way to be successful. While I spend much of my time inShen Zhen, and Shunde (Foshan City). This trip will take me to Ningbo, Hang Zou (in Guangdong provence) and to Shijiazhuang in Hebai Provence.

I hate to say it, but their level of technology, and infrastructure is far superior to that of the US. Afterall, they have been on a construction and industry expansion for the last 20 years. When was the last time you saw two new high rise buildings under construction within one glance? In China, they are everywhere. In a drive from Shenzhen to Shunde, I counted over 300 on the trip and then stopped counting… Its a great place, with wonderful people.

at 10/24/2005 12:53:01 PM, Paul said:

I just returned to the States after living in Shanghai for over five years. One small correction to your article. XinTianDi means “new world”. That is the name of the shopping/entertainment area you were in. Shikumen is the traditional Shanghai house design style.

at 10/24/2005 1:28:34 PM, Billd said: There are a lot of clues in the media pointing to problems that China may be getting into problems relating to the widening disparity between rich and poor. It is interesting that it is a stated goal of the Chinese government to narrow that gap. However, how real can such effort be when the enfranchised class would have to sacrifice in an attempt to divide their wealth among an essentially infinite poorer class?

On the other had, communist philosophy is founded on the notion that such redistribution is the imperative. Further the PLA is largely recruited from the poorer classes, and has a history of social activism. This is the eternal economic conflict, but in China, conditions could make it nastier than usual, and with a flare up relatively soon. .

at 10/24/2005 2:27:18 PM, Xie said: Those people sleep around the train station might be migrant workers, haven’t settle down until they find jobs, or poor travelers that try to save the money of an overnight hotel stay while waiting for their train (sometimes it is in midnight or very early in the morning). They are temporal homeless. Not exactly like those in the States.

But on the other hand, the homeless people in the States seldom poise a threat to me, but these crowds around Chinese train station do bother me a bit since robbers tend to hide among them. A

t 10/24/2005 3:00:29 PM, Ron Bauerle said: Should your last sentence read “won’t be able to _not_ think about…”?

at 10/24/2005 5:51:08 PM, Mike said:

It wasn’t that long ago that I saw the very same sceen you’ve discribed. I was about 20 years old and I had arrived at the train station. I stepped over the homeless sleeping any and everywhere. I was met by, in this case, overt hookers. I saw a delta between the social classes as different as night and day. The only differene is that I was in NYC in the late 1970’s.

at 10/24/2005 6:31:37 PM, David-wang@ti.com said:

Welcome to ShangHai next time,I think more changes will be occured and you will enjoy it as your fatherland 🙂 at 10/25/2005 11:00:01 AM, Infogleaner said: A “man on the street” news report… This description of another side of Chinese life is what you seldom if ever hear of in mainstream media. Blog on, dude….let us see the truth throught your eyes….

at 10/25/2005 5:57:48 PM, Maurice in Shanghai said:

The train station is a pretty hectic, messy spot which takes some getting used to. Those homelss folks are moslty migrant workers waiting for their train to go back to their home towns, there’s a lot of migrant workers here. I do contract manufacturing in town and things are going very well. The electronics scene in Shanghai is vibrant, anyone in the business should make a point to get out here for a first hand look. Cheers, Maurice

at 10/25/2005 10:08:42 PM, Jeff Chappell said: I’m always amazed by what readers will read into a piece, things that aren’t explicitly there … but then people always tend to see what they want to see (and I’m not implying that I’m any different. But let me set the record straight: I didn’t say Shanghai wasn’t a beatiful, amazing, vibrant city in many respects. It is. As is China.

Nor did I mean to imply that the Chinese people are anything but warm, wonderful and amazing; they truly are. But Shanghai, and China at large, have a lot of problems to address as well, something the Chinese people will be the first to tell you. As for the folks outside the train station being migrant workers, I’m sure many of them were. But you’re talking to someone who has lived in several urban areas in the U.S., and someone who has been known to sleep in or outside of a train station or two in his youth, too cheap/poor to spring for a hostel or a hotel. I think I can tell the difference between a temporary homeless person and a truly homeless person — and like I said, I wandered some distance from the train station … and it’s not just Shanghai, you see this in Beijing and Shenyang as well.

at 10/25/2005 10:19:51 PM, Jeff Chappell said: Of course, you should know that communism as the Chinese have developed it is not really the same as the communism espoused by Marx and Lenin; indeed, I don’t think it is really communism at all, if it ever was.

