February 25th, 2021

Rebuttal to Disqus user reservoir_dogs regarding China’s economic and technological history

Originally published at 狗和留美者不得入内. You can comment here or there.




I believe PRC by late 60s had made integrated circuits for military use. PRC also made DRAM in 70s on its own. Of course, in comparison with the West and Japan, PRC due to its much weaker foundation struggled to manufacture their microelectronics at scale at low cost with sufficient quality. From what I’ve read, for this, critical are precision machinery, precision chemistry, and precision optics, which require decades of trial and error to do well. I have no experience with mechanical engineering or machinery, but I would believe that ironically, there are aspects of making extremely high quality or durability sewing machines that are in some sense more difficult than rockets and nuclear bombs, which in contrast need only perform the mission successfully once. At least I would believe that making the best sewing machines would require the highest quality machine tools, which PRC did not have access to at that time. Weapons engineer would almost certainly know more than I do about this.

This is more powerful than the state directed effort to making satellites and nuclear bombs, because it is broad based and grassroot based. It is self sustaining.

This is bullshit. Making missiles and nuclear bombs successfully gave PRC the geopolitical leverage to get better much terms with the West, through which PRC would later be able to acquire technology pertaining to manufacture of consumer products like sewing machines. Also, maybe it was not worth the effort to try to manufacture better sewing machines if the existing ones despite shortcomings more or less satisfied the most basic needs then in a country with very limited resources. At the very least, there would be very little to gain in comparison to the geopolitical leverage from missiles and nuclear bombs that contributed to better trade terms with the outside world, which in the long run is worth trillions of dollars.

The right-wing Chinese like you who whine about how PRC invested so much in nuclear bomb and missile development instead of bringing TVs to people’s homes are actually nutters if you look more closely. Beginning in the 80s, much because of prior successes in foreign relations and furthering of foreign trade that came with some technology transfer, PRC made rapid improvement in the manufacture at scale, at low cost, and higher quality of consumer products like TVs, refrigerators, air conditioners, and washing machines to bring to the ordinary home. PRC was able to import some (not state-of-the-art) microelectronics fabrication technology from West and Japan as well.

To be fair, I often see similar problems in mindset in Chinese who have immigrated to the West. They are often impatient for money and status. They hold false hopes of getting something for little or without downside. The reality is that if you’re born from what is objectively a lower background, almost certainly you’ll have to work smarter or work harder to catch up, and even if you do that without fault, you or your kids may still be behind in the next generation, since the others who began advantaged improve themselves too, with more money or better technology or better connections to begin with. Statistically, most people who start off behind are still behind in the next generation, and it applies to nations too. PRC is an exception in that it moved up tremendously in the so called hierarchy of nations between 1950-1975, and arguably more so than it did between 1975-2000. Whining or blaming or making excuses will not change this.

By the way, much of major gains of PRC of high international visibility over the past 5 years are really at the core the result of some solid long-term accumulation of both expertise and capital, 厚积薄发 per Chinese idiom. It certainly was not some magic of incentivization or resource allocation of market economy, and I generally dislike people who overemphasize the fruit while downplaying or deluding with respect to the process of obtaining it.

Below I shall copy over a few comments of weapons_engineer which have been highly appraised by myself.

>The biggest thing that weight them down was their system; a system which created all these companies that were not competitive in the world due to perverse incentives.

They weren’t competitive because they didn’t have the technology

And there were incentives to work, not doing your job got you fired into a lower paying job, being smart, fixing problems and inventing things would allow you to move up.

>their system today, driven by a chance for a profit, can replicate the product at a cheaper price and over time, better functionality.

And under communism this would still happen, top scientists and engineers made the most and they are encouraged to improve things in order to keep their position. Their position could always be usurped by someone smarter and more hardworking.

The issue is that the ability to replicate would never develop in the first place. We have numerous countries under capitalism that never developed meaningfully.

This is because you can’t create a processor without technology, and there is no point in developing that technology because there is no profit. And this is the common issue with the vast majority of capitalistic countries today and same thing we saw under colonialism.

Advanced Industry never develops, countries are stuck exporting natural resources and importing technologically advanced goods,

The only times we have seen advanced industry developing in a already developed field has been through either tech transfer or state funded

>These products were also available in the sixties for them to buy and imitate, Why did they not do it? If making chips were too hard, at least making other consumer products like a better sewing machine, which were sold widely by the West should be doable.

As an engineer hence my username, things are very complicated.

