While sifting through the Internet in an attempt to gather information for a report, I stumbled upon an article in the China Daily (link): a Chinese person’s evaluation of China’s innovation and his/her suggestions on how to improve the situation.
Here’s a juicy snippet: “Chinese culture generally curbs creativity and innovation. In our society, official authority is never to be challenged. Starting from kindergarten, children are trained to follow the rules. Our education system is based on rote learning. Even in our postgraduate studies, the teacher is always right. Admittedly we have changed. Yes, quite a lot in many areas. But let's face it, we are still a conformist society.”
That was posted in several official communist news websites. In the push for innovation, the Chinese government admits that its entire education system is faulty—and beyond that, their entire society is conformist. It seems that China is willing to accept faults when it is ready to deal with them.
The author of the article goes on to say that “a highly individualistic society like the United States” isn’t necessarily the answer. The suggested answer to China’s creativity woes lies in tolerance. The author harks back to China’s history to make the point: “According to Professor Robert Temple, visiting professor of the history and philosophy of science at Tsinghua University, over the past 3,000 years, Chinese inventions were on the average 1,223 years ahead of the West. This can prove once and for all that creativity and innovation have nothing to do with individualism, and that China is capable of inventing things well in advance of others. China does not have to pursue the adversarial and expansionist strategy typical of an individualistic society.”
The idea is that there is more than one route to creativity. America’s vaunted individualism is only coincidently related to innovation. This is because the real source of innovation, proven by China’s past, is tolerance. (Can I mention the fact that “highly individualist” might just be a pseudonym for “democracy”? And that this barely disguised attack on democracy relies on nothing bearing any resemblance to logic? But the point of this article does not lie in assaulting this author’s line of reasoning.)
The author asserts that China, in the past, was a “highly inclusive and tolerant” society. It is not such any longer. And tolerance, not individualism, is the key to innovation. This is because tolerance will allow people to break out of a conformist social mindset, and thus innovate. The essay concludes with a plea: “Start with our children. Teach them that getting into university is not the only objective of studying, and that rote learning is not the only way to study. Give them the ability to think critically, and let them challenge the authorities. Tolerate those who think and act somewhat differently from most of us, and leave them alone to do their own things. Let our children know that making money is not the be-all and end-all.”
Though I may have a hard time with some of the author’s logic and wording (I admit that this may simply be an issue of translation), I do find this article very interesting. The Chinese have officially stated what everyone says about Chinese creativity. The education system and the attitudes behind it need to change. Rote learning is not the only way to learn and it is ok to question authority. In other words, the Chinese need to become more tolerant—but most certainly not more individualistic.
The American Bar Association (ABA) has made a response to a statement made by China’s State Intellectual Property Organization (SIPO). The statement, focused on the scope of patent rights, allows patents in these areas: scientific discoveries; rules and methods for mental activities; methods for the diagnosis of or the treatment of diseases; animal and plant varieties; and substances obtained by means of nuclear transformation.
However, the laws do not allow for the patenting of, in the words of the ABA, “any new, useful, and non-obvious non-human multi-cellular organisms, including both plants and non-human animals.” The Bar Association feels that China should accept these patents for several reasons: making non-human organisms patentable will promote research, encourage investment in said research, and that allowing these patents in America has not led to the patenting of humans.
The first two points dig at one of China’s main concerns, a lack of innovation (see post by China Law Blog). The third point tries to appease the moral concern behind patenting animals—that the patenting of non-sentient life forms will eventually lead to the patenting of human parts or of genetically engineered humans.
Just to play the devil’s advocate, I have to say that patenting other life forms hasn’t led to the patenting of human life yet. It could still happen. On the other hand, being able to patent new varieties of chicken can result in more research.
I’ll be honest, I don't know if patenting animals and other living organisms is a great idea. Perhaps that's just because I don’t understand the whole argument for adding this type of patent to the law. Making a better chicken just doesn’t seem all that important to me, and I’ve seen too many movies about the evils of creating life. Though I do feel that China needs to improve is intellectual property protection, I would personally prefer that SIPO just works harder at enforcing existing laws instead of adding new ones.
Last night the trademark department held a farewell party for Vivi Qin. We'll miss you Vivi!
Picture 1: Grace, Vivi, Cindy, Huang Xu
Picture 2: The trademark department!
Picture 3: Cindy and Vivi
Is Yahoo at fault for giving information about its users to the Chinese government? The National Union of Journalists (NUJ), based out of the United Kingdom and Ireland, thinks so. They have posted an article on the front page of their website asking for all their 35,000+ members to boycott Yahoo for its “unethical” behavior. The article cites the examples of three Chinese journalists, each of them imprisoned for 4-10 years because Yahoo gave information about them to the Chinese government.
