All The Tech in China

Spectral Lines

Image: Stck Connection Distribution/Alamy

Everything about China, good and bad, is big: its population, itscities, its Miracle-Gro economy, its trade volume, itspiracy problem, its Internet-censorship effort. China todayis the dragon in the living room of the world market. Andeveryone in that market has to come to terms with it.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in technology. It's as if theentire Chinese economy is obeying Moore's Law. China'sseemingly instantaneous transformation from impoverishedagrarian state to on-the-move superpower is being drivenby its embrace of all things technological--the Internet,wireless communications, consumer electronics, computers,automobiles, digital television, and nuclear energy.

Other countries--India, South Korea, Taiwan--have reliedheavily on technology to grow and develop. But none ofthem had quite the same wealth of technical talent as Chinahas accumulated in the past quarter century. As Bill Gates,Microsoft Corp.'s chair, pointed out earlier this yearin a widely reported speech about the obsolescence of Americanhigh school education, "China graduates twice as many studentswith bachelor's degrees as the U.S., and they have sixtimes as many majoring in engineering." This year Chinawill graduate more than 300 000 engineers, so many thatit has a glut of technological talent. All the currentmembers of China's Politburo Standing Committee, the highesttier in the Communist Party, are engineers. Can the UnitedStates make a similar claim about its political leadershipor the size of its technology workforce?

No single report can capture the China story. But in "China's TechRevolution," we have showcased some of its key industries,people, and places to demonstrate the speed and extentof China's surge into the technologies that will fuel economicpower in the 21st century.

For example, nearly all of China's industrial development hasoccurred along its eastern coast, but recently the centralgovernment has been pushing investors westward. In thespecial report's introductory article, IEEE Spectrum'sJean Kumagai and Marlowe Hood explain how this "Go West" policyhas, in a few short years, put the high-tech boomtown ofChengdu on the map. Steven Cherry reports on China's massiveeffort to upgrade its Internet and the government's simultaneousattempt to censor the information flowing through thatnetwork. Peter Fairley looks at how electric bikes areplaying an insurgent role in China's burgeoning car culture.Tekla S. Perry discusses how the 2008 Olympics, to be heldin Beijing, will make digital TV commonplace in China--longbefore it takes hold in the United States. And Linda Geppertvisits China's Semiconductor Manufacturing InternationalCorp., which is using engineers from Taiwan to take onthe formidable Taiwanese semiconductor industry.

The biggest question now, for China and the world, is how Chinawill handle the downside of runaway growth. China is beginningto grapple with the problems that Western economies tookon years ago--exploited workers and labor unrest, chokingpollution, chronic energy shortfalls, massive intellectualproperty theft, and volatile relationships with many ofits main trading partners, to list but a few of the issues.

The Middle Kingdom's rise has alarmed and mesmerized all ofus. "If you took a survey of all the CEOs in the worldand asked them, 'What is the one factor that is going tochange your business in the next decade?' the pluralityanswer would be 'China,'" says Donald H. Straszheim, aninstitutional investment consultant and former chief economistfor Merrill Lynch. Read this issue to find out why.

The editorial content of IEEE Spectrum does not represent officialpositions of the IEEE or its organizational units. Please address commentsto Forum atn.hantman@ieee.org.

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