Even making a bow in the middle ages was very complicated

>The traditional construction of a longbow consists of drying the yew wood for 1 to 2 years, then slowly working the wood into shape, with the entire process taking up to four years. (This can be done far more quickly by working the wood down when wet, as a thinner piece of wood will dry much faster.[original research?]) The bow stave is shaped into a D-section. The outer “back” of sapwood, approximately flat, follows the natural growth rings; modern bowyers often thin the sapwood, while in the Mary Rose bows the back of the bow was the natural surface of the wood, only the bark is removed. The inner side (“belly”) of the bow stave consists of rounded heartwood. The heartwood resists compression and the outer sapwood performs better in tension. This combination in a single piece of wood (a self bow) forms a natural “laminate”, somewhat similar in effect to the construction of a composite bow. Longbows will last a long time if protected with a water-resistant coating, traditionally of “wax, resin and fine tallow”.,

Its not as simple as just take a piece of wood from a tree, it took medieval bowmakers hundreds of years to figure out how to make a bow, what chemicals to treat it with, how to inspect each piece of wood to determine which pieces of wood are useable, how long to wait. It takes 4 years to make a bow a person would have to cut a certain amount, put it back to dry for a couple of months, and then start cutting again.

Someone taking a piece yew wood and copying the shape of it would do nothing

This applies to pretty much all of our modern day manufacturers, they all know industry secrets that they learn through decades of experience. This knowledge isn’t in any science book, and it all scales up the machines made in the 1960’s are hundreds of times more complex than a longbow

If a bunch of modern day scientists were sent back in time, they wouldn’t be able to make a exact replica longbow from getting a copy of it

There is a news article from 2017

“Finally, China manufactures a ballpoint pen all by itself”

To anyone outside of the ballpoint pen manufacturing world, it might seem hard to understand what, exactly, is so surprising about this development. China already produces 38 billion ballpoint pens a year, according to China Daily, which is about 80 percent of all ballpoint pens in the world. That’s a lot of pens, but there was a catch: China had long been unable to produce a high-quality version of the most important part of the pen, its tip.

The tip of a ballpoint pen is what makes it a ballpoint pen. At the tip, a freely rotating ball is held in a small socket which connects it to an ink reservoir that allows the pen to write or draw lines. Manufacturing a ballpoint pen tip that can write comfortably for a long period of time requires high-precision machinery and precisely thin steel, but for years China was unable to match those crafted by foreign companies.

Overall your argument is not supported, and you cherry pick pointing out only the good of capitalism while ignoring the downsides and are completely ignoring gmachine pointing out that capitalism also encourages slacking, rent seeking, and misallocation or resources (In no sane system does it make sense to pay someone who can throw a ball well 10 million times more than a scientist pushing the boundaries of his field)

I would suggest you look up how South Korea and Taiwan gained the ability to make processors

>In the early 1960s semiconductor producers from the United States were
seeking skilled and relatively cheap labour in foreign countries. South Korea was an ideal place for this purpose because of its highly skilled human resources, low wages, and peaceful environment ensured by the authoritarian government. The first foreign investment in the Korean semiconductor industry was made by the U.S. firm Komy, in December 1965. Although the size of investment was relatively small, this was the first important step in developing a domestic semiconductor manufacturing industry.
The first sizeable investment was made by Fairchild in 1969. At that time, it
was one of the largest semiconductor firms in the United States. Fairchild set two
preconditions: 100% ownership and free access to the domestic market. It was almost
impossible for the Korean government to satisfy these conditions due to existing
legislation on foreign investment .
The Fairchild conditions were discussed and reviewed by the Economic
Planning Board of Korea (EPB). The EPB decided to use its right to amend the
legislation governing foreign investment with the view to attract more foreign capital
and technologies in the future. Large foreign investment was crucial for the
government-devised plan to promote the domestic electronics industry. We can see
from this fact, that even laws and regulations were changed in order to create
favourable conditions for implementation of a government strategy to induce foreign
investment. As it was planned, many US semiconductor and electronics firms arrived
in Korea attracted by Fairchild’s success and established joint ventures as well as
exclusively owned firms (see table 2.1). Following the example of Toshiba in 1969,
Japanese companies joined this trend as well

The same applies to Taiwan, The US gave incredibly advanced technology to both South Korea and Taiwan

Post Korean war this happened to pretty much all korean industries

For example Korea in 1962 passed the “Automobile Industry Protection Act” which forced foreign manufacturers to create partnerships in order to sell cars in South Korea.

Ford transferred its car making technology and models to Kia

It wasn’t the magic of capitalism that made them rich, but rather white supremacy, at this point in time 1950’s to 1970’s the general belief at that time was that white people were more intelligent (due to superior genetics) and that asians could only copy but never innovate.

So many companies in the US gave their most advanced technologies to SK and Taiwan, SK and Taiwan would produce the most advanced things and sell them while they took a percentage of the profits.

Never once did the thought occur that one day TSMC (Which received all the technology from Phillip) would be more advanced than its US counterpart

China never received the same treatment from the US, the only things that were moved to China were low value, low technology jobs and advanced technology was always kept away from China.

China instead had to develop everything domestically or steal it through espionage, this is why China is behind