The Chinese, are very pragmatic; much more so than us in the West, where ideology is more important. You can discuss politics with Chinese people all day, and “from each according to his ability, too each according to his needs” never comes up. I’ll be writing more about this in the days and weeks ahead, but I thhink in a nutshell, you could say that communism is a system that the Chinese found worked for them, for a time, and now it doesn’t, so they are changing that system. Many Chinese — common citizens on the street — still revere Mao Zedong as a great man, even while acknowledging that the Cultural Revolution was a horrendous disaster in which many people died.

I’m not saying that’s right; I’m not saying it’s wrong. I’m simply saying that it’s very hard for us in the West to understand this practical point of view, and I think it’s the source of many cultural misunderstandings and misgivings.

at 10/25/2005 10:26:22 PM, Jeff Chappell said: Yes, Ron, you were right. Thanks for the heads up.

at 10/30/2005 11:19:38 AM, Jim in Phoenx said: Re. your “I’m not saying that’s right, I’m not saying it’s wrong” comment about the killings during the Cultural Revolution, and how it’s difficult for Westerners to understand “this practical point of view.” It isn’t difficult to understand at all–it’s the same point of view that the US government takes with respect to killing foreigners to achieve an imperial goal, it’s the same viewpoint that anyone who makes a God of the state and then lets it decide what’s right and how to achieve it (just as long as they don’t have to pay with their own precious lives) thinks.

Very unprincipled of you to not take a stand on it–I guess you love the Chinese in general, but not as individuals–they all look alike and if a few miilion are killed, there are plenty more to take their place. And it sounds like plenty of them believe the same–so they truly are not so very different from many Americans. Or am I seeing what is not there in your blog? If so, continue to be amazed.

at 11/2/2005 9:19:28 PM, Jeff Chappell said: *sigh* … Yes, Jim in Phoenix, YOU ARE SEEING WHAT YOU WANT IN MY WORDS, AND NOT SEEING WHAT I SAID! It’s simple English: what I said was, I’m not saying that the Chinese reverence for Chairman Mao is right or wrong — NOWHERE did I say that the killing that took place during the Cultural Revolution was right or wrong, NOR DID I SAY OR IMPLY that the Chinese people in general think that the deaths that resulted from the Cultural Revolution was justified.

And it makes me laugh when you call me unprincipled, when people have died to ensure you have the right to free speech, and you don’t even have the guts to put your name to your words, when you exercise that right. …

Foreign Companies, Chinese Universities: a Win-Win

Travelling the Silicon RoadSHANGHAI — Relationships are paramount in Chinese culture, and in business as well as education the phrase “win-win” is often heard here.

And China is doing its best to get up to speed with the rest of the globe when it comes to technology. And the chip industry is excited about the burgeoning domestic market here.

So it is no surprise that foreign companies, including U.S. chipmakers and test and measurement suppliers, as well as European chipmakers, are partnering with universities here and throughout China as often as they are partnering with their Chinese business counterparts. Today Shanghai Jiao Tong University (SJTU) formally signed agreements with and unveiled engineering labs sponsored in part by Altera, STMicroelectronics, National Instruments (NI) and Embest Info &Tech, a Chinese company.

SJTU, first founded in 1896, is one of the oldest universities in the country, and considered one of China’s the premier schools for electrical engineering and electronics.

The aforementioned tech companies supplied state-of-the-art software and hardware for newly christened labs here in the School of Electronic Information and Electrical Engineering at SJTU. The companies, the students and professors agreed that it is a coveted win-win situation for all involved.

In the past, professors and instructors in the EE program at the school always relied on traditional engineering methods and testing techniques in their classes. With high-tech companies donating advanced technology, it gives instructors a chance to expose students to different methods, technologies and equipment, explained Shu Guo Hua, dean of the engineering labs at the school.

For example, with NI providing data acquisition boards as well as its flagship software LabVIEW, it gives professors and students alike exposure to virtual instrumentation, a relatively new concept for the Chinese electronics engineer, Shu said.

Furthermore, it gives the students a chance to work with equipment and practice applications that they will encounter in their professional lives once they leave SJTU, noted Professor Zhang Zhi Gang. It may even help bridge the gap between laboratory research and commercial applications, a problem that has plagued the country in the past and something it still grapples with today as it pursues economic reform.

“For a lot of young, smart students in China, this is a chance to know what a real company in the industry is doing,” Zhang said. “The advanced equipment also gives them a chance to realize their own ideas and projects, developing original intellectual property. “They can realize their imaginations on a state-of-the-art kit,” he added.

“This is great experience for when we graduate from here,” agreed Zheng Yexiu, an engineering student here. He plans to attend graduate school in the U.S. before returning to China, and he feels the new engineering labs at SJTU will give him a leg up in his graduate school applications.

