Chinese innovations

I’m interested in hearing about significant innovations out of contemporary China. Good ones. Ideas, inventions, devices, dreams. Throw in Outer China (Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore).

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107 Responses to Chinese innovations

  1. Dave Pinsen says:

    Liu Cixin’s Three-Body trilogy of sci-fi novels was excellent.

    On the negative side, they have innovated some opaque accounting structures for their companies that have stocks traded in the U.S., such as Alibaba.

    • albatross says:

      I liked the Three Body Problem as well, though part of what made it interesting was that it was obviously following somewhat different assumptions and tropes than Western SF.

  2. Feeder Farmer says:

    High-speed rail, which they initially copied, then improved, and now export: “Chinese train-makers, after receiving transferred foreign technology, have been able to achieve a considerable degree of self-sufficiency in making the next generation of high-speed trains by developing indigenous capability to produce key parts and improving upon foreign designs” –

  3. I’ve been in Yancheng, Jiangsu Province nearly a month now, visiting a doctor friend (unexpectedly morphing into a hospitalization at his place of employment, for epididymitis).

    As a lifelong motorcyclist and former motor journalist I was keen on getting the low-down on the thousands upon thousands of e-bikes infesting the public roads of this ultra-modern, bland, flat city near the coast of the Yellow Sea (my nickname for it: Alphaville). Unlike cities in the rest of Asia you see practically no gasoline-powered two-wheelers but a huge number of brands and styles of these silent-but-deadly two-wheelers swarm the roads, mostly ridden by housewives, farmers, businessmen and students.

    I haven’t been able to find out whether storage is via a primitive lead-acid unit or lithium cells but suspect the former. When I asked about disposal of the lead in dead batteries all I got was an airy ‘Oh they take care of that’. This is a major concern but the fact is that the absence of noise and exhaust pollution is most impressive.

    What is less impressive is the fact that the absolute silence of the motors allow locals to converse gaily on their cell phones or even ride along texting (!). I even saw two guys riding side by side, one steering the other’s bike while he dashed off a message. Made me cringe.

    Like everything else in China one suspects the shift to e-bikes from internal combustion units was either ordered or strongly ‘suggested’ by the authorities. Nobody obeys the rules (think the way NY bicyclists dash through lights, down sidewalks and between vehicles); the traffic police are useless.

    My friend’s hospital does a thriving business with the helmet-less riders who collide with one another or get mowed down by cars.

    • JW Bell says:

      Motorcycle’s are banned in most Chinese cities. talks about the regulations in his videos.

    • dearieme says:

      But are e-bikes Chinese inventions? My one isn’t Chinese made.

      • No, I did not mean to imply that. It is the massive scale (95% plus) and number of god-awful designs, many looking like jerry-built lawn furniture, highly unsafe on any but the smoothest roads. I’d guess there are literally thousands of mom-and-pop ‘manufacturers’, welding together these vehicles from off-the-shelf components. No attempt at standardization or safety limits.

        I’ve seen grown adults on powered units running along some 45 km/h on wheels the size of a western child’s scooter. If you happen to hit a manhole cover sunk an inch or two into the road at that velocity you’re going to go ass-over-teacup, and you’ll be lucky if you get away with a broken collarbone and mild concussion. So much for the ‘practical Chinese’.

        These e-scooters and e-bikes (including three-wheelers that look like something Goofy would ride in a cartoon) may be stopgap solutions to daily transport for lower-middle-class people but you can see they’ll jump into a new car as soon as they can. A Buick probably. But not one like your uncle the insurance adjuster used to drive.

      • dave chamberlin says:

        The Chinese e-bikes are junk. Chinese motorcycles are junk. It is very strange that Chinese owned companies have so much difficulty with quality control in making complex products. The labor for many very high quality products is provided entirely by Chinese workers but oddly it takes constant close supervision by foreign engineers to keep the quality up. Maybe this is just a holdover from the communist times and will go away with time, I don’t know.

        • benespen says:

          Poorly Made in China is a decent attempt at explaining this. As you note, what is lacking isn’t the capacity, since lots of quality goods can be made in China. However, if you assume a kind of bait-and-switch business model that seeks to make money on the back end once a business relationship has been established, it makes more sense.

          • Steve Sailer says:

            Japanese Marketing: “After studying the unmet needs of American minivan buyers for five years, Honda …”

            Chinese Marketing: “Real cheap! You buy now!”

            • “I work in the Indonesian business world so I know precisely what you are referring to. In 2002 Chinese importers dumped a huge shitload of look-alike step-through machines onto the market there. ‘Wow, a machine just like a Suzuki, but only a third of the price!’ Riding down the road two weeks later and a seam in the [extremely thin] fuel tank opens up, dumping fuel onto a hot engine. Rider with burned legs, motor up in flames, quick trip to protest to dealer – oops, it’s now a noodle shop. Multiply this by thousands and thousands of similar catastrophes – some quite serious – and you have a huge mob of enraged buyers. Turns out these were bikes knocked together from cheap copycat off-the-shelf components in mom-and-pop operations back in China and then exported to those stupid darkies down god-knows-where. (The usual attitude at the time, among the CAVEAT EMPTOR Chinese producers). Split pistons, collapsing wheels, head bearings seizing up, on and on. Dealers were mostly the ethnic Chinese-run ‘general stores’ in the Provinces, selling mosquito netting, canned food, outboard motors, medicines, etc. No parts or service backup. No mechanic in sight.