These Chinese reporters were guilty of things like forwarding a governmental email to foreign reporters. In the case of one Chinese journalist, Shi Tao, he emailed a warning to Chinese writers to avoid topics about Tiananmen during the event’s anniversary. Apparently the reporters were using Yahoo to send such pro-democratic information around the world. The Chinese enforcement agencies went to Yahoo and demanded information about the account and discovered that Shi Tao was the owner of the account. Chinese police then arrested him.
The NUJ takes this view of things: Yahoo is selling out people’s freedom in order to make a buck in China. Yahoo, on the other hand, thinks that they are legally obligated to obey the law in whatever country they operate in. They don’t like the fact that the Chinese government is using Yahoo’s information to imprison dissidents, but they have to obey Chinese law or leave China. And they feel that their presence in China, even if it is censored, is still a service that increases the availability of knowledge in China. Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google put it this way, "We felt that perhaps we could compromise our principles but provide ultimately more information for the Chinese and be a more effective service and perhaps make more of a difference." (Read here for Yahoo’s response to Shi Tao’s arrest.)
Mr. Brin is commenting on the issue because Google is in the same boat as Yahoo. They have created a censored search engine, Google.cn, just for China. In fact, as I was using the internet here in China yesterday, I found it difficult to use Google.com—there are rumors online (here) that China is blocking Google’s main website in favor of the censored Chinese version.
Is it right for Western based search engines, coming from a culture that believes in free speech and human rights, to allow a nation without these beliefs to enforce its own brand of justice on its people? It is a matter of opinion. Information is a valuable commodity, but on the other hand, if Google and Yahoo stepped out of China, many others would gladly step in their place. Leaving would not stop censorship.
Both sides of the issue have merits and both base their arguments on different perspectives. Yahoo and Google are corporations existing in a business world, where hard reality and hard numbers dictate choice. Ideals and morals are a necessary secondary consideration—they are doing what they can after their business model is secured because, if they don’t, their companies won’t exist at all (in China). The National Union of Journalists exists to protect the rights and conditions of journalists so they are necessarily more idealistic.
In my opinion, I don’t think Yahoo and Google should pull out of China. I do think its better to have a grudgingly censored search engine than a completely compliant search engine. But I also think that groups like the NUJ need to exist and speak out. Someone needs to keep big companies on their toes and make them accountable for both honest mistakes and bad decisions.
Two short bits of news today: the first about the lack of protection for personal information in China and the massive spamming that follows it, the second about a Chinese lawyer who won’t shut up.
Just surfing the web yesterday, I found this Google ad:
Legally Email Millions
Email 81 million targeted prospects Never be accused of spamming again!
Sadly, the link doesn’t work anymore, but when I visited it I went to a spiffy website just like this one: http://www.101-website-traffic.com/. I was a little shocked to see what looks like an Internet spam pyramid scam. “Send out 2.5 million emails a day! Make money for us, uh, I mean, for yourself!” Now I’m starting to understand where all the spam comes from. In China, the situation is out of control.
In a survey posted by the China Daily, 90% of Chinese worry about their personal details being leaked and about 75% want tougher legislation to protect their privacy. For example, many complained about how they get unwanted text messages, emails, and phone calls from telemarketers who knew everything about them—from their children’s birth dates to the direction their house faces. One Chinese website, www.Souren.com.cn, apparently offers personal information about 90 million Chinese for a fee. I visited the site and it doesn’t seem to work anymore.
Many Chinese are asking for tough legislation, but it might be hard because much of the blame for the leaking of private information goes to government offices that sell their citizens’ private information.
It’s bad when some nut with a computer sends out 2.5 million spam emails a day, but things just start to get creepy when your own government sells your information to that nut….
The second bit of news is about a Chinese lawyer who won’t stay quite about what has happened to him and to the people he tried to represent. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer wrote this article about Zhou Enchong who was convicted to three years in prison after a secret trial about his divulging of “state secrets.” By state secrets we mean information from an open trial. His mistake was sending that public information to Western news agencies. I suggest reading the article.I think this is a case where a powerful real estate mogul manipulated government officials into doing things his way. Of course, the mogul got three years in prison along with Zhou Enchong… but I think if speech were more open, than bad land lords like Zhou Zhengyi wouldn’t be able to crush normal citizens and outspoken lawyers—which is absolutely against what Chinese socialism is all about. In fact, much of China’s early revolution was against people just like Zhou Zhengyi, landowners that oppressed the common people. It is sad and ironic that it is still happening today.