Archive for ‘innovation’


Japan’s Abe and China’s Xi Jinping meet amid trade war fears

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (R) shakes hands with Chinese President Xi JinpingImage copyright AFP

Chinese President Xi Jinping has met Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at a time of warming ties between the two nations.

Relations have historically been strained, but concerns over US trade policy and North Korea’s nuclear programme have shifted them closer.

The two leaders met on the sidelines of the forthcoming G20 summit in Japan.

“I want to open up a new age of Japan-China relations hand in hand with President Xi,” Mr Abe told reporters.

The pair agreed to work together to promote “free and fair trade” following a “very frank exchange”, a Japanese official said.

It is the first official visit Mr Xi has made to Japan since becoming president in 2013. At the outset of their talks on Thursday, Mr Abe invited him to return on a state visit next year.

“Around the time of the cherry blossoms next spring, I would like to welcome President Xi as a state guest to Japan,” he said. “[I] hope to further elevate ties to the next level.”

What did the leaders discuss?

Japan and China are by far Asia’s largest economies and the talks on Thursday focused strongly on business.

Last year, the two sides signed a deal to maintain annual dialogue and to co-operate on innovation. This time around, officials say, they pledged to develop a “free and fair trading system” in a “complicated” global economic landscape.

Media caption North Korea has been called out for evading UN sanctions

Another topic on the schedule would probably have been North Korea. While China is North Korea’s biggest trading partner, both Tokyo and Beijing want it to abandon its nuclear programme.

Mr Abe has only very limited leverage on the matter and will try to sway both the US and China to keep Tokyo’s interests in mind in any negotiations.

The G20 summit will begin on Saturday, but the main meeting is likely to be overshadowed by the many bilateral talks that are set to happen on the sidelines.

For example, Mr Xi will meet President Trump as China and the US try to resolve their trade dispute.

Do Japan and China get along?

In the past, relations have been tense. While the two countries do have close trade ties, politically things have been much more fragile.

Japanese and Chinese flagsImage copyright EPA
Image caption Japan and China have not always had warm relations

Japan’s World War Two occupation of parts of China remains a very emotional issue. There are also several ongoing territorial disputes between Tokyo and Beijing.

But tensions with Washington over its protectionist trade policy have driven Japan and China into an unlikely friendship.

In 2018, Mr Abe hailed his high-profile visit to Beijing as an historic turning point. Both leaders have since promised to establish positive, constructive, relations.

Source: The BBC


Does top-down, state-led innovation work? Just ask Silicon Valley

  • In 2017 alone, China’s central and local governments allocated US$7.7 billion in subsidies to both carmakers and buyers
  • But how big should the state’s role be in fostering innovation?
China has fostered development of its own technologies for decades, and the continuing trade war with the US makes it more imperative than ever. Illustration: Yan Jing Tian
China has fostered development of its own technologies for decades, and the continuing trade war with the US makes it more imperative than ever. Illustration: Yan Jing Tian
It was the 1950s and 60s, a time of high tension among the superpowers.
As one national government was funding elite research institutes and enlisting its country’s top scientific minds to develop military technology, it likely had little inkling the move would form the basis of a broader, civilian technology industry in the coming decades.
The force behind this state-led initiative – a style of innovation commonly associated with China – was the US government, which seeded California’s Silicon Valley with funding for military research at Stanford University.

It was there that the dean of engineering, Frederick Terman, actively encouraged students to launch companies to exploit these technologies for profit – the most famous of his disciples being Hewlett-Packard founders Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard.

“Most people who came here after the 1980s just assumed it’s all silicon and chips,” said Steve Blank, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and adjunct professor at Stanford.

“But innovation in Silicon Valley actually started in Stanford University, thanks to a single professor who changed the entire culture.”

After the second world war, Terman, whose background was in electrical engineering, drew upon his wartime experience heading a radio research lab at Harvard to help turn Stanford into a top-tier university specialising in electronic warfare and with government contracts.

“Americans are not smarter than the Chinese. The only thing that holds China back, is that the nature of dissent and creativity are related.”Steve Blank, Silicon Valley entrepreneur

Since then, Silicon Valley has been seen as the mecca of technology innovation, producing some of the world’s largest tech companies, such as Intel, Amazon, Facebook and Google.

The region has been lauded for its culture and openness, with countries globally hoping to learn from its success and emulate it by design.

“There’s something special that happens in a city or a region when people are able to pursue new ideas in a very free way,” said Eric Ries, author of the book The Lean Startup.

“When I first came to Silicon Valley, I had a failed start-up on my resume … nobody saw that as a negative, they saw it as a sign that I showed initiative, tried to do something new.

“It’s not that Silicon Valley embraces failure, but it has a different understanding of the likelihood of success of anything new.”

The fact that Silicon Valley also had its beginnings in federal funding suggests that the state has an important role to play when it comes to fostering innovation.

Countries like China, Singapore and Israel have sought to emulate Silicon Valley’s success by designing strategies at a government level to encourage entrepreneurship and innovation.