              The Japanese manufacturers sat back with a smile and rode it out. Within about six months from 80+ Chinese ‘brands’ exactly three remained. One of those was the ‘Kaisar’ (‘Emperor’), a three-wheeler Honda knockoff used in vegetable markets for deliveries. The Japanese don’t even bother offering such a machine.

              Soon after the ‘mocin’ (‘Chinese motor’) debacle burned out, Honda introduced the ‘Kharisma’ step-through bike, for an astonishingly low price – but with the customary Honda build and design quality. I expect it will be 20 years at least before anyone in Southeast Asia will countenance the purchase of another mocin – except for Singapore, where ebikes abound. I write this from a hospital bed in Yenchang, Jiangsu Province, watching the first all-Chinese medium-capacity airliner take off on its maiden flight. Looks a lot like an A-320.

              So the quality of industrial and consumer goods is evidently upgrading at a drastic rate. What took the Japanese, notorious for ‘cheap Jap crap’ in the early 1950s, over a decade to accomplish seems to be happening in half that time here. To wit: Huawei (including industrial-grade telecommunications gear), Oppo, Lenovo (took over the spectacularly shitty IBM personal computer division), Buick (don\’t laugh). Motorcycles? I think they may have got their nose bloodied by the Japanese. Nobody can project design, maintain QC/QA, hammer production costs down and offer parts & service backup like the remaining big four manufacturers (the ghosts of the hundreds of deceased brands nod in solemn agreement.. Silver Pigeon… Rikuo… Meguro… Bridgestone… )

              ‘I always welcomed B-san [B-29s] when I saw them flying over Tokyo. That meant I could get my hands on some rare aluminum bits from the ones we shot down’ – attributed to Soichiro Honda, always ready with a joke.’

    • bob sykes says:

      Both the lead and the acid are routinely recycled when the battery finally dies, the plastic case, not so much, although it is possible, too.

  4. Diogenes von Neumann says:

    You can store and transfer money in your WeChat (think Facebook Messenger) wallet. Many, maybe most stores accept payment via WeChat. You can even order via WeChat in some restaurants.

  5. JW Bell says:

    A Chinese pharmacist invented E-cigarettes.

  6. A society where it’s legal and socially acceptable to laugh while literally boil dogs alive on an industrial scale, and spread videos of it all over youtube.

  7. MG says:

    They are the real deal when it comes to cheat on the GRE/SAT/TOEFL/GMAT tests like nobody else in the world. Never mind the industrial scale in which they sell the admission essay to their masses of prospect students when filling application to American universities.

    • Dave Pinsen says:

      Sir David Tang mentioned in his FT column a few years ago that he saw a pair of pants in a Chinese museum with answers written on them for a civil service exam for some dynasty centuries ago.

  8. AppSocRes says:

    The Chinese military seems to have developed a hypersonic missile system that leaves the US in the dust. I’ve read that these missiles cost a few million dollars and each can take out the multi-billion dollar centerpiece of a US carrier task force. The question is whether this demonstrates the innovation and intelligence of the Chinese or the abysmal stupidity of the US government.

    • Ursiform says:

      They didn’t invent hypersonics, they just maintained an investment long enough to get a product.

      • dearieme says:

        Carrying it off successfully counts as innovation if nobody else has done so.

        • Ursiform says:

          Perseverance is not innovation.

          • dain says:

            I beg to differ

          • dearieme says:

            Invention is nor innovation either. As Edison suggested, an awful lot of innovation is indeed persistence. Or “perspiration” as he called it.

            • Ursiform says:

              What he said was “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration”. Turning inspiration into invention takes a lot of effort. But it also takes the inspiration. Without the inspiration the perspiration will produce nothing. In many cases the Chinese have taken someone else’s inspiration and applied the perspiration to get to a product.

          • James Richard says:

            Not according to Thomas Edison.

          • Pincher Martin says:

            Tell it to Thomas Edison:

            “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

            “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.”

            “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”

            “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”

            “There is no substitute for hard work.”

            One can fetishize IQ. Hard work and commonsense are also essential to any creative enterprise. Most Americans knew that at one point in our history.

    • gcochran9 says:

      You could take out a carrier task force with a nuke 60 years ago.

      • R. says:

        Then the other side can nuke something and point to the sunk carrier group saying “they started first”.

        Hypersonic anti-ship cruise missiles, or the mysterious anti-ship ballistic missiles China has avoid that.

    • Ursiform says:

      The Chinese, of course, have a lot more targets for an anti-carrier missile than we would.

  9. Rosenmops says:

    A culture of corruption seems to pervade China, including the universities. This probably hinders innovation.

    Singapore is much less corrupt.

    • How can you compare a nation of 1.3 billion to an island state with five million? Think of Singapore as a family-owned business. Everything is fixed, up to and including political control.

