It’s been only a month since I first traveled to China, and have started reporting on tidbits about China and things Chinese from the ground up. Many of my friends, colleagues and readers told me that a flood of comments posted by EE Times community members’ after each of my China stories is actually more revealing than my reporting.
I take no offense, because I feel the same way.
A former colleague of mine, now resident in Beijing, wrote to me this morning: “I am enjoying the comments your China stories are eliciting almost as much as the stories. Some are funny and some disturbing… A bit frightening is how little both sides understand each other.”
I couldn’t agree more.
China remains largely a mystery to most of us – me included. I still know very little, and the more people I interview, the less I feel as though I know their real stories.
Similarly, I find Chinese people’s understanding is limited, especially when it comes to how fearful the U.S. engineering community is about China.
Both sides remain caught up in pre-conceived notions of what the other side is like; they cherry-pick anecdotal evidence (which is often a valuable piece in a bigger picture), and use it to reinforce what they think they know.
I think it’s time to take a deep breath and step back – for all of us.
Here are a few good examples. Every time I write anything about China’s speed of design and production – which to me is one of the vital elements of Chinese success, I get reactions from our readers about the poor quality of China’s products. And this is a salient criticism. I get a steady flow of feedback – not just on our site, but in casual conversation – about an Android phone someone just bought in China; and already it’s going haywire.
When I met in Beijing a vice president of engineering who works for a U.S. chip company, he was emphatic: “Junko, the quality of some of those phones is bad. But this isn’t because they can’t get it right; it’s because they don’t want to.”
A little stumped by what I thought I heard him say, I asked, “What do you mean? Are you saying that they are intentionally making bad phones?”
No, he said. “They are more interested in turning out more phones they can sell -- quickly. It’s just that they don’t want to take the time to make a perfect phone.”
He pointed out the glaring exception to the stereotype: “Guess where all the iPhones are coming from? They are made by Foxconn in China. It’s not like Chinese don’t know how to manufacture good quality products.”
Meanwhile, I received an e-mail this afternoon from Allen Wu, ARM China’s president. Referring to my story, "Why TI does MCU design in Shanghai," Wu wrote to me: “I fully agree with your comments on ‘China Speed.’ Products don’t necessarily need to be designed in China, but companies needs to respond in ‘China Speed’ to be successful,” especially as China becomes one of the leading markets for the chip industry, he explained.
Wu noted, “If you look at the start-up culture in the Valley, I would put ‘speed,’ fast decision-making and response to market, as one of the clear top reasons for success --along with passion, commitment, etc.”
Wu’s conclusion is that the principles of Silicon Valley work equally well in China, from winning markets to winning the hearts and minds of employees. It really comes down to the ability to adjust execution to local markets and environments in ‘China speed.’
His point that China and Silicon Valley are driven – perhaps to a fault -- by “speed” is well taken. I hasten to agree.
What’s different, though, in my observation is that China’s speed is multiplied several times now, largely because China has elements in its ‘ecosystem’ – ranging from component suppliers to software developers and contract manufacturers – who can accelerate even further. Their end products eventually get to the market faster, too.
The story of China speed vs. China quality is something we’re going to keep probing at EE Times. Your comments and analysis – even the anecdotal stuff – are always welcome. But let’s hold off, on both sides, being too judgmental about each other — until we’ve all learned a little more.
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