Entovation International
China - Technology Horizon Map

Jin Zhouying, Peter P. Yim, Robert Johansen

[Editor's Note - This is an edited synopsis of a paper written in March 1997 by the above authors. This is not the full original paper. We thank ENTOVATION colleague Jin Zhouying for this contribution].

Since the policy of open door and reformation, China has experienced 18 years of economic development in high speed, which makes China as one of the most vigorous countries and biggest emerging market in the world. Today, China has formed a technological system typified by information technology, biotechnology, automation technology, new materials, energy and aerospace technology, etc. as well as established a scientists groups, which are paving the way to high-tech developments in 21st century China. This summary examines what are the main driving forces behind this technology development and which factors will play important roles in the high tech development of China.

Technological Progress

Study of the world view of technological progress shows that could see that it has happened in both an evolutionary way and in spurts. Innovation has come from the combination and integration across sciences, cross-subject, borderline subjects and various technologies that have produced new technologies. Rapid scientific and technology development and more diversity of market demands, has shortened the technology revolution cycle. Therefore, analyses of world development trends combined with understanding the development strategies of our own enterprises, and the opportunities and risks, is very helpful for developing long-term strategy.

The Technology Horizon Map

The authors have developed a Technology Horizon Map that portrays the influential factors and relationships that affect technology development. A 1996 map by IFTF took micro-processors and computers in 1980s, laser and information in the 1990s, and sensing technology in 2000 as the time background, to derive an elliptic technology map -- the "Technology Egg". At CTISS this has been developed to also consider the interaction between technology and economy, society, environment and resources. The egg is now a "wheel". The map now consists of three layers:

  • Layer 1: The Technology-Market Wheel of four sets of key spokes (the drivers) - Knowledge, New Technologies, Enterprises and Market.
  • Layer 2: The Society Field - the implications of society, culture/education, environment on technology.
  • Layer 3: The effects of technology development on the economy, society and environment.

The wheel moves forward according to certain influences. The strength of drivers and interactions - the spokes - affect the behaviour over time. For example, the strength of social factors affects the rolling speed of the technology wheel, while the technology-market interaction affects the lengths of the spokes, and hence the wheel's overall stability.

The technology wheel is supported by two crossing sustaining spokes - a technology sustaining spoke and a market sustaining spoke. The two ends of the market sustaining spoke are called Enterprises Spoke and Market Spoke. Since enterprises have close relations with the market, so China's backward technology has a direct relationship with it. The two ends of the Technology Sustaining Spoke are Knowledge Spoke and New Technology Spoke. Because knowledge is the resources and basis of technology, the capacity of possessing knowledge, developing knowledge and applying knowledge will resolve the nation's developing speed of economy and technology. It is thus clear that technology and market seem to be the two wheels of technology development, none of them can be neglected. And if any one is weak, it will influence the speed of the technology wheel.

Yin and Yang Circle

The technical wheel is a Yin and Yang circle. It describes the balance of the Chinese dual system and the law of the unity of opposites. It also illustrates that the drive force of technology development should be divided into two. Simultaneously, drivers and restrictions can be transformed under certain conditions . After analyzing these opposites, we should be able to add to our advantages, avoid mistakes and try to turn restrictions into drive forces. This has special relevance for China. For example, China's traditions have a dual influence in developing modernization and promoting technology transfer.

Information Technology

Applying the technology wheel using information technology as an example, the main spokes are:

  • New Technology - Information infrastructure, information systems in Chinese language, applications, new telecommunications (broad band, wireless, etc.), Intranet etc.
  • Enterprises - Entrepreneurs, economic development, joint ventures, investment, intellectual property rights
  • Knowledge - Attitude towards sharing, laws, values, ideology, special client demands etc.
  • Market - clients, simple interfaces; computer, communication, television integration, Internet, interactive multimedia, language and graphics processing technology.

These spokes are the four key drivers that influence information technology development most in the next 5 - 10 years in China. Analysis of the other wheels shows that each has their own characteristics. Thus, social, cultural and environmental factors can present barriers that are much more serious than those arising from the status of fundamental research, applications and manufacturing technologies.