      It has prospered mainly because of the hopeless disarray and monumental corruption of Indonesia and (to a lesser extent) Malaysia.

      • Pincher Martin says:

        Nonsense. Countries don’t prosper because their neighbors are corrupt and inefficient. Nor is a small population a factor, otherwise Sierra Leone, Nicaragua, Bulgaria, and Laos would all be impressive principalities.

        Singapore prospered because most of its population is Chinese (therefore intelligent and hardworking), who by fortune of British colonialism were married quite early to the best Anglo-Saxon government and business practices without embracing any of the typical Anglo-Saxon sentimentalities about the rights of the people. That’s a good combination for any developing country.

        • Oh really? Then let us pause for a moment to admire the vast ‘silicon valley’ complexes of Vanuatu, the manufacturing juggernaut of Panama, the attractive financial service centres of Andorra, etc.

          As to tiny ‘impressive principalities’ I refer you to the Caribbean corridors still pursued by the narcotraficantes to ferry their sinister wares to market. Also all the runaway capital which Singapore, among others, has viewed with a benevolent wink over the decades (read = money laundering), only putting the screws on when the screws are tightened on them.

          The only reason Singapore has prospered is that it (like Malaysia) maintained a more-or-less clean English system of law, enforces contracts and generally applies a workable code of business. If you are ready to invest a hundred and fifty million dollars in a nickel mining complex in Flores (Eastern Indonesia) you don’t sign a contract under (hopeless) Indonesian (Dutch-based) law, not unless you are willing to get chiseled and swindled (mostly by your local partner) every step of the way. The only way you’d do that is if you were a multinational thug backed by the not inconsiderable force of a government (Gondokusumo vs. Manulife of Canada comes to mind). No one is going to try to shake down Citibank or ConocoPhillips.

          Singapore is promoting the devil out of tourism (cheap way to get foreign exchange) and financial services (ahem). With five million souls cramped on a tiny island, surrounded by not-particularly-friendly mostly-muslim neighbors, it doesn’t have a lot of options. It is also scared to death of racial tensions: its delicate balance of Malay Muslim – Hindu Tamil – (mostly Christian) Chinese is in danger of turning turtle: while the bumis are breeding like rabbits the Chinese seem disinterested in making babies.

          Singapore still the bolthole for corruptors and dirty money, packaged appropriately.

          • Pincher Martin says:


            Your original claim about the city-state’s prosperity had something to do with it being both small and surrounded by corrupt and inefficient neighbors, as if it’s ever an advantage for small wealthy countries to be in the proximity of large impoverished states with numerous social problems. (Malaysia is not impoverished now, but Indonesia certainly is, and Malaysia was once riven with severe racial problems between the Malays and Chinese, which in part explain why Singapore became an independent state in the first place.)

            You now seem to believe that Singapore benefits from corrupt and lax capital controls. The only way you could possibly believe that is because you know nothing about Singapore. Have you even visited the place? Read a book about its history?

            The only reason Singapore has prospered is that it (like Malaysia) maintained a more-or-less clean English system of law, enforces contracts and generally applies a workable code of business.

            Which I just told you. Strangely, you didn’t mention any of this in your original post about why Singapore was prospering.

            Singapore is promoting the devil out of tourism (cheap way to get foreign exchange) and financial services (ahem). With five million souls cramped on a tiny island, surrounded by not-particularly-friendly mostly-muslim neighbors, it doesn’t have a lot of options.

            So? Singapore has a diversified economy. It doesn’t need tourism for foreign exchange in the same way that, say, Thailand or East African countries need it.

            The Swiss promote the hell out of tourism and financial services, too. Is that because you think the Swiss don’t have a lot of options?

            It is also scared to death of racial tensions: its delicate balance of Malay Muslim – Hindu Tamil – (mostly Christian) Chinese is in danger of turning turtle: while the bumis are breeding like rabbits the Chinese seem disinterested in making babies.

            Singapore is still 75 percent Chinese. The Malays make up less than 15 percent of the country. That ratio of nearly seven to one, Chinese to Malay, is not significantly different than it was in 1970.

            The birthrate for all ethnic populations in Singapore is below replacement level, but Singapore allows immigration and there’s a large number of wealthy overseas Chinese willing to purchase citizenship in the city-state.

            • It’s remarkably naïve of you to assert that Singapore does not accept tainted money from its neighbors. Property ‘investment’ is one of the commonest layering / integration tactics of the [mostly-Chinese] corrupt elite (not paying your taxes qualifies you for that category, in my book). It’s legal of course and has driven property prices into the stratosphere. There are a number of ostensibly above-the-board ways to move cash around the the industrious ethnic Chinese, who have historically controlled over 90% of the Indonesian economy (and probably a similar piece of the Malaysian one).

              I still maintain that Singapore has – at least until the 1998 Asian financial crisis – benefited mostly from the unreliability of its neighbors, who have all the resources. Singapore doesn’t even have enough potable water, and has to deal with infantile Malaysian threats on a regular basis.