The US government seeded California’s Silicon Valley with funding for military research at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. Photo: Alamy
The US government seeded California’s Silicon Valley with funding for military research at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. Photo: Alamy

For China, the need to foster innovation comes at a critical time. The country is caught in an escalating trade and tech war with the US.

As the two nations slap billions in tariffs on each other, the US has also moved to cut off some Chinese technology firms from accessing US technology, with the country’s 5G champion, Huawei Technologies, directly in the firing line.

Why China’s top-down approach can only take tech innovation so far

The Chinese government has now vowed to double down on developing core competencies, including semiconductor manufacturing – a central part of its Made in China 2025 plan which aims to locally produce 70 per cent of the chips the country needs within 10 years.

But Silicon Valley’s history and China’s push in state-led innovation also beg the question: how much of a role does the state play in fostering innovation?

China’s efforts to strengthen its indigenous technology have been ongoing for several decades.

The first big push to boost modern technology capabilities came during the 1980s, putting in place the Torch programme – resulting in Zhongguancun Science Park in Beijing and a variety of other parks across the country.

The period also saw the establishing of the 973 and 863 programmes, which focused on developing basic research and hi-tech R&D, respectively.

The world’s fastest supercomputer, Tianhe-2, and China’s self-developed spacecraft, Shenzhou, were among the fruits of the 863 programme, which was set up in 1988, while 1997’s 973 programme funded research projects in agriculture, energy, material science and other areas.

US and China’s mutual distrust is hampering tech innovation, experts fear

In 2006, China proposed a 15-year road map for the nation to join the ranks of innovation-oriented countries by the end of 2020. Science and research spending would rise above 2.5 per cent of GDP under the guide to future goals, known as the National Medium to Long-Term Plan for Science and Technology Development.

The master plan identified industries, technologies and research areas such as energy, biotech, human health and diseases that were considered of “utmost importance to the technological advancement of China”.

These goals were elaborated on in three separate five-year plans, the blueprint for China’s social and economic policies, and translated to a string of government efforts in building the infrastructure to support the country’s technology ambitions.

Screens show Chinese President Xi Jinping speaking at an international economic forum in St. Petersburg, Russia on June 7. Xi has called for the construction of an “innovation-driven economy” to make China a global innovation leader by 2035. Photo: EPA-EFE
Screens show Chinese President Xi Jinping speaking at an international economic forum in St. Petersburg, Russia on June 7. Xi has called for the construction of an “innovation-driven economy” to make China a global innovation leader by 2035. Photo: EPA-EFE

This came in the form of industrial estates and the Thousand Talents plan to nurture and attract talent back to the country, not to mention a wealth of funding that ranged from research grants and subsidies to tax cuts for the private sector and academia.

China’s tech ambitions strengthened under President Xi Jinping, who, on numerous occasions, has called for the construction of an “innovation-driven economy” to make the country a global innovation leader by 2035.

An important initiative under Xi’s leadership was Made in China 2025. First announced in 2015, the programme called for upgrading China’s manufacturing model to better take on the US in strategic industries such as robotics, aerospace and new-energy vehicles.

Can China’s tech industry innovate its way to leadership?

These efforts have boosted some of Beijing’s favoured industries, turning them into rivals of global peers. In 2001, China identified electric vehicles (EV) as a major technology.

Sixteen years later, Shenzhen company BYD has become the world’s biggest EV maker, and a crop of start-ups including WM Motor, Xpeng Motors and the US-listed NIO have joined the race with funding from some of the country’s biggest tech companies and property developers.

In 2017 alone, China’s central and local governments allocated US$7.7 billion in subsidies to both carmakers and the consumers who bought their vehicles, cementing the country’s position as the world’s largest EV market.

Some 770,000 EVs were made and sold in China in 2017, compared with just 199,000 in the US that year.

The planning for domestic integrated circuit (IC) production, a strategically important sector identified in the 15-year programme, was further developed in the 12th and 13th five-year plans.

Those concepts grew into an industry involving over 20,000 researchers that aimed to reduce reliance on foreign chip technology, according to China’s Ministry of Science and Technology in 2017.

Yet, as self-reliance is more relevant than ever to China amid the tech war, it still lags behind the US and Taiwan in chip making, despite the billions of dollars in state backing the sector has received.

China’s semiconductor industry needs more than 10 years to catch up with global peers, Jay Huang Jie, founding partner of Jadestone Capital and former Intel managing director in China, said in May.

Some have pointed to China’s tech gap with the US as evidence that the Asian giant does not have what it takes to achieve technological competitiveness.

China, however, is still in the early stages when it comes to developing technology, according to Andy Mok, senior research fellow at the Centre for China and Globalisation, a Beijing-based non-government think tank.

A visitor at the Consumer Electronics Show in Shanghai on June 11 checks a Huawei 3D Virtual Reality headset. Huawei, China’s 56 champion, is feeling the brunt of US efforts to cut Chinese tech firms’ access to US technology amid the trade war. Photo: AFP
A visitor at the Consumer Electronics Show in Shanghai on June 11 checks a Huawei 3D Virtual Reality headset. Huawei, China’s 56 champion, is feeling the brunt of US efforts to cut Chinese tech firms’ access to US technology amid the trade war. Photo: AFP

“A lot of research universities in the US – like MIT, Caltech – they’ve had decades of operations [since the second world war and the cold war],” said Mok.