Getting Into the Heads of Future Engineers

San Jose-based Altera Corp., through a Taiwanese partner, Terasic Technologies, supplied Cyclone II FPGAs and Nios II embedded processors for the development kits used in one lab here. Terasic in turn built and configured the kit’s board so that it could be used to expose students to multimedia technology, such as might be found in a set-top box or DVD player, explained CEO Sean Peng.

“In the past students didn’t have very good access to this type of technology,” Peng said. “Our goal is to give the students tools so that when they graduate, they know what to do.”

Similarly, France’s STMicroelectronics supplied Arm-based 32-bit STR7 MCUs, built into a development board kit by Shenzen, China-based company Embest, for yet another development lab at SJTU’s engineering school.

For the foreign companies involved, the motivations for participating in the programs and the benefits reaped, both tangible and intangible, are obvious.

As the university’s Shu observed, virtual instrumentation, which NI pioneered with its engineering software, is just in the beginning phase of adoption here in China. “We like to see more and more students familiar with the technology,” said Eric Xiang, an NI sales manager for Eastern China.

By cooperating in these joint programs, companies like NI, Altera and STMicro not only help encourage the development of qualified engineers – future prospective employees, even – but perhaps more directly, they see those engineers graduate with intimate knowledge of their respective companies’ methodologies, hardware and software.

Certainly a good idea; the students today at universities like SJTU will be tomorrow’s engineers and executives tasked with helping to meet China’s exploding demand for electronics. NI, which pursues a number of educational programs in the United States and elsewhere, is particularly active in China, said Xiang – it has similar program at Tsingua University in Beijing.

For programmable logic maker Altera, by cooperating with SJTU it is encouraging future system designers that will be familiar with its silicon. “I think this gives you an opportunity … to do complex system design,” Robert Blake, VP of product planning, said of the Altera-based development kits now at SJTU. It’s particularly important, because the functions of DSPs, MCUs and the like are converging at the system level, he suggested.

Arnaud Julienne, STMicro’s senior manager for its MCU segment in the Asia/Pacific region, offered similar logic for his company’s participation. While China is using primarily 8-bit MCUs in its domestic hardware right now, 32-bit chips, once the realm of high-end applications, are coming down in price, and a shift to 32-bit is coming, he said.

Electronic News Travels to ChinaWhile 8-bit won’t go away by any means, many cost-sensitive applications that were once the exclusive province of 8-bit technology will soon be able to use cost-effective 32-bit chips, he said. Certainly many 16-bit applications will see a conversion to 32-bit MCUs, he added.

That’s why STMicro donated the use of the STR7 in the lab development kits. It will be introducing tomorrow’s engineers to 32-bit technology while still in school. The program with SJTU is the first such program for STMicro in China, but not the last. “We’ll be doing more,” Julienne added.

Editor’s Note: As explained at length elsewhere on this site, this is a news story written by me that originally appeared on the now-defunct Electronic News’ website, which is long gone. It’s former sister pub Electronic Design News (EDN) currently holds the copyright to all Electronic News copy (to the best of my knowledge). You can still see a copy of this story at EDN.

May You Travel in Interesting Times

Travelling the Silicon RoadBEIJING — Being Americans, we sure picked an interesting time to send me to China. And I’m not just talking about what is happening in the semiconductor industry here.

Over the past nine months as I prepared off and on for this trip, one of my most frequently visited Websites has been China Daily’s English site. Naturally, I’ve been keeping tabs on what’s going on here in China beyond what I can see with my own eyes via China Daily online (we in the vanguard of the brave new world of online publishing have to support one another).

Let’s look at some of the top headlines today: China Cautions Yuan Moves, Urges U.S. Export More (that was the site’s lead story, as of this writing). U.S.-China Textile Talks Fail – U.S. Negotiator. U.S. Hails China’s 2nd Manned Space Mission. China Rejects U.S. Rights Report as Meddling. Arkansas Mother Gives Birth to 16th Child.

OK, that last one is apropos of absolutely nothing. But you see the common thread here, don’t you? The day before, those headlines would have included: Snow ‘Astonished’ by Changes in Shanghai (for those of you not up on current events, Snow refers to U.S. Treasury Secretary John Snow, here in China with a U.S. delegation to push for more reforms of China’s capital markets, the revaluation of the yuan, etc.,).

There’s so much to write about in terms of this blog, that I hardly know where to begin. I could post three or four long entries per day and still not touch on all there is to say.

In speaking with the secretary general of China’s Semiconductor Industry Association this morning, he discussed how he had just come back from a business trip to Japan. We talked a lot about how the United States and Japan — at least certain elements within our respective governments — view China as an emerging threat either economically or politically.