              Your naïveté about ‘small wealthy countries in the vicinity of large impoverished ones…’ ignores blatant cases like that of, say, Luxembourg, another do-nothing principality that harbors financial crooks:

              In terms of ‘have you ever visited the place?’ I can assure you I am quite familiar with the region, having lived and worked in Jakarta for three decades. I deal on a daily basis with Indonesian businesses, many of which are linked to Singaporean investors, bankers or other counterparts.

              And you, sunshine? It’s beyond naïve to call Indonesia, which at the moment has one of the world’s highest growth rates, ‘impoverished’. Have you ever looked at the force with with FMCG enterprises from all over the world are piling into the Indonesian marketplace? Silly. From the link below: ‘We project new emerging economies like Mexico and Indonesia to be larger than the UK and France by 2030…’

              Click to access world-in-2050-february-2015.pdf

              • It should also be pointed out that for the wealthy ethnic Chinese national borders are a bother – nothing more. They’ve been treated badly through history, by the colonialists and the entitled Malays, so their nationalism is but skin-deep.

                Read ‘Lords of the Rim’ for the grim picture.


              • Pincher Martin says:


                It’s remarkably naïve of you to assert that Singapore does not accept tainted money from its neighbors.

                What I maintain is that this practice – if it even exists to the degree you claim – has little to nothing to do with Singapore’s high level of wealth. Singapore does not prosper because it has opaque financial practices. If that was all it took to be economically successfully, we would see a lot of Central American countries with high per-capita GDPs.

                The city-state has a highly diversified economy with open markets, low taxes, efficient and low regulation, and full employment. But none of those would matter, either, if Singapore was populated with Central Africans.

                I still maintain that Singapore has – at least until the 1998 Asian financial crisis – benefited mostly from the unreliability of its neighbors, who have all the resources.

                Singapore is a hub along a busy shipping lane. Most of Singapore’s biggest trading partners (China, Japan, the US, the EU) are distant from the city-state. It exports more to Indonesia and Malaysia than it imports from the two large neighboring countries. Singapore imports twice as much from the U.S., for example, than it does from Indonesia.

                Your naïveté about ‘small wealthy countries in the vicinity of large impoverished ones…’ ignores blatant cases like that of, say, Luxembourg, another do-nothing principality that harbors financial crooks:

                You can’t keep your own argument straight.

                You were the one to make the claim that Singapore benefitted from having large impoverished neighbors. I didn’t make that silly claim. You did.

                Luxembourg’s wealth is much easier explained than Singapore’s, since it is located in the heart of Western Europe (one of the wealthiest areas in the world), has a tenth of the population of the Lion City, and its economy is dominated by the financial sector far more than is Singapore’s.

                According to this 2015 financial secrecy index, Singapore’s score (69) doesn’t even qualify it for the top thirty among the countries and territories listed. Among those with far more opaque financial practices than Singapore are Liberia, Lebanon, Belize, Malaysia, Guatemala, and Panama. Even Switzerland’s financial sector, which recently curtailed some of its more questionable financial practices is still considered more secretive than Singapore.

                So much for your idea that Singapore prospers only because of its secret cabal of Chinese bankers.

                In terms of ‘have you ever visited the place?’ I can assure you I am quite familiar with the region, having lived and worked in Jakarta for three decades. I deal on a daily basis with Indonesian businesses, many of which are linked to Singaporean investors, bankers or other counterparts.

                You appear to have gone native in your IQ.

                And you, sunshine? It’s beyond naïve to call Indonesia, which at the moment has one of the world’s highest growth rates, ‘impoverished’.

                Sub-Saharan Africa also has some of the highest growth rates in the world currently. Yet no one in their right mind would consider the continent anything but impoverished.

                Indonesia is a large and diverse country, and there are plenty of places in it with large middle income populations.

                But on the whole, it lags far behind not only its neighbors in per capita income, but most of the rest of the world. While Indonesia is not as poor as place as, say, India or Cambodia, I would say that any country lagging behind most of the Middle East and South America.

                Of course, my comment was not meant to be taken as just a snapshot of the current economy, but an explanation of Singapore’s economic trajectory. Singapore didn’t become rich overnight. And for most of Singapore’s brief history, Indonesia was impoverished – even if that comment is far less true today than it once was.

        • Dave Pinsen says:

          Whatever the reason, reasonably non-corrupt Chinese society hasn’t scaled beyond Taiwan. Transparency international rankings for Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the PRC descend as the populations increase.

          • Pincher Martin says:

            Yes, but the Japanese – who are certainly not Chinese, but closer to the Chinese than they are to any other race and culture – have a populous nation-state which is reasonably free of corruption. So I don’t think size necessarily has anything to do with China’s problem of corruption.

            According to Transparency International, China is currently less corrupt than Russia and Mexico, tied with India and Brazil, but behind Saudi Arabia, South Africa, and Italy. That’s somewhere in the middle of the pack, which is better than I would have predicted.

            • ‘…less corrupt…’ is extremely problematical to determine, and depends of who is reporting and what is being reported. What is quite legal in one country – grand political donations, for instance – would be considered criminal in another.

              Your comment about Japan’s being ‘…reasonably free of corruption…’ also displays flaming naïveté. Has anything changed with regard to the interlocking sweetheart deals between the ruling parties, big business, the banks and the yazuka since the days of Kakuei Tanaka and Yoshio Kodama? Not really. They’re stuck, in oh-so-many ways. Shikata nga nai.