“It’d be quite a myth to say that the US system is so successful technologically because of its political or economic system.”

While semiconductors may not have been a top priority for China until recently, threats of a tech cold war which could cut off the country from US technology, including chips, mean China will double down on developing its own proprietary technology.

In the short term, China could fall further behind the US, Mok said.

Uninspiring Apple shows the US’ best tech days are behind it

“Some of these indigenously produced components were a ‘nice to have’ but not a ‘must-have’ before … it was one priority among many,” Mok said. “Will China’s chips be cutting edge? Probably not, but they will be good enough to be used in the short term.”

But while state-led innovation has helped drive industries, broadly labelling China’s technology achievements as state-driven could be an inaccurate generalisation, said Zhang Jun, dean of the School of Economics at Fudan University and director of the China Centre for Economic Studies, a Shanghai-based think tank.

Some of the more notable innovations in China – like mobile payments – took place on the application level and were driven by private companies such as Alibaba and Tencent.

Alibaba owns the South China Morning Post.

“These companies succeeded by banking on the huge consumer market in China in the internet age,” Zhang said.

Zhang pointed out that while the state did not actively drive those innovations, it too contributed by giving the companies leeway to experiment instead of immediately regulating the industries, which could have stifled innovation.

How the US trade war has accelerated China’s rise

China’s state support comes primarily in basic science and core technology, where it needs to play catch-up with countries like the US, and in the form of investment in universities and research labs that is likely to accelerate due to the trade war with the US.

“Basic scientific research will still rely on the state’s continuous investment into the academic field and into nurturing talents, but in terms of the application of the technology, the government will need to work with the market, and control less,” Zhang said.

Researchers wearing suits work inside a semiconductor fabrication lab. China is 10 years behind the US in chips, according to one expert. Photo: AFP
Researchers wearing suits work inside a semiconductor fabrication lab. China is 10 years behind the US in chips, according to one expert. Photo: AFP

Countries that adopt a largely top-down approach to innovation are not uncommon.

In Singapore, a tiny island-nation that lacks natural resources, the Economic Development Board has been instrumental in providing grants and incentives to small business, including low-rent office space for start-ups.

The country also has a nationally-supported artificial intelligence programme called AI Singapore, which is aimed at fostering AI research and talent and bringing private and public sectors closer together when it comes to AI applications.

Israel, which has billed itself as a start-up nation, also has a central agency in charge of planning and executing its innovation policy.

It can also trace its leadership in cybersecurity to the Israel defence forces, whose military intelligence unit 8200 has trained and provided a lot of the manpower for the civilian sector.

Ultimately, despite the role the US and Chinese governments play in driving their respective tech ecosystems, many other factors contribute to the flourishing of an innovation cluster, including private capital and a culture that accepts failure and allows individuals to exercise creativity.

“Getting the state out of the tech ecosystem should be the goal for private capital to take over,” said Stanford’s Blank. “At some point, the government needs to let go.”

Federal funding in the US helped get technology and innovation off the ground in Silicon Valley, but once venture capital started to flow into the region, a culture where innovation was left to the entrepreneurs and tech talent was created.

Blank pointed out that culture also has a big part to play. The US, for example, encourages individualism. Furthermore, in technology hubs like Silicon Valley, Boston and New York, failure is seen as good experience rather than as shameful.

“Americans are not smarter than the Chinese,” said Blank. “The only thing that holds China back, is that the nature of dissent and creativity are related.”

“Great entrepreneurs, great founders are dissidents. Steve Job was a dissident, Elon Musk is a dissident,” he said.

“They tell the status quo, the leadership of whatever industry they’re in that they’re wrong. In the US, that’s in fact part of our culture and we encourage that, but in China you can only do that within the bounds of what the [Communist] Party allows you to do.”

However, Mok disagrees. “Many of the most valuable US companies today are seen as tech leaders because they were able to piggyback on US hegemony,” he said. “If you could win in the US, you could probably win everywhere else.”

Source: SCMP


Taiwan begins mass production of home-grown missile corvettes, minelayers

  • Self-ruled island cannot match Beijing’s spending, but innovation can help it succeed in a one-sided military conflict, observers say
  • First of Tuo Jiang-class stealth warships expected to be ready by 2021
Taiwan began mass production of its Tuo Jiang-class missile corvettes on Friday. Photo: Handout
Taiwan began mass production of its Tuo Jiang-class missile corvettes on Friday.

Taiwan has begun mass production of its home-grown Tuo Jiang-class missile corvettes and high-speed minelayers as it seeks to shore up its naval forces amid rising hostility from Beijing.

Dubbed the “aircraft carrier killer”, the small but powerful corvette, which has a displacement of 680 tonnes and a top speed of 45 knots, is a state-of-the-art stealth warship built by Lung Teh Shipbuilding.