But Mr. Xu pointed out that a study conducted in Japan that concluded, based on a number of economic and social factors, that China’s economy is about where Japan’s was in the 1960s. The first thing that flashed through my mind was the launch of China’s Shenzhou VI spacecraft yesterday; it was in the 1960s that the Soviet Union first launched men into orbit, followed closely by the United States; we eventually overtook the U.S.S.R. in the race for the moon.

Then, later in the conversation, Xu cited the launch of the Shenzhou spacecraft as an example of what China can accomplish when it sets its collective mind to the task. He likened China’s resolve to reach space to its resolve to bring its semiconductor industry into the 21st century. Again, I thought of the United States space program in the 1960s; we were hopelessly behind the Russians when President Kennedy pushed us into the space race.

And yet look what we were able to accomplish. I think China can accomplish great things too, both in space, and with its chip industry. But as everyone has made clear to me here — government officials, entrepreneurs, executives, students and people on the street — China recognizes that it needs help to get there and actively wants that help. And unlike the United States and its former rival, its people don’t seem to have an interest in dominating the world, they just want what’s best for China, managing a country of 1.3 billion people and growing, as it emerges from the shadow of the Cultural Revolution and transitions to a market-based economy.

Engaging in Dinner Diplomacy

It occurred to me today that as a stranger in a strange land (not all that strange, really) I’m on a diplomatic mission of sorts, whether I realized it or not — the Chinese are just as curious about Americans, as we are about them, and they want to know what’s going on over there, as much as we want to know what’s going on over here.

And just as my preconceived notions are breaking down, I’ve done my share of American myth busting. Like for example today, I had to explain to my interpreter, Tony (that’s his Western name, his real name is Zhike), that no, not every American owns a gun, and we don’t run around shooting each other all the time at the drop of a hat.

I had to tell him that I did not own a gun — never have even fired one, in fact. Furthermore, I told him that no one I know owns a handgun, and if you factor out the people that hunt deer and such (do know a few of those), gun ownership on the whole is uncommon in most parts of the country.

He seemed quite surprised by this; I suggested that he not believe everything he sees or reads in the media (and no, the irony is not lost on me). I also pointed out that I think everyone everywhere has preconceived notions about foreign lands to which they have never been.

But then apparently there is more to knowing a country and a people than just visiting, or even living there. I had dinner last night with one of my colleagues from Electronic Business China, Wang Xiao Dan (Alma to us laowai), and her fiancé Dong Ming.

Ming had studied abroad for several years at the University of Maryland before coming back to China to be an urban planner, a job which keeps him busy with all the growth here in his native land. We were talking about myths and preconceived notions that Westerners have about China and its people, and how the Chinese are nothing if not pragmatic, and that communism as the Chinese practice it really had nothing to do with ideology and never did. He relayed a story about once meeting an editor from the Wall Street Journal that had lived in China 10 years, and an argument that they had about Mao Zedong.

Electronic News Travels to ChinaThen he told me that he had the impression that I understood China better, having just been here a few days, than this guy had after living here a decade. I was flattered, shocked even, and wasn’t sure what to say. I had to point out that while I pride myself on an open mind, and the fact that I’m a reasonably good observer of the human creature, I had my own preconceived notions about China.

So as my first week in China draws to a close, and I sit in a train rattling through the night from Beijing to Shenyang, I hope that I can continue to live up to Ming’s estimation in the weeks ahead.

Original Comments

Editor’s Note: As explained at length elsewhere on this site, this is a blog entry of mine that originally appeared on the now-defunct Electronic News’ website, which is long gone. While its former sister pub Electronic Design News (EDN) currently holds the copyright to all Electronic News copy (to the best of my knowledge), as far as I know, this blog content isn’t hosted anywhere else on the Internet, hence my reproduction here.

at 10/13/2005 2:59:12 PM, Jim Schuessler said:

I appreciate your transparency Jeff. Your experience brings to mind very similar first impressions from my initial visit just one year ago. The enthusiasm and directness of the Chinese I met on the street contrasted sharply with my preconceived notion of how Asian cultures behaved. These people had passion for life I could relate to!

You mentioned the increasing income disparities the Government is concerned about — one image that sticks in my mind is a BMW 7-series slowly passing a horse drawn cart on a new Shanghai boulevard. You need pictures on this blog! I hope you have a good camera. The pictures I took are a terrific memory jogger. (If you post your email address, I would like to send you the link.)

Kudos to the editors of Electronic News for funding your trip — it is the most engaging fare I’ve ever seen in it’s “pages”.

at 10/14/2005 8:14:36 AM, nelson hoffman said:

with the enthusiasm of the people and government policies tosupport that enthusiasm, is there any chance Americans can produce electronic products considering China’s tremendous cost advantage?