              • Pincher Martin says:

                First this …

                ‘…less corrupt…’ is extremely problematical to determine, and depends of who is reporting and what is being reported.

                followed by this…

                Your comment about Japan’s being ‘…reasonably free of corruption…’ also displays flaming naïveté.

                You just get finished saying that corruption is in the eye of the beholder only to turn around and claim that it’s naive to consider the Japanese reasonably free of corruption.

                Does your left hand ever know what your right hand is doing, Byron? Or do you have to pass it notes?

              • Jim says:

                Is Japan more corrupt than Illinois?

              • danielchieh says:

                In the US, lobbying is legal. In many countries, it would be considered as outright corruption.

              • Jim says:

                Yes, I agree that the much of what is legal in the US is bribery in reality. Corporations wouldn’t keep donating large sums to politicians if they weren’t getting a return.

              • Peter Akuleyev says:

                If you consider corruption to be essentially transactions taking place with no transparency, then Japan certainly suffers from corruption. Sweetheart deals and political favoritism are commonplace. The construction industry in particular is incredibly corrupt. On the other hand, because Japanese behavior is governed by so many unspoken rules and codes of honor, even corrupt deals generally result in the buyer getting real value for his money, which is not the case in places like Nigeria or Russia.

                China falls in the middle but more toward the Japan side. Almost every significant transaction requires bribery and unofficial payments, but generally the bribees will deliver what they promise provided you are Chinese and have sufficient connections to create trouble if commitments are unfulfilled.

      • You did a lot of spinning down thread. But how about facts? Manufacturing is the biggest sector of Singapore’s economy. Finance and insurance is in 4th place though possibly about to move into 3rd place.

  10. anonymous says:

    DJI is the leading consumer drone company in the world, they make the best camera drones the ordinary consumer can buy. The “hoverboard”, a sort of self-balancing scooter that you just stand on, also came out of China. It helps to have Shenzhen, the “Silicon Valley” of electronics manufacturing, where everything is in one place; it greatly speeds up experimentation and development cycles (and there’s also lots of outright copying, of course).

    I live in Beijing, and recently a couple of bike-sharing startups have flooded the streets with colorful bicycles that you unlock with your smartphone, ride to wherever, and just leave it there.

  11. bob sykes says:

    The important point is that nearly half of all the graduate students in our STEM programs are Chinese, and they return to China with the absolutely most cutting edge technology and science we have. As graduate students, they themselves do some of the innovation on American research projects.

    I guess the real question is, How much innovation do American graduate students and faculty do after correcting for the Chinese contribution?

  12. albatross says:

    Around 2004, a Chinese mathematician (Wang) started publishing her research on hash function cryptanalysis in English, including breaking MD5 and SHA0 and eventually SHA1. Refinements/descendents of her techniques led to the super-efficient breaks of MD5, and the recent practical break of SHA1. (The family of techniques goes by the term “message modification” and “advanced message modification.” But there’s a lot more than that in her work and what followed from it.)

    You can look back in the literature and see somewhat similar ideas lying around in other peoples’ work (especially the work of a guy named Dobbertin, who died fairly young), but pretty much the whole public cryptanalysis community missed this stuff for a decade or so, till she published it.

  13. luisman says:

    You could scroll through their around 1 Million patent applications 😉

  14. IC says:

    In this video, this Chinese military scientist created the very first temperature-stable artillery powder which provided all-weather reliable/accurate artillery shells for Chinese military. It created sniper-rifle hand-loaded ammo like reliability for all-weather accuracy. It is claimed that no other developed countries have anything similar. Most developed countries still try to create the artillery with ability to compensate the temperature effect on smokeless artillery powder. But this guy solved the problem by creating temperature reliable artillery powder instead.

    • IC says:

      This video also show that he created automatic loading system/machine for artillery which double the rate of firing for tanks or cannons. Also for the the same size/caliber, his powder safely provides 20% longer shooting range than other countries artillery powder in the rest of world.

  15. j says:

    The Chinese created in the past several world-beating industries like silk textiles, porcelain stoneware and so. Why is so difficult to find comparable contemporary achievements?

    • The Z Blog says:


    • reiner Tor says:

      Part of the problem could be that they digged themselves into a hole and are still not totally out of it. While Europe was creating modern science, they did basically nothing, then destroyed themselves with a series of unusually bloody civil wars, the last of which only ended in around 1949, then the winning side created a totally inefficient economic system, and to top it off, they even managed to destroy that inefficient economic system twice in a row (during the Great Leap Forward, then during the Cultural Revolution), and only started to create a viable economic system in the late 1970s. By those standards, that’s impressive enough.

      There’s an oft-repeated claim on some HBD blogs as well as white nationalist websites that the orientals lack creativity. However, I’m sure that the Japanese (and more recently the Koreans) have a lot of cultural creativity, I’m not sure about the Chinese, but I’d be surprised if they didn’t. That said, some creativity must exist among the Chinese because of their vast number. If, for example, there’s a “creativity quotient” that was selected against in the Chinese, so they are now a standard deviation below Europeans, that would still mean that the numbers above almost any threshold are still a lot higher than in, say, 17th century England. But some other factors might play a compounding role (e.g. the same culture which selected out creativity might dampen it in those who have it), or it could be a combination of personality traits (each of which might have been selected against except IQ), or the difference might be larger than just one std, or a combination of these explanations.