A total of three corvettes will be built under the NT$31.6 billion (US$1 billion) Hsun Hai project, the self-ruled island’s navy said.

The warship is equipped with one of the world’s most technologically advanced computer systems and built partly with high-entropy metal alloys for extra strength and durability, it said. Its stealth technology and low radar cross section makes the ship virtually invisible at sea and even more obscure when operating close to the coastline.
Armed with eight subsonic Hsiung Feng II and eight supersonic Hisung Feng III anti-ship missile launchers, the corvettes are intended to take over many of the missions currently undertaken by larger, less manoeuvrable and more expensive frigates and destroyers, the navy said.
In the event of an actual armed conflict with Beijing, the warships would also boost Taiwan’s ability to counter a much larger and better equipped rival, a concept known as asymmetric warfare.
Taiwan simulates repelling invasion as Beijing threat persists

In a ceremony on Friday at Lung Teh’s shipyard in Suao, Yilan county, to mark the start of mass production, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said the move was made possible after the navy succeeded in overcoming a number of design and technological issues regarding the warship, an earlier version of which she boarded soon after becoming the island’s leader in 2016.

Together with the construction of the high-speed minelayers, also by Lung Teh, and a home-grown submarine at a separate shipyard in Kaohsiung, Tsai said Taiwan was entering a “new era” of naval strength that would give it the ability to thwart any attempts by the People’s Liberation Army to invade its territory.

“This proves we are able to build our own warships and launch a new era of the naval force,” she said.

Construction of the Tuo Jiang-class corvettes was under way, with the first expected to be ready for delivery to the navy in 2021 and the last by 2025, Tsai said.

The first batch of four minelayers would also be ready by 2021, she said.

Taiwan has sought to counter the rising threat from mainland China by developing more of its own military hardware in recent years. Beijing’s military budget for 2019 is 1.2 trillion yuan, or about 16 times as much as Taiwan’s.

Beijing considers Taiwan a wayward province awaiting reunification, by force if necessary, and suspended all official exchanges with it after Tsai, from the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party, was elected president and refused to accept the one-China principle.

Experts doubt China’s ability to launch assault on Taiwan

Over the past three years Tsai has prioritised Taiwan’s military expansion, ordering the Chungshan Institute of Science and Technology – the island’s top weapon research and development agency – to speed up production of weapons like the surface-to-air Skybow-III and supersonic anti-ship Hsiung Feng-III missiles.

Taiwan is also expected next year to begin mass production of its CM-34 Clouded Leopard eight-wheeled armoured vehicles and has set a target to manufacture 284 of them by 2023.

Four prototypes of the vehicles, which passed pre-production tests in October, are expected to take part in the island’s annual Han Kuang war games next week.

Chieh Chung, a national security research fellow at the National Policy Foundation in Taipei, said that because of the huge discrepancies in their military budgets Taiwan could not engage in an arms race with the mainland so had to be more innovative.

“Taiwan has to develop an asymmetric defence strategy,” he said. “Take the Tou Jiang corvettes, for example. Because of their high speed, stealth function, small size and powerful weaponry, they can be deployed anywhere near Taiwan’s coast and called into action very quickly to fend off enemy vessels,” he said.

“The same applies to the high-speed minelayers, which can drop mines very quickly and make it very hard for enemy ships to attack the coast,” he said.

Source: SCMP


India eco-school: Is this the greenest campus on Earth?

Image captionThe school’s surrounding mountainous landscape is almost devoid of vegetation as it is above the tree line

Secmol is a school pioneering practical green education in one of the world’s harshest environments.

Its campus is perched nearly 11,000ft (3,350m) up in the pre-Himalayan mountains along the Indus River in Ladakh, in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir.

Road sign

The teenage pupils at Secmol (Students’ Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh) lack wi-fi and almost all phone coverage, in an area only accessible by air during the long harsh winter when deep snow renders roads out of the province impassable.

The surrounding mountainous landscape is almost devoid of vegetation as it is above the tree line.

Drone footage of schoolImage copyrightSUMEDH CHAPHEKAR

The school even sets its own time zone to maximise sunlight, which also reminds every student and visitor that when they pass the gates they are entering a different world.

Pupils are all from the regular Ladakhi school system and only those who have failed their year 10 exams are permitted to attend. There are also a number of university students who form a core part of the community along with the teachers.

Child helping prepare food in kitchen

School director Konchok Norgay explained to the BBC that the students learn about the environment for an hour or two each day.

In a typical maths lesson, they may calculate if the water from the spring is enough for tree planting, or work out the efficiency of the solar cooker that they use for heating water.

Mirrors used to harness the sun's intense heat

The solar cooker looks impressive, with mirrors crafted to catch the harsh sunlight, focusing their power to create intense heat.

But it is currently only used to boil water for tea.

Water is boiled using natural light

Norgay proudly showed off his experimental biogas methane digester, which is powered by slurry.

Dung is mixed with water and then placed in a long tube and left for several days.

Secmol's director Konchok Norgay

The gas rises to the top, and is filtered through steel wool to ensure the gas does not corrode the oven, before reaching a plastic inflatable reserve tank.

