Miscellaneous and Useless Information

China and Taiwan

A respected research institute wanted Chinese classical texts to adorn its journal, something beautiful and elegant, to illustrate a special report on China. Instead, it got a racy flyer extolling the lusty details of stripping housewives in a brothel.

Thanks to Alex for this link.

After back-to-back party conventions, the Olympics seem like old news, but here’s my reaction anyway. They were clearly a triumph for China — all the controversies from denied protests to lip-syncing girls faded away, and the actual competition dominated the headlines. I was proud how well the Chinese people conducted themselves during the games, and I also found myself rooting for China, even though I detest its government. The pecking order for my cheers: the United States first, then Taiwan (or “Chinese Taipei”), and then China. Taiwan won 4 bronze medals this year, 2 in men’s taekwondo, and 2 in women’s weightlifting (!!!).

A few months ago, the Wall Street Journal ran a feature article on Lee Myung-Bak, the then-presidential candidate (and now president) of South Korea. As an aside, the article said that as mayor of Seoul, Lee had ordered an elevated highway torn down to unearth a buried stream and turn it into a park. Of course, I couldn’t let that pass without doing more background reading.

The stream that was restored is called Cheonggyecheon, and the success of its restoration helped launch Lee’s presidential candidacy. Seoul’s Cheonggyecheon web site has a link to an interesting Discovery Channel Asia documentary (411 MB Windows Media video file, 47 mins), which covers engineering, environmental and archaeological aspects of the project. (Yes, of course, I’ve already watched it!)

While reading up on Cheonggyecheon, I remembered that Taipei had a similar situation. After more research, I found out that Xinsheng Road follows the path of an old canal, and that when he was mayor of Taipei, Ma Ying-jeou also proposed daylighting the canal (although not the part that’s under the elevated Xinsheng Expressway). And now Ma is running for president of Taiwan! In east Asia, tearing down roads is becoming the clear path to launching your presidential career.

One more amusing anecdote from Morris Chang. The initial funding for TSMC came mostly from the Taiwanese government (48%) and Philips. There were also a few key individual investors who put their own money into the company. But TSMC was proposing to be a silicon foundry, a brand new business model. How did the company convince those people to invest?

Dr. Chang said the government essentially coerced them to put their money in. One person was asked to take a 5% stake, and he started getting cold feet. The premier of Taiwan actually called him and said, “It is government policy to get this company started. Don’t you want to support government policy?” It turned out to be be pretty enlightened coercion.

This was back in 1987, when Taiwan was just starting to transition from an authoritarian government to a democracy. I doubt it could get away with that now.

[Photo of Morris Chang] I just got back from a Computer History Museum event: a conversation with Morris Chang (張忠謀), founder of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, better known as TSMC, and Jen-Hsun Huang (黃仁勳), co-founder and CEO of Nvidia, the last independent graphics chip company. Morris Chang is a pioneer in the computer industry: TSMC was the first dedicated silicon foundry, which manufactures integrated circuits for customers — it does not have any products of its own. Not surprisingly, Nvidia is one of TSMC’s most important customers. Dr. Chang made a couple of points that struck me.

TSMC is fundamentally a customer-focused company. One of the most important metrics for evaluating its fab managers is how many complaints that manager gets from its customers. Dr. Chang said this makes the culture of his company totally different from other semiconductor companies such as Intel, and this would impede their entry into the dedicated foundry business.

Dr. Chang also said Americans and Asians start companies for different reasons. Americans want to promote a new idea. Asians want to be their own boss. As an example, Dr. Chang used to go to a barber shop in Taiwan with two barbers. The younger barber decided he wanted to be his own boss, so he left and started his own barber shop, three doors down. Each of them had to work much harder than before, for the same number of customers. On top of that, the two barbers got into a price war, so they also made less money. Not surprisingly, the former partners became very bitter. The atmosphere became so unpleasant that Dr. Chang now doesn’t go to either barber. He joked, “That’s entrepreneurship, Asian style.”

Both were eloquent and humorous speakers. I’ve heard that Dr. Chang’s reputation is that of a very strict, demanding businessman, so this interview showed a more human side.

As an aside, the food at the reception for Computer History Museum members was great, too: seared tuna, crab cakes, and crostini with brie. Oh yeah…

I found this New York Times headline puzzling:

China’s Leader Closes Door to Reform

This assumes the door was open to begin with.

    1. China Airlines: Taiwan
    2. Air China
    1. China National Petroleum Corporation
    2. Chinese Petroleum Corporation: Taiwan (now called CPC Corporation, Taiwan)
    1. China Post
    2. Chunghwa Post (chunghwa means “Chinese”): Taiwan (now called Taiwan Post)
    1. China State Shipbuilding Corporation
    2. China Shipbuilding Corporation: Taiwan (now called CSBC Corporation, Taiwan)
    1. Central Bank of China: Taiwan (now called the Central Bank of the Republic of China)
    2. People’s Bank of China

A few days ago, several state-run companies in Taiwan removed “China” from their names. The old names date back to when the Taiwanese government claimed to represent all of China. Mainland China wants that practice to continue, lest anyone think Taiwan is separate from China. The Taiwanese government claims it simply wants to reduce confusion, and it has a point.

I’ve listed the names of some companies and institutions (in some cases, the old name before “China” was dropped). Can you figure out which is based in Taiwan and which is based in mainland China?

    1. China Airlines
    2. Air China
    1. China National Petroleum Corporation
    2. Chinese Petroleum Corporation
    1. China Post
    2. Chunghwa Post (chunghwa means “Chinese”)
    1. China State Shipbuilding Corporation
    2. China Shipbuilding Corporation
    1. Central Bank of China
    2. People’s Bank of China

The first person to post the right answers gets the satisfaction of knowing that these facts are cluttering their brains (just like they’re cluttering mine)…

Last night, Jon, Jerry and I finished watching a four-part documentary on PBS, China From the Inside. The documentary was very well done, and I was surprised by how outspoken the critics of the government were. The overall conclusion: China from the inside is in bad shape. The four parts were about politics, women, the environment, and the law. You can guess that there isn’t much good news on any of these fronts. And it all boils down to one basic cause: the government isn’t accountable to the people.

Next up in our Friday nights of learning: The History of the Supreme Court.

On KCSM, I caught the last half hour of a fascinating documentary called Beijing or Bust. It follows six Chinese-Americans who move to Beijing to live and work, as they discuss their reactions to a rapidly changing China and their dual identities as Chinese and American. (I later found out that the filmmaker, Hao Wu, has been detained by the Chinese government without a stated reason and has been denied access to a lawyer. Argh!) It will air again on KCSM this Sunday at 2 AM. Fire up the VCR… (I'm too cheap to get a Tivo)

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