      Also innovation might be getting more difficult. I’m not very well-informed, what great innovations came out of Germany or Italy in the last 50 years?

  16. Cpluskx says:

    If you include Chinese immigrants: Terence Tao and Shing-Tung Yau in maths and partly physics, Andrew Ng in machine learning, Robin Li in search engine algorithms, Feng Zhang in development of CRISPR.

  17. Maciano says:

    They must be too “complacent”

  18. IC says:

    In this video list, thousands of Chinese innovations from contemporary Chinese peasants and factory workers are presented. But you have to understand Chinese in order to appreciate them. It might not be good idea to understand them since ignorance is bliss.

    It is human ignorant nature to automatically assume they are better than anybody else without knowing anything. It is no surprise that some people automatically assume earth as center of universe. Ignorance also assumes that God must look like themselves (human created by God according to his image). Such ignorance can be spotted daily. Idiots reveal their true IQ without knowing it. People make fool of themselves in front of others.

    Following is a farmer home-made invention

    • Greying Wanderer says:

      nice one

      • IC says:

        Yeah It is called Dunning–Kruger effect.

        The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which low-ability individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their ability as much higher than it really is. High-ability individuals may underestimate their relative competence and may erroneously assume that tasks which are easy for them are also easy for others.

        That is how stupid people reveal themselves.

  19. SD says:

    I was going to write artificial rain by cloud seeding, but then I googled it and found that the Chinese were hardly the first to do it, they just do it on the largest scale.

    • dave chamberlin says:

      Speaking of doing things on a larger scale China is now working very hard on the mother of all real estate bubble bursts. Tokyo 1989, United States 2008, and China coming sometime in the not too distant future. Watch this youtube video

      China has invented ghost cities. Not just one, lots of them and not small cities, big ones. What I like about this video is it isn’t by windbag economists who nobody trusts, but by people who live in China and know it well. Seeing is barely believing, it is incredible.

        • dave chamberlin says:

          I have too much respect for Steve Hsu to think he is a propagandists. But he is wrong. These buildings have been empty for three years and yet they still keep building them. He states a 1 to 2 year lag in ghost cities being filled. Real estate speculation in China is nothing more than a pyramid scheme. They have very few options in where to invest their money so they build high rises nobody needs. If they stopped building them tomorrow than maybe, maybe they could eventually fill the empty units they have. But they are going to fast and furiously build new residential high rises in places where they have absolutely no need for them until the biggest real estate bubble of all time bursts.The Chinese believe what we did up to 2008. Real estate prices will always go up. What they are doing is crazy and at a mind boggling scale. It isn’t the government at fault, it’s greedy people who are ignoring very simple and easy to understand principles of supply and demand. I hope I’m wrong.

          • I’d say that an important fundamental difference is that the Chinese, like most Asians (with the conspicuous exception of the Japanese) deeply distrust the whole ‘money’ theater, and once they can stash cash yields from their work, inheritance or other investment into something not subject to whims of [totalitarian] authorities (though in today’s world that is more and more a pleonasm), or to inflation, confiscation or banksterism they do so. Got to feel sorry for the poor little rich folk, especially in a society as ruthless as China, where one is never more than two steps away from investigation and confiscation. At least the empty condos in the windy ghost towns potentially hold their value.

            Americans keep the faith, continue to worship the Almighty ‘Eye on the Pyramid’. When Wall Street implodes, or when BRIC does its end-run around the petrodollar and its true nakedness is revealed, it will come as a fatal shock.

            Global-reserve-currency-by-default is a pretty shaky bet, at least over the long run. Ask the Taiwanese elders whose savings were in Chancre Jack’s worthless dollars (40,000 = 1.00).

            • Jim says:

              A lady from Hong Kong whom I knew from my previous employment told me how she remembered from her childhood in Hong Kong her mother constantly buying gold bullion and stashing it away. I remember a story from the fall of Saigon that when Nguyen Van Theiu was trying to flee the country his plane at first could not get off the ground because of the amount of gold loaded aboard it.

              I would guess that Warren Buffet doesn’t have much gold stashed at home.

              • Also the contemptible Fulgencio Batista, making his cowardly (and largely unexpected) Exeunt, pursued by a beard.

                Asians still love their gold and hang onto it. The recent despicable attempt by the Government of India to swindle individual citizens out of their gold jewelry, with the promise of a piece of paper in exchange (and more pieces of paper in interest, by and by) has failed spectacularly, as even an uneducated Indian will recognize pure Ponzi when he sees it.

                I read that only about 4% of the gold in private hands was turned in to the authorities, who promptly melted it down and stashed it into the national bullion hoard.