“It’s fantastic as not only do you use less commercial gas, but you use natural materials instead,” student Stanzin Sungrab says. “And we can use the slurry waste as fertiliser in the kitchen garden.”

Each student must perform daily responsibility shifts and develop their confidence with nightly presentations to the rest of the school and visitors.

Stanzin has spent many hours developing relationships with Karjama, Thotkar and Sheyma, the campus cows.

Cow shed

When students are not on the 04:00 breakfast preparation shift, the day starts at 07:00 with a seven-minute group meditation.

Students are encouraged to focus on goals for the day over a meal of cold roti bread and homemade apricot jam.

The apricot stones are sent to a neighbouring monastery, where the kernels are recycled into apricot oil.

apricot seeds for recycling

Innovation is hard-wired into the architecture of the campus, challenged by an environment where winter temperatures typically reach -15C to -25C, and summer can often peak at 30C.

Ladakh has longstanding environmental credentials – even if the recent sprouting of large concrete hotels and increasing pollution in the capital Leh are challenging its green record.

“We banned plastic bags here 30 years ago,” says Sonam Gatso, who operates a local green organisation.

Sonam also believes local Buddhist culture helps promote environmental awareness. “We try to be compassionate as we believe in Karma – cause-and-effect. If you do wrong to anyone else or the environment, wrong will come to you.”

Girl peels eggs

Secmol is an impressive school, but how far can its lessons extend beyond its innovative but isolated campus?

Urgain Nurbu, a former Secmol student who is now living on campus again, has been so inspired by what he learnt that he organised an environmental youth camp in his remote village.

College student Urgain Nurbu

The camp-goers make rain jackets from old plastic, and Urgain invites environmental speakers to inspire the young people.

One graduate has started her own eco-travel company, another makes environmentally-themed films.

Shara, an architectural student, is now experimenting with creating pre-fabricated building blocks from mud, wood shavings and straw.


She is part of a team designing a new university in the area which plans to teach eco-tourism and green architecture, scaling the influence of ideas nurtured in Secmol’s pioneering atmosphere.

For now, the school’s impact is achieved by transforming individual mindsets to create a sense of shared responsibility.

“My grandfather told me how quiet and beautiful our village used to be and there were fish in the river,” student Padma Doma told the BBC.

“That’s why it’s so important to me to protect our precious environment. In the future, maybe it can be like that again.

Padma Dolma shows food box

“I want to go home and convince my family to segregate their garbage. Will they listen? Perhaps not, but I will try, and if I see somebody throwing away a packet, I will pick it up.”

Stanzin feels this is “a really critical time for our planet”.

“In our homes we throw away garbage but here we recycle. In our homes we throw away plastic but here we use it for insulation.”

As the environment is so harsh, Ladakhis are very conscious of subtle changes in the weather, and have become increasingly aware of climate change, he says.

“Last year, we didn’t have much snow so there’s not enough snowmelt in the springtime. Because we are so high up and everything must be treasured, you learn to understand the value of the smallest drop of water.”

List of things that impact the environment

All photos Emily Kasriel unless indicated. Subject to copyright.

Source: The BBC


China to invest more in emerging industries

BEIJING, March 13 (Xinhua) — China’s emerging industries will become a major driving force for investment growth this year, the Economic Information Daily reported Wednesday.

China will increase policy support for and infrastructure investment in emerging industries in 2019, including commercial applications of 5G, artificial intelligence, industrial internet and internet of things, according to the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC).

The country will cultivate emerging industrial clusters with market influence and distinctive advantages that can vigorously drive regional economic transformation, the newspaper quoted Ren Zhiwu, deputy secretary-general of the NDRC, as saying.

The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology also plans to promote the deep integration of the internet, big data and artificial intelligence with the real economy, and encourage innovation in new technologies and new forms of industry, the newspaper said.

Local governments will also step up support for strategic emerging industries in financial aid, technological innovation and the business environment. Efforts should be made to improve strategic emerging industries’ capabilities to innovate, said the newspaper.

Source: Xinhua


China establishes special committee for national nutrition plan

BEIJING, March 6 (Xinhua) — China has created a special committee to implement the country’s national nutrition plan, according to the National Health Commission (NHC).

Jointly established by NHC and 17 other government departments to coordinate and advance nutrition and health related work, the national nutrition and health committee held its inaugural meeting on Feb. 28 in Beijing, said a source of the NHC.

During the meeting, the committee adopted the regulation on its work and the main tasks for 2019 on the national nutrition plan.

Among the key jobs are improving food nutrition and health standards that build upon food safety, and establishing subcommittees at local levels to organize nutrition education and training, to conduct pilot programs and spread scientific knowledge in this regard.

Innovation will also be encouraged in the efforts, while nutrition intervention will be introduced in the campaign to battle poverty.

The national nutrition plan (2017-2030) was released by the General Office of the State Council in July 2017, with the goal of raising awareness of nutrition among the Chinese people, reducing obesity and anemia among students.

