Apparently, James Fallows‘ latest book, “China Airborn” has argued the reason the Internet in China is ‘slow’ is due to censorship. Due to censorship, Fallows argued, China would never be innovative enough and hence won’t be able to produce her own companies like Apple. In this article, he capitulates to his readers who contend that the Internet within China is actually fast. It’s ‘slow’ only when Westerners try to access web sites outside China. From that, he concludes China’s Internet is still an ‘intranet,’ which makes Chinese society incapable of becoming world class. That’s nonsense too. It’s the same sort of hogwash as the Chinese dream article he wrote recently.
The reason Western web sites are ‘slow’ from within China is because such web sites don’t have servers physically located inside China. If Fallows had tried to access Microsoft or Yahoo from within China, he’d known it’s fast. Why? Because those companies have co-located their servers in China and are likely paying for high-bandwidth connections in highly populated areas.
Now, if Fallows had tried to access a Chinese web site from the U.S., he’d find the access slow too. Why? That’s because traffic will have to cross the Pacific and make it’s way into somewhere within China. Of course, if that web site is popular and has many users in the U.S., it’s likely that site will have servers co-located in high-bandwidth data centers throughout America. This is why companies like Akamai makes tons of money provisioning high-bandwidth services to major web sites around the world!
Does the fact that America has a ‘slow’ access into China make the U.S. Internet an intranet? Nonsense!
Sure, China censors it’s Internet. Political speech is much more restrictive in China. Does that translate to an inability to innovate? Does cracking down on a dissident who wants to overthrow the Chinese government translate to Chinese companies unable to make smartphones? This Huawei Quad Core smartphone seems to be pretty competitive against the iPhone.
I would credit the ability to innovate in America to the scientific peer review in her science journals. I would credit innovation also to America’s venture capital and startup culture. I also credit innovation to America’s wealth. If 800 million Chinese are still toiling in the farms for subsistence, well, that’s a lot of people not given the opportunity to innovate. Give China time!
I would further argue there is a mental intranet that has possessed Fallows and many Westerners.
Has Fallows done a search in Chinese on Baidu? In fact, despite Google having it’s server shut down in China, Google still commands about 10+% search revenue from the Chinese market. Why? That’s because many Chinese users are searching for English content on Google.com. Also, look at the ratio of Chinese students studying in the U.S. versus the other way around? It’s an order of magnitude in difference. For this reason, I highly support President Obama’s 100K Strong initiative.
The reason Fallows use ‘intranet’ to describe the Chinese Internet is because the Western mindset has been indoctrinated to view suppression of political speech as some sort of mind control by the government.
It’s an ‘intranet,’ because, my god, it’s in Chinese?!
When we talk about innovation, we are talking about the flow of ideas. Advocates of FLG or Tibetan separatist being censored hardly makes any difference. In terms of the free flow of ideas, until Fallows does his first search in Chinese on Baidu, I wager China may eventually ‘win’ the innovation competition. Because? The mental intranet is too cocky and believes others cannot innovate or have dreams. And, certainly, Fallows doesn’t lack intelligence.
[Edit May 30, 2012]
For the bottom-feeders in the Western press who prefer to defame the Chinese as ‘intellectual property thieves,’ Fallows’ line of argument in fact is a form of ‘intellectual’ backing for that nonsense. When you can collectively say a society isn’t up to par in innovations, well, then, whenever it innovates, it must be through theft. I don’t think this is what Fallows is setting out to do. However, when nonsense spews which give credence to the defamers, then I am compelled to respond.