Everything about China, good and bad, is big: its population, its cities, its Miracle-Gro economy, its trade volume, its piracy problem, its Internet-censorship effort. China today is the dragon in the living room of the world market. And everyone in that market has to come to terms with it.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in technology. It’s as if the entire Chinese economy is obeying Moore’s Law. China’s seemingly instantaneous transformation from impoverished agrarian state to on-the-move superpower is being driven by 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 relied heavily on technology to grow and develop. But none of them had quite the same wealth of technical talent as China has 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 American high school education, “China graduates twice as many studentswith bachelor’s degrees as the U.S., and they have six times as many majoring in engineering.” This year China will graduate more than 300 000 engineers, so many that it has a glut of technological talent. All the current members of China’s Politburo Standing Committee, the highest tier in the Communist Party, are engineers. Can the United States 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 Tech Revolution,” 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 economic power in the 21st century.
For example, nearly all of China’s industrial development has occurred along its eastern coast, but recently the central government has been pushing investors westward. In the special report’s introductory article, IEEE Spectrum’s Jean Kumagai and Marlowe Hood explain how this “Go West” policy has, in a few short years, put the high-tech boom town of Chengdu on the map. Steven Cherry reports on China’s massive effort to upgrade its Internet and the government’s simultaneous attempt to censor the information flowing through that network. Peter Fairley looks at how electric bikes are playing an insurgent role in China’s burgeoning car culture. Tekla S. Perry discusses how the 2008 Olympics, to be held in Beijing, will make digital TV commonplace in China—long before it takes hold in the United States. And Linda Geppert visits China’s Semiconductor Manufacturing InternationalCorp., which is using engineers from Taiwan to take on the formidable Taiwanese semiconductor industry.
The biggest question now, for China and the world, is how China will handle the downside of runaway growth. China is beginningto grapple with the problems that Western economies took on years ago—exploited workers and labor unrest, choking pollution, chronic energy shortfalls, massive intellectual property theft, and volatile relationships with many of its main trading partners, to list but a few of the issues.
The Middle Kingdom’s rise has alarmed and mesmerized all of us. “If you took a survey of all the CEOs in the world and asked them, ‘What is the one factor that is going to change your business in the next decade?’ the plurality answer would be ‘China,’ ” says Donald H. Straszheim, an institutional investment consultant and former chief economist for Merrill Lynch. Read this issue to find out why.
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