Source: Xinhua


What China claims to have invented | The Economist

Strange the Chinese felt the need to do their own reasearch about its inventiveness when that had already been done thoroughly by Joseph Needham – – and summarised in

  The Genius of China: 3,000 Years of Science, Discovery, and Invention
Robert Temple
Inner Traditions
288 pages
November 2007

Needham’s research uncovered many more than 88 Chinese inventions!

EIGHT is a lucky number in China. How fortunate it was, then, that a team of more than 100 scientists was able, after three years of research, to declare that ancient Chinese had achieved no fewer than 88 scientific breakthroughs and engineering feats of global significance. Their catalogue of more than 200 pages, released in June, was hailed as a major publishing achievement.

All Chinese schoolchildren can name their country’s “four great inventions”: paper, printing, the compass and gunpowder. Now it appears they have a lot more homework to do. The study purports to prove that China was first with many other marvels, including the decimal system, rockets, pinhole imaging, rice and wheat cultivation, the crossbow and the stirrup.

It is no coincidence that the project, led by the prestigious Chinese Academy of Sciences, got under way a few months after Xi Jinping took over as China’s leader in 2012. Mr Xi has been trying to focus public attention on the glories of China’s past as a way to instil patriotism and provide a suitable historical backdrop for his campaign to fulfil “the Chinese dream of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation”.

Mr Xi is building on a long tradition among the Communist Party’s propagandists of claiming world firsts. “China invented Lassie,” ran a headline in Global Times, a party-controlled newspaper, about dogs being domesticated in China 16,000 years ago (another group of scientists reckon China first did this 33,000 years ago). In 2006 official media shocked the Scots with an assertion that China invented golf a millennium ago, hundreds of years before the game took off in Scotland.

As a lover of football, Mr Xi likes drawing attention to China’s pioneering of that sport, too. On a visit to Britain in 2015 he stopped at one of the country’s most famous football clubs, Manchester City. There he was presented with a copy of the first rules for the modern game (drawn up by an Englishman in 1863). In return, he handed over a copper representation of a figure playing cuju, a sport similar to football invented by China 2,000 years ago (see picture, from a football museum in Shandong province). It was apparently popular both among urban youths and as a form of military fitness training. Mr Xi would like a great rejuvenation of this, too. In 2014 he announced plans to put football on the national curriculum. The aim is to make China a “first-class power” in football by 2050 (it has a long way to go).

The growing attention that China pays to its ancient achievements, real and exaggerated, contrasts with the almost total rejection of them by Mao Zedong after he seized power in 1949. In Mao’s China history was not something to celebrate. A central aim of his Cultural Revolution was to attack the “four olds”: customs, culture, habits and ideas. Many Chinese dynasties destroyed some glories of the previous one, but the Communists took this to new extremes. Across the country state-sponsored vandals destroyed temples, mansions, city walls, scenic sites, paintings, calligraphy and other artefacts.That began to change after Mao died in 1976. Now Mr Xi claims that Chinese civilisation “has developed in an unbroken line from ancient to modern times”. He glosses over not just the chaos and destruction of the Mao era but the long centuries when the geographical area now called China was divided into many parts, and even run by foreign powers (Manchu and Mongol).

The party also wants to use ancient prowess to boost China’s image abroad and to counter widespread (and often unfair) impressions in the West that the country is better at copying others’ ideas than coming up with its own. The four great inventions were one of the main themes at the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008, an event that China saw as its global coming-out party after decades of being treated with suspicion and contempt by foreign powers.

Envy of the West’s rapid gains in technology since the 19th century has been a catalyst of Chinese nationalism for over 100 years. It fuels a cultural competitiveness in China that turns ancient history into a battleground. This was evident in China’s prickly response to a recent documentary made by the BBC and National Geographic, which suggested that China’s famous terracotta warriors in Xi’an showed Greek influence. Some people interpreted this as a slight. One Chinese archaeologist dismissed the theory as “dishonest” and having “no basis”; another said that foreign hands could not have sculpted the figures because “no Greek names” were inscribed on their backs. Likewise in 2008 Boris Johnson, then mayor of London, was derided for saying that table tennis originated not in China but on Victorian dining tables and was known as whiff-whaff.

Just a slight inconsistency

The publication of the 88 achievements, however, has drawn attention again to an enduring mystery: why, after a long record of remarkable attainment in technology, did Chinese innovations largely cease for the 500 years or so leading up to the collapse of the last imperial dynasty in 1911? As state media observed, few of the inventions on the new list belong to this period. This puzzle is often referred to as the “Needham question”, after a British scientist and Sinologist, Joseph Needham. (It was he, in his study of China’s ancient science in the 1950s, who first identified the four great inventions—before then most people thought they had emerged in the West.) A member of the team that produced the list said the question deserved “deep reflection” and would be a topic of future research.

Mr Xi skates over this. He lauds Zheng He, a eunuch who launched maritime voyages from China across the Indian Ocean from 1405, as one of China’s great innovators—an early proponent of a vision of China that Mr Xi would like to recreate: prosperous, outward-looking and technologically advanced (the admiral’s massive boat is number 88 on the list). Yet he fails to point out that soon after Zheng He’s explorations China turned inward, beginning its half-millennium of stagnation.

