ARC Review: Us-China Tech War: What Chinese Tech History Reveals About Future Tech Rivalry


In US-China Tech War author Nina Xiang takes a deep dive into the history of the Chinese semiconductor industry. It's a revealing look at the successes and failures of the Chinese government's central planning and state-run-enterprise approach in a very capital intensive industry.

Xiang takes a long view and frames her history with an understanding of the differences in the societal import of science and technology both within China and in the West. 

She begins her book with a discussion of what she calls "China's Technology DNA".  In this discussion she repeats the question of British historian Joseph Needham, who wondered why modern science rose only in the West rather than in the long history of Chinese civilization. 

Throughout China's history the State, whether the dynasties of the past or today's Communist Party rulers, have viewed technology as a tool for advancing it's own aims. Pursuits for the sake of scientific understanding alone don't further State interests and thus have received very little attention and not been highly valued.  As a result there are many examples of practical technological advances in Chinese history.

In the meantime, Confucian, Buddhist and Daoist philosophies emphasize harmony between man and nature, encouraging humans to contemplate how to best fit into nature, rather than asking how or why nature works the way it does. Taken together Xiang says, these things have historically thwarted pure scientific pursuits in China.

It's an interesting historical perspective, and reminiscent of the discussion of the state of science and technology in the medieval West by Seb Falk in his book Light Ages, which I reviewed earlier this year.

From this discussion framing her story Xiang then spends the bulk of the book describing the Chinese semiconductor industry from the 1950s to today. The picture she paints is not one many American readers may be expecting. At least in the case of this industry, all of the Chinese government's will and money have not made their native semiconductor companies leaders of the world. Even today they remain behind their peers outside of China. And recent moves by the US, especially in the Huawei case, mean catching up is even harder now for China.

Xiang is a journalist and has reported on finance and Chinese industry for several years. She founded a website whose focus is venture capital investing in China. She brings quite a bit of credibility and insight into this book. But like all experts she is very close to her story, and the result is a book that's not for everybody. 

By that I mean that the book is filled with statistics and assumes some knowledge of the industry and it's players. So, coming into this book, it helps if you do already have some understanding of the semiconductor and high tech industries. If you're used to reading financial or IT news reports (ala the WSJ, InfoWorld or even better the Semiconductor Daily News for instance), the stats and insider knowledge will likely be easily digestible. 

Overall I found US-China Tech War an informative industry insider's perspective on the current US / China relationship, and where it may go from here. I give it Three Stars ⭐⭐⭐. 

NOTE: This is an independently published book which was released in paperback and ebook editions on September 4, 2021. I received a copy of this book from the author and BookSirens in exchange for a fair and honest review.

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