Information Systems in China

The development and applications of information system in the Chinese language (with over 30,000 ideographs, of which 13,000 are considered basic for everyday word processing needs) are critical factors for entering into the information society for 1.2 billion people. Mapping 13,000 characters onto a keyboard with, say, 101 keys has captured the imagination of many a computer scientists or linguist! Chinese phonetics, OCR (Optical Characters Recognition ), machine translation technology , artificial intelligence input method and technology of proof checking are important tasks to address. The Chinese laser paging system created by 'Founder' of Beijing University is a good example. Systems for agricultural information, education and training, air traffic control, water resources management and CIMS are all important for pushing forward economic and social development in China.

National Infrastructure

China's State Council has set up a group to oversee the speed up and construction of the National Information Infrastructure. The telecommunication network, computer network and the Internet are progressing rapidly. For example, there are 22 main optical cable routes with a total length of 100,000 kilometres (expected to be 200,000 by the year 2000). Since 1996 there has been an under sea optical link to Korea. The digital network reaches into 1000 localities and is accessed by over 80,000 families. The use of mobile telecommunications is doubling every year - there were over 3.6 million subscribers of cellular mobile phones in 1995, second in number only to the USA. This is expected to grow to 18 million by 2000 and 60 million by 2010. There are more than 100 companies who run businesses for connecting to the Internet and a similar number who offer Internet information services.

Economic Development and Enterprise

Since the 'open door and reform' policy, the average annual increase in GDP has been 9.9 per cent (from 1978 to 1995). Economic reform has seen the emergence of a large number of entrepreneurs, many with science and technology backgrounds. By 1995 over 97,000 non-state-owned technological enterprises had been created, about 70 per cent of them in high-tech development zones all over China. They are usually full of energy and integrate research, production and industrialization.

Foreign investment and joint ventures are another important feature of economic development. Today China is one of the most vigorous economies in the world. Up to the end of 1996, there were more than 280,000 foreign investments, amounting to USD170 billion and the amount of export trade they generate is about one third of China's total exports. About 200 companies out of the 'Fortune 500' have investments in China.

Knowledge Sharing

Attitudes towards sharing are important to the development of high-tech businesses, because the Internet culture is a sharing culture and groupware computing's effectiveness is positively correlated to the extent of information shared. But classically, the Chinese have actually been extremely careful in guarding family knowledge and wisdom as secrets within the family. This attitude affects the 'knowledge' sustaining spoke on the technology horizon map.

Future Challenges - Building on Traditional Strengths

China has had problems in the creation of an efficient business environment. Traditionally there has been much government interference. People try to manage market economy activities by using the methods they used to manage in the planned economy. China does not have a long history in developing high-tech (especially outside national defence technology). To combat this, several national level projects, have been launched, such as "National High-tech Research & Development Plan ("863 Project)", " Shifting from Military to Civil Product Project", "Torch Project", etc. to help accelerate progress. Another government initiative is the creation of 52 high-tech development zones that provide pilot bases for the industrialization of high-tech products.

Nevertheless China has a rich cultural heritage and a "hard- working" tradition. Chinese people, especial the coastal people have a great history in overseas travel. Through centuries of this tradition, there are overseas Chinese in almost every country in the world. Besides the 1.2 billion Chinese people in mainland China, there are roughly 57 million overseas Chinese living abroad. The community consisting of Chinese in the mainland China, "compatriots" as well as overseas Chinese is called as "The Great Chinese Community". There are also many Chinese students abroad.

As China transforms toward a market economy, the good points of our cultural context - like respect for learning and knowledge, responsibility and trustworthiness, self discipline, willingness to sacrifice oneself for future generations, justice, moderation and esteem for generosity will be beneficial for reform and innovation.

For China's future success, it will especially important to consider the continuous coordination between society, economy, technology and environment. The Technology Map allows us to monitor our progress. Now in its second version, we shall follow the progress of key factors and drivers shown in the map to find new ones. We intend to update this work periodically.

Jin Zouying
Director, Ceter for Technology Innovation and Strategy Studies (CTISS)
Beijing
E-mail: zhouy@moon.bjnet.edu.cn

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Reprinted from I3 Update - 13.