In this 15th-century turning point, reformists in China see an obvious answer to Needham’s question: isolation from the rest of the world is bad for innovation. They take heart in China’s efforts since the 1970s to re-engage with the West, but lament the barriers that remain. With luck, it will not take 100 state-sponsored Chinese scientists another three years to reach the same conclusion.

Source: What China claims to have invented | The Economist

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China breaks patent application record – BBC News

China-based innovators applied for a record-setting number of invention patents last year.

The country accounted for more than a million submissions, according to an annual report by the World Intellectual Property Organization (Wipo). It said the figure was “extraordinary”.

Many of the filings were for new ideas in telecoms, computing, semiconductors and medical tech.

Beijing had urged companies to boost the number of such applications.

But some experts have questioned whether it signifies that the country is truly more inventive than others, since most of China’s filings were done locally.

What is a patent?

A patent is the monopoly property right granted by a government to the owner of an invention.

This allows the creator and subsequent owners to prevent others from making, using, offering for sale or importing their invention into the country for a limited time.

In return they must agree for the patent filing to be publicly disclosed.

To qualify as an “invention” patent, the filing must contain a new, useful idea that includes a step – a new process, improvement or concept – which would not be obvious to a skilled person in that field.

Some countries – including China – also issue other types of patents:

Utility model patents. The ideas must still be novel, but it is less important that there is a “non-obvious step”

Design patents. These require the shape, pattern and/or colour of a manufactured object’s design to be new, but do not require there to be a novel technical aspect

Skewed figures

A total of 2.9 million invention patent applications were filed worldwide in 2015, according to Wipo, marking a 7.8% rise on the previous year.

China can lay claim to driving most of that growth. Its domestic patent office – the Property Office of the People’s Republic of China (Sipo) – received a record 1,101,864 filings. These included both filings from residents of China and those from overseas innovators who had sought local protection for their ideas.

The tally was more than that of Sipo’s Japanese, South Korean and US equivalents combined.

Applicants based in China filed a total of 1,010,406 invention patents – the first time applicants from a single origin had filed more than one million in a single year.

But they appeared to be reticent about seeking patent rights abroad.

According to Wipo, China-based inventors filed just 42,154 invention patent applications outside their borders – Huawei and ZTE, two smartphone and telecoms equipment-makers, led the way.

There was a rise in the number of medical tech patent filings from China

By comparison US-based inventors sought more than five times that figure. And Japan, Germany and France also outnumbered the Asian giant.

One patent expert – who asked not to be named – suggested the disparity between Chinese inventors’ local and international filings reflected the fact that not all the claims would stand up to scrutiny elsewhere.

“The detail of what they are applying for means they would be unlikely to have the necessary degree of novelty to be granted a patent worldwide,” he said.

But Wipo’s chief economist said things were not so clear cut.

“There is clearly a discussion out there as to what is the quality of Chinese patents,” said Carsten Fink.

“But questions have also been asked about US and other [countries’] patents.”

And one should keep in mind that China is a huge economy.

“If you look at its patent filings per head of population, there are still fewer patents being filed there than in the United States.”

Patent boom

Part of the reason so many applications were made locally was that China set itself a target to boost all types of patent filings five years ago.

Sipo declared at the time that it wanted to receive two million filings in 2015.

The government supported the initiative with various subsidies and other incentives.

Adding together China’s invention, utility and design patents, its tally for 2015 was about 2.7 million filings, meaning it surpassed its goal by a wide margin.

One London-based patent lawyer noted that Chinese firms were not just filing patents of their own but also buying rights from overseas companies.

“This all goes to show the growth of the telecoms and high-tech industries in China, and that these companies are playing a more significant role globally than hitherto,” said Jonathan Radcliffe from Reed Smith.

“The fact we are now seeing them suing and being sued for patent infringement in Europe and in the US on subject matter such as mobile phones and telecoms standards – and indeed seeing Chinese companies suing each other over here in Europe for patent infringement – shows that they have truly arrived.”

Source: China breaks patent application record – BBC News


How Google’s Bicycle-Riding Internet Tutors Are Getting Rural Indian Women Online – India Real Time – WSJ

The internet fails to reach millions of women in the small towns and villages of India, so Google is trying to deliver it to them — by bicycle.

The Alphabet Inc. unit has built an army of thousands of female trainers and sent them to the far corners of the Subcontinent on two-wheelers, hoping to give rural woman their first taste of the web. Each bike has a box full of connected smartphones and tablets for women to try and train on.

The idea is to give people who have never even sent an email a better understanding of how being connected could improve their lives. Families that can afford to be online often chose not to be because they do not see the value. Meanwhile women are sometimes blocked by their families from new technology.

ENLARGEA web trainer who is taking part in Internet Saathi, the joint program of Alphabet, Inc.‘s Google and local philanthropy Tata Trusts, in the village of Habibwala, in Rajastan, India, Sept. 28, 2016. PHOTO: GOOGLE

Bhagwati Kumari Mahawar got her very first taste of the internet just a month ago.