          • dave chamberlin says:

            Dear 1.3 billion

            Sell your concrete skyboxes when they still hold value

            Reinvest in Chinese companies that build a quality product

            More advice on the proper timing of investing in a Chinese genetics company coming later

  20. Greying Wanderer says:

    When a nation is catching up i’d imagine a lot of their innovative brains will be wasted(?) doing stuff that is routine elsewhere.So the time to judge this will be a short while in the future.What happens in Japan – as they have fully caught up already – should give a clue.

    The other thing is they may look for the genetic source of innovation and breed for it while in the West the opposite is happening.

    • albatross says:

      Not necessarily wasted. Catch-up growth is still growth! Adapting existing technology to your needs and resources is worthwhile, and sometimes you introduce actual improvements (think Japanese car makers and reliability). I suspect one of the big sources of improvements is that you can look at the current state of the art, and apply it directly, whereas the original folks who developed it followed some crooked path full of errors and dead ends, and they’re likely to still have some stuff that doesn’t make sense but that they can’t change for internal politics/labor relations/contractual/legal reasons. Doing catch-up growth, you can jump right over that stuff.

      • Jim says:

        Actually if what you are adopting is already perfect and doesn’t need any improvements at all that is all the better.

      • Greying Wanderer says:

        yes – still uses up time though – a guy building coal power stations for the last 20 years might have an innovative streak which is never utilized.

        so not wasted exactly but once all the coal stations are built maybe a similar guy would be working in a lab somewhere?

  21. benespen says:

    In terms of pure engineering efficiency [functional ability divided by dollars, or yuan], the cheap electronics you can find in Shenzhen are pretty good. In 2013, someone bought a $12 cellphone. While extremely bare bones, it was also did just about anything a non-smartphone could be expected to do. If it broke, you could just replace it out of pocket. Then compare that to a more recent model apparently marketed to smugglers.

    Still a cheap POS, but an order of magnitude more sophisticated than what you could get 4 years ago in the same places. Enabling all this is is a flourishing community of engineers and technicians that reminds me of the early days of PCs. People doing nerdy things because its fun, and because they can [or to prove that they can]. A pretty casual attitude about intellectual property, and probably about exactly where the components or CPU cycles used ultimately come from or who pays for it.

  22. Misdreavus says:

    Nobody in this thread seems to be answering the question. At all.

  23. G.M. says:

    I heard they independently invented peanut butter, after filching the recipe from a konsortium of kangz n’ Könige.

  24. Pincher Martin says:

    I’m unsure that this counts as a “significant innovation”, as opposed to a ramping up of industrial capacity in an already well-established high-tech field, but it hasn’t been mentioned yet in the thread so I thought I’d let others decide for themselves.

    From the article:

    China on Monday revealed its latest supercomputer, a monolithic system with 10.65 million compute cores built entirely with Chinese microprocessors. This follows a U.S. government decision last year to deny China access to Intel’s fastest microprocessors.

    There is no U.S.-made system that comes close to the performance of China’s new system, the Sunway TaihuLight. Its theoretical peak performance is 124.5 petaflops, according to the latest biannual release today of the world’s Top500 supercomputers. It is the first system to exceed 100 petaflops. A petaflop equals one thousand trillion (one quadrillion) sustained floating-point operations per second.

    The most important thing about Sunway TaihuLight may be its microprocessors. In the past, China has relied heavily on U.S. microprocessors in building its supercomputing capacity. The world’s next fastest system, China’s Tianhe-2, which has a peak performance of 54.9 petaflops, uses Intel Xeon processors….

    TaihuLight is running “sizeable applications,” which include advanced manufacturing, earth systems modeling, life science and big data applications, said Dongarra. This “shows that the system is capable of running real applications and [is] not just a stunt machine,” Dongarra said….

    There has been nothing secretive about China’s intentions. Researchers and analysts have been warning all along that U.S. exascale (an exascale is 1,000 petaflops) development, supercomputing’s next big milestone, was lagging.

    It’s not just China that is racing ahead. Japan and Russia have their own development efforts. Europe is building supercomputers using ARM processors, and, similar to China, wants to decrease its dependency on U.S.-made chips.

    China’s government last week said it plans to build an exascale system by 2020. The U.S. has targeted 2023.

    China now has more supercomputers in the Top500 list than the U.S., said Dongarra. “China has 167 systems on the June 2016 Top500 list compared to 165 systems in the U.S,” he said, in an email. Ten years ago, China had 10 systems on the list.

    A related article: China Builds World’s Fastest Computer, 5 Times Faster Than Any U.S. Computer

  25. Anonymous says:

    Morris Chang of TSMC, the pure-play foundry business model. Really helped engineering startups in the US like Broadcom, Marvell, Nvidia, etc.. Though he was primarily trained in the US.

    In the 90s, the market leader for sound cards was a company called Creative, in Singapore, not sure if they innovated, but it was great for gamers.

    I guess maybe Bubble Tea…

    Yeah not much

  26. Mobi says:

    Perhaps they are constitutionally less innovative. But, imo, the prudent position is to assume the jury is still out, until a generation or two after they’ve approached wealth-parity with the developed world.

    I’m thinking of the example of the surge in Japanese Nobels post-2000. Which of course is science, not innovation, but still seems to advise caution, since we can all probably remember the re-assuring stereotype of ‘copycat Japanese crap’.

