China is a fascinating place. The sheer number of citizens means much is happening there and with distance and language barriers it is difficult to assess how things are going. I know IT pretty well and the Chinese are deliberately trying to become self-sufficient in IT in a small number of years. They produce chips that perform about the same as COTS chips of 10-15 years ago and are even making super-computers with them. It is conceivable that in the next decade the technology gap will be closed by them.
Some clues are found in the huge numbers of students who get their basic training in China and study overseas to take advanced training and bring ideas and energy home with them. When I was a part of the university community there were Chinese students in every classroom, and they excelled because the minimum requirement to survive in academia over there is a fine case of survival of the fittest. If you start with millions of students who work their hardest, you end up with thousands who are top-notch.
Another clue is number of publications in scientific and technology literature. Within a short time the number of publications should match that of the USA. Whether they have equal stature in quality is another matter but China is working hard to close any gaps and they don’t intend to stop.
I can remember we used to laugh about Russian progress in the 1960s. We don’t laugh any more. The Chinese are much more motivated than the Russians were, they have pride and huge economic incentives. People there are moving from rice-paddies to complex technological systems in a generation or two. The government actually tries to match food production with technological advancement to try to raise all boats with the rising tide. So far it seems to be working. There are whole cities dedicated to one technology or another. It is like Silicon Valley, USA, replicated dozens of times. China is the major producer of many technologies ranging from computers to photo-voltaic cells to batteries and they aim to be state of the art in every one, not just the lowest price. It is hard to beat them on price/performance for anything.
In my pet area, personal computing, China still lags greatly domestically but they are growing much faster than the rest of the world. While we jockey to see who is the largest supplier of IT, they actually put a huge proportion of their PCs into Internet cafes. With the latest moves to small cheap computers, China could catch up even faster. Big business is moving production of almost everything to China not only to produce it faster and cheaper but also to sell a lot in China. At the rate things are going, China could be caught up in everything IT in less than a decade. Their industry hardly slowed down in the recent economic recession because the local market took up the slack. GNU/Linux is part of the story because it rides on the smart thingies and the home-grown computers.
In a little more than a month, I will send spies into China (JOKE!!!) to give first-hand reports in English about the retail market for PCs. My ladies love to shop, even if they don’t buy. They will spend several days and I have begged them to give retail IT some study. We may be blessed with some e-mail and pictures. I won’t be able to wait until the globe-trotting ends.