The 19-year-old used a smartphone Google brought to her remote village in the desert state of Rajasthan to search for designs of mehndi, the elaborate henna designs Indian women get on their hands and feet. Then she looked up information on how to sew a blouse.

ENLARGEBhagwati Kumari Mahawar in the village of Habibwala, in Rajastan, India, Sept. 28, 2016. PHOTO: GOOGLE

“I really wanted to learn,” she said, sitting in the shade near the Google bicycle and a water buffalo.In the project, called Internet Saathi, Google partnered with local philanthropy Tata Trusts to show women in rural India how to connect to the web.

Instructors are trained in how the web works, and then are given bicycles with large boxes on the back containing internet-enabled devices running Google’s Android mobile operating system. The newly equipped “saathis” — or “partners” in Hindi — then cycle from village to village providing instruction to their peers.

“I wasn’t sure if I could do it or not,” said the instructor who helped Ms. Mahwar get online, 30-year-old Kamla Devi Mahawar, who is unrelated to her pupil.

She never used the web until she began her Saathi training ten months earlier, but since then has enjoyed showing women how to search for information like recipes and stitching guides, and showing them how to use voice queries if they are unable to type in text.

ENLARGEWomen look at cell phones as part of Internet Saathi, the joint program of Alphabet, Inc.’s Google and local philanthropy Tata Trusts, in the village of Habibwala, in Rajastan, India, Sept. 28, 2016. PHOTO: NEWLEY PURNELL/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

In a demonstration, she sat on the ground while half a dozen women circled around her, watching as she searched for images of nearby temples and forts. Some women want to learn how to use Facebook Inc.’s WhatsApp messaging service, while others simply want to make phone calls, she said.

Since the program’s launch last year, about 9,000 guides have helped reached 1 million women, Google said, noting that the program fits its mission of helping expand internet access globally.

India is an increasingly important commercial market for the Mountain View, Calif. search titan given its nascent internet economy.

While the country is home to more than 1.2 billion people, consultancy McKinsey & Co. reckons some one billion people still lack regular web access. More online consumers in the years ahead could mean more users of Google’s services, like its search engine, email and Android.

A bike used by an instructor who teaches women how to use the web, part of Internet Saathi, the joint program of Alphabet, Inc.’s Google and local philanthropy Tata Trusts, in the village of Habibwala, in Rajastan, India, Sept. 28, 2016. PHOTO: GOOGLE

Last week, at an event in New Delhi, Google executives said they are expanding their efforts to reach Indians with products and features like a new version of its YouTube app designed to work even on India’s often sluggish mobile networks.

Asked how her work with others could be made easier, Ms. Mahwar, the trainer, was quick to point out that better web connectivity is key.

“The internet doesn’t work half the time,” she said. Fixing that “would help a lot.”

Source: How Google’s Bicycle-Riding Internet Tutors Are Getting Rural Indian Women Online – India Real Time – WSJ


Glass loos with a view open in China – BBC News

Whatever will the Chinese think of next?

China’s recent obsession with glass tourist attractions has gone round the U-bend with the opening of some see-through treetop public toilets.

The loos, near Shiyan Lake in southern Hunan province, have fabulous views of both the forest below and other people using the facilities.

Cubicle walls, even those between the men’s and women’s sections, are only separated by lightly frosted glass.

But state media said few visitors dared use the loos on their opening day.

Image copyrightBARCROFT IMAGESImage caption

Shy users of the urinals may take comfort from the privacy barriers between them, though not in the fact they are made of glass

Despite a boom in the construction of glass bridges and walkways in scenic locations in China in recent years – in some cases so popular they had to be closed – these are thought to be the first entirely glass public bathrooms in the country.

However, it not the first time those busting to go have been exposed a little more than they might like by the enthusiasm for glass.

There were reports recently of some male toilets in a university dorm in Hunan which included one very public cubicle.

Image copyrightBARCROFTImage captionUnusually, a head for heights is a requirement for a job as a cleaner there

Image copyrightBARCROFTImage caption Awkward: cubicle walls are only lightly-frosted, even between the men’s and women’s sections

News of the wide-view WCs at Shiyan Lake sparked a range of reactions online.Responding to a Facebook post about it by state television channel CCTV, Ejike Nnadi summed up the feelings of many: “Hell no.”

Others were more taken by the idea. “You’ll be surprised by what you can tolerate when you really, really need to go,” said one post.

Another nodded towards another modern use for restrooms: “I’d be in there ’til my battery hit zero if there was signal in there!”

Image copyrightBARCROFTImage captionThe well-lit lavs are built on a steep hillside

Tina Chen took a dimmer view of all such projects though. “(It) is not about being shy, just again someone had extra money to waste.”

Image copyrightGETTY IMAGESImage caption Unusual glass structures have provided popular photo ops for tourists across China

Awkward or not, it is hoped that these bathrooms for the brave will encourage tourists to visit the countryside around Changsha city and admire the spectacular autumn colours of its forests.

Source: Glass loos with a view open in China – BBC News