    And, if we assume a sizeable contribution of serendipity to the history of innovation (in keeping with Mr. Cochrane’s recent post about the benefits of passionate pursuit of even misguided hypotheses, because you never know what you might stumble upon), then I wonder if their rather more relaxed approach to what is ethical might give them an offsetting boost, relative to us.

    Accompanied by a higher rate of unfortunate accidents, of course. But my sense is, they will care far less about such collateral damage.

    • Greying Wanderer says:

      “Perhaps they are constitutionally less innovative. But, imo, the prudent position is to assume the jury is still out, until a generation or two after they’ve approached wealth-parity with the developed world.”

      yes plus larger numbers

      larger numbers may not matter if a pop is low IQ but if a pop is high IQ but over the centuries bred out some “squeaky nail gets hammered flat” genes that promote innovation then even if they only have 10% of the squeaky nail genes having 10x the pop might compensate.

      • Having taught both language and video production in both Japan and China, I would sadly conclude that the washing of the brains from infancy, the need to submerge identity into the group (and into ‘groupthink’) and the unyielding pressure to conform from all directions will be a titanic impediment to basic creativity to overcome. How many truly original software developers have emerged from China, Korea or Japan (vs. India or the USA, both nations with considerably more individual latitude)?

        On a brighter note the emergence of a generation of vital and original visual artists, many of whom are recognized in the big-time commercial painting realm, is a telling development.

  27. IC says:

    This was bit of old. I did not watch it yet. But it is ok since it is in English. I do not have to interpret for you guys.

  28. IC says:

    Crocodile in the Yangtze

  29. danielchieh says:

    I would say that a lot of the most intelligent faction is being siphoned over into government work, and thus not focused in technological innovation. We should expect to see societal/political innovation rather than technological if my thesis is true.

    There’s some evidence of that.

  30. danielchieh says:

    I would also say that the university environment, for most things except for certain subjects, is a pretty unpleasant place for basic research. There’s a lot of bureaucracy that considers research to be an ROI activity, and therefore funding goes heavily for applied but not basic research. This tends to discourage scientists who want to focus on basic research.

    Genetics is one of the exceptions.

  31. akarlin says:

    China has about a third of the US scientific output according to the Nature Index, and it is considerably ahead of third place Germany.

    This is probably a better indicator of scientific output than raw papers published (where it is now a close second) since you need to meet some stringent quality standards to be published in Nature.

    This shows that genuine original research is taking place there.

  32. Dave Pinsen says:

    I think I found another Chinese innovation, the insult baizuo.

  33. Eugene Swin says:

    30-Story Building Built In 15 Days (Time Lapse) – YouTube
    ▶ 2:32

    How to Erect a 57 – Story Sky Scraper in 19 Days – YouTube
    ▶ 4:01

  34. Hao says:

    I live in China and know a little bit about Chinese innovations. Apparently the short answer is no, there aren’t many innovations coming out of China. People are used to copy or reverse engineer Western products, mostly because there is no rule of law under the communist regime and patents could not protect anyone.
    That said, there are still some innovations worth noting here:
    – The non-invasive prenatal testing method is based on the fetal DNA/RNA detection technology discovered by Dennis Lo, a Hong Kong professor.
    – E-payment, especially mobile payment is highly successful in China, thanks to Alibaba’s Alipay and Tencent’s Wechat Payment. They may not be the first to invent mobile payment, but surely are the ones that make it commercially successful. I can basically live without cash or wallet for a whole month in Beijing now; the only places that still do not accept Wechat payment/Alipay are hospitals and parking lots.
    – Artemisinin, a drug used against malaria, is discovered by Chinese scientist Tu Youyou, which won her a Nobel Prize.
    – Yuan Longping, a agricultural scientist, developed the first hybrid rice varieties, providing a robust food source in high famine risk areas.
    – Chen Zhongwei is “the father of replantation”, among the first to attach a severed hand to the patient’s forearm, and the developer of many other microsurgical procedures.
    – Charles Kuen Kao, a Hong Kong professor, pioneered in the development and use of fiber optics in telecommunications. He won a Nobel Prize in physics in 2009.
    – Chinese company Netac claimed to be the first to invent USB flash drive, although Singaporean company Trek also claimed the invention; both won some patent suits.

  35. One of the biggest chinese innovations would be successful Civilian drone companies like DJI and Yuneec , which have nearly put GoPro out of business

    another one would be the upcoming near-production all electric 1360 horsepower supercar known as NIO EP9, which has just broken the lap record for production cars at the Nürburgring Nordschleife at around 6 mins 45.9 seconds, besting even the best of petrol driven cars from the West

    • When I was an inpatient at People’s Hospital Number 3 in Yancheng, Jiangsu, every day a nurse would come by with a tiny printout showing the current balance of my bill.
      This is, by the way, something the medical establishment and insurance companies are fighting viciously against in some states, where legislation has been passed requiring a hospital to tell patients what they are being charged for.

  36. ThinkingCat says:

    Several machine learning algorithms are invented by people of Chinese descent.

    Random forests, isolation forests & LightGBM

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