Tag Archives: china

What does China *really* know about cutting-edge technology, anyway?

Left: a Seagate factory in Wuxi, China

A couple of anecdotes to remember before accepting the conventional wisdom that all China is good for is mass-producing (or copying) non-Chinese tech products (i.e. iPhones):

From Seymour Hersh’s recent New Yorker piece examining the hype of cyber-warfare:

A few weeks after Barack Obama’s election, the Chinese began flooding a group of communications links known to be monitored by the N.S.A. with a barrage of intercepts, two Bush Administration national-security officials and the former senior intelligence official told me. The intercepts included details of planned American naval movements. The Chinese were apparently showing the U.S. their hand.

“The N.S.A. would ask, ‘Can the Chinese be that good?’ ” the former official told me. “My response was that they only invented gunpowder in the tenth century and built the bomb in 1965. I’d say, ‘Can you read Chinese?’ We don’t even know the Chinese pictograph for ‘Happy hour.’ ”

And today’s New York Times, on a Chinese research center building a supercomputer that outclocks the current one by 40 percent.

Modern supercomputers are built by combining thousands of small computer servers and using software to turn them into a single entity. In that sense, any organization with enough money and expertise can buy what amount to off-the-shelf components and create a fast machine.

The Chinese system follows that model by linking thousands upon thousands of chips made by the American companies Intel and Nvidia. But the secret sauce behind the system — and the technological achievement — is the interconnect, or networking technology, developed by Chinese researchers that shuttles data back and forth across the smaller computers at breakneck rates, Mr. Dongarra said.

“That technology was built by them,” Mr. Dongarra said. “They are taking supercomputing very seriously and making a deep commitment.”

The Chinese interconnect can handle data at about twice the speed of a common interconnect called InfiniBand used in many supercomputers.

Who better understands freedom of the press? An Apple supplier, or Chinese state police?

A Reuters reporter tried to photograph, from the street, a Foxconn plant that was rumored to be manufacturing parts for Apple products. Foxconn guards chased him, stopped the taxi he tried to escape in, and tried to drag him into the factory while beating him.

Who saved the reporter? Chinese police, who had to remind Foxconn guards that it is legal to take pictures from a public street.

In China, a Reuters reporter found out the hard way how seriously some Apple suppliers take security.

Tipped by a worker outside the Longhua complex that a nearby Foxconn plant was manufacturing parts for Apple too, our correspondent hopped in a taxi for a visit to the facility in Guanlan, which makes products for a range of companies.

As he stood on the public road taking photos of the front gate and security checkpoint, a guard shouted. The reporter continued snapping photos before jumping into a waiting taxi. The guard blocked the vehicle and ordered the driver to stop, threatening to strip him of his taxi license.

The correspondent got out and insisted he was within his rights as he was on the main road. The guard grabbed his arm. A second guard ran over, and with a crowd of Foxconn workers watching, they tried dragging him into the factory.

The reporter asked to be let go. When that didn’t happen, he jerked himself free and started walking off. The older guard kicked him in the leg, while the second threatened to hit him again if he moved. A few minutes later, a Foxconn security car came along but the reporter refused to board it. He called the police instead.

After the authorities arrived and mediated, the guards apologized and the matter was settled. The reporter left without filing a complaint, though the police gave him the option of doing so.

“You’re free to do what you want,” the policeman explained, “But this is Foxconn and they have a special status here. Please understand.”

The rest of the article is quite interesting and asserts that Apple’s obsession with secrecy permeates into its supply chain, causing each supplier to be extremely stringent with their employees and goods.

Last year, a Foxconn employee in China jumped to his death, reportedly after being interrogated by his employer on suspicion of sneaking out an iPhone prototype. The blame can’t be placed all on Apple, as this Reuters article from July 2009 points out: Chinese counterfeiters, and lack of enforcement of intellectual property laws, makes the theft of product a bit more damaging to the bottom line.

As for whether secrecy itself makes an Apple product more desirable…I’ve known about the iPad for a month, with all of its shortcomings. I’m still thinking about getting one. The problem is the product iterations; I waited for the new iPod model because I assumed it had a camera. If it leaked out that the new iPod touch was a minor increment, I would’ve gotten my Canon S90 point-and-shoot a lot earlier…

China: Science, and “Avatar”

A couple of interrelated China articles on today’s NYT.com:

The first is a discussion on its “Room for Debate” blog on whether China will become a leader in science. The first writer, Gordon G. Chang, is a harsh skeptic:

China’s one-party state cannot produce world-class historians, economists, political thinkers or even demographers. Beijing’s increasing demand for obedience smothers creativity in many of the social sciences and “soft” disciplines.

Meanwhile, in the World section, there’s an article titled China to Pull Back ‘Avatar’ for Domestic Film .

“Avatar,” the Hollywood blockbuster that has proven wildly popular with Chinese moviegoers, will be pulled in the next few days from the majority of Chinese theaters where it is showing, Chinese media outlets reported Tuesday.

The film, which can be viewed in standard format or in 3-D, will be yanked from theaters without 3-D technology in order to make way for a domestically produced biography of Confucius, according to reports in state-controlled media that mainly quote theater operators.

“Avatar” seemed like the one feature that could overcome the alleged depressing effect that China’s piracy has on ticket sales. Personally, I can’t imagine “Avatar” being worthwhile at all except for seeing it in 3D on the big screen. Chinese culture bureaucrats apparently don’t think a movie about one of their country’s greatest philosophers can attract more yuan than a movie about half-naked blue people. They’re probably right; a movie featuring George Washington traveling forward in time to kill Hitler probably would draw less American viewers than “Avatar.” But let the people decide, and let the moviemakers be pushed to innovate (a 2009 foreign language movie about Brad Pitt launching an operation to kill Hitler didn’t do too shabby, thanks to a ballsy director).

Science is a different field than art, but it’s hard to believe that the heavy-handed mindset that quashes innovation in one field won’t hesitate to do it in the other.

Google publicly calls out China over hacking of human rights advocates’ accounts

On the Google Blog, Google’s chief legal counsel David Drummond reveals that a “highly sophisticated and targeted” attack on its corporate infrastructure was traced back to China. The objective, Google believes, was to compromise the GMail accounts of Chinese human-rights activists (two were accessed, Google believes, with no actual content revealed).

This attack has apparently put a bug in Google’s conscience; Drummond writes that they are no longer willing to self-censor Google.cn:

These attacks and the surveillance they have uncovered–combined with the attempts over the past year to further limit free speech on the web–have led us to conclude that we should review the feasibility of our business operations in China. We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on Google.cn, and so over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all. We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down Google.cn, and potentially our offices in China.