About the Hutong

I’m Back, and Thank You

Back in the Hutong
Writing Proposals
2239 hrs.

Yeah, okay, I’ve been away for a month, and I’m not going to get defensive about it, but I will apologize.

I love this blog and I’m very attached to its growing number of readers, but this is actually our busy season, and I’m sure you will understand when I say that there are times where the choice comes down to taking care of the clients and taking care of this blog, the clients must invariably win.

That means I’ll have to take an occasional hiatus, but it also means this blog will remain unencumbered by advertising.

In fact, in appreciation of you all sticking with me through these dry spells, I’ve taken some action.

You may have noticed I’ve booted Google off the site, and I’m seriously considering pulling those annoying little Amazon postage stamps off of the border as well. After all, I talk plenty about what I’m reading and why in the Peking Review, but I do it out of a desire to share discoveries, not to send you traipsing over to Amazon and putting money in my pocket.

By the grace of the Big Guy Upstairs, I can afford to run this blog and buy my books out of pocket, and frankly, I respect my readers too much to subject them to annoying advertising.

I’ve also gone ahead and created new (and somewhat more helpful) categories for my entries. If this screws up any permalinks, let me know – iBlog (the software I use for Silicon Hutong) is kind of funny that way.

So thank you for staying with me, and let the wordflow resume…

Hutong Snark

In the Hutong
Dealing with airborne particulates
2142 hrs

The FT is reporting (from Geneva, mind you) that China has passed Germany in patent filings, becoming the world’s fifth largest source of patent filings, a 700% increase in 10 years. Factor out the patents filed by foreign companies, and you’re still left with a 350% increase. That’s a significant increase in patent activity by any measure.

It’s a positive sign in that it represents a growth in China’s intellectual property. That is bound to be a good thing for the future of IPR protection in China – one tends to be more enthusiastic about IPR protection when one has skin in the game.

Of course, these are filings. There is no discussion of the quality of those applications, or the patents actually granted, or how many of those applications are, um, highly derivative of innovations from elsewhere.

* * *

Andrew Lih, who is writing a book about Wikipedia, has done a superb article covering the quietly improving situation of Wikipedia access in China, a fact that has resulted in much rejoicing here in the Hutong.

I still wonder – how much of the blockage was content-related, and how much of it was a bald-faced attempt to give Baidupedia some traction in the market?

Protectionism comes in many guises, perhaps even wearing the fig-leaf of censorship.

* * *

And while we’re on the subject of access, a significant story of blockage that never gets covered is why I can’t access sites like www.army.mil (The U.S. Army), www.defenselink.mil (The Pentagon), and www.d-n-i-net (Defense and the National Interest, a superb blog on national security.) They all work from Hong Kong and Singapore.

However, I have a sneaking suspicion that the problem is not The Great Firewall of China, but an indicator of a small, growing movement of websites that block Chinese IP addresses.

Care to comment, Mr. Rumsfield?

* * *

In one of those wonderful little coincidences, I had just read a series of articles by Dan Harris in The China Law Blog (if you don’t read it, why the hell not?) about the dangers of reliance on guanxi when doing business in China. Frankly, I find all of Dan’s points spot on.

So in one of those juicy moments of irony that only an RSS reader could make possible, five minutes later I was reading an interview by Sean Silverthorne on Harvard Business School’s Working Knowledge site. Sean was speaking to Harvard lecturer Dan Isenberg about a one week trip that nine Harvard faculty members made to China in June to learn about, among other things, entrepreneurship in China.

The article concluded with Sean asking Professor Isenberg about what advice he would give to readers thinking of creating new businesses in China. Isenberg’s response?

“Go there now. When there, listen, observe, learn. When you are ready to do business, form a network of trusted insiders to help you get things done there.” [emphasis added]

Loose translation – Harvard Business School says use guanxi.

After coming back all starry-eyed and breathless from a one-week trip, you can hardly blame them for reaching superficial conclusions. But I mean, really, is this what the cream of the world’s future business leaders is learning about business in China?

* * *

And while we’re on the subject of that esteemed institution of higher learning, it’s worthy noting a recent Richard Tomkins article (thanks, Fons) that Harvard labor economist Richard Freeman recently gave a paper at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston noting how quickly China is moving up the technological ladder. As evidence, he cites the fact that over 750 multinational firms have set up R&D facilities in the PRC.

Yes, they have, and some of those facilities actually do meaningful R&D. But how many are just there for the government relations value, and how many are just localizing product versus doing basic research and genuine development? There are plenty of the latter, but nobody knows how much of the former is out there.

On the other hand, why ask about the value of the statistic when quoting it will do nicely?

Unfortunately it’s that kind of loose play with numbers that could lead to overestimating exactly how far China has come technologically, and coming from a credible source like Dr. Freeman and the Boston Fed, such an overestimation would have repercussions in board rooms and hearing rooms around the U.S.

On a day when China has just canned its own chief statistician, there has never been a greater need for rigor on statistics on the PRC.

Talk in the Hutong, Sunday, 8 October

In the Hutong
Nursing a Cold
1033 hrs.

The all-too-short “Golden Week” has come to an end, with many creeping back to work on a Sunday and facing a six day workweek. Appropriately, as the week came to a close, an occluded weather front rolled in, dropping rain and shoving temperatures down 10 degrees (celsius) overnight. Having gone to bed Friday night with our windows open for the cooling effect, many of us are now spending our days slamming OJ and reaching for the Kleenex box.

Against such a depressing background, the news, at least, everyone here in the Hutong arguing and gesticulating.

> The Sunday Times of London has a superb article that frames why Kim Jong Il is quickly turning into a liability for the Chinese.

> The Independent covers China’s efforts to clean up it leading Soccer league. It’s worth a read – Soccer in China makes the Italians look like paragons of propriety. Probably explains why none of my clients are interested in sponsoring the sport.

(Just as an aside, it strikes me as stunning that between The Times, The Independent, The Telegraph, and even The Guardian British newspapers continue to do a better job writing compelling stories on China on average than all the U.S. mainstream broadsheets, with the notable exceptions of The New York Times and The Washington Post.)

> The Sunday Times also proves that The Wall Street Journal is still the global butt-kicker for coverage of business in China by reprinting a superb WSJ article on China Netcom’s struggle to introduce corporate governance best-practices. You cannot beat The Financial Times for its breadth of coverage, but the editors too often seem to be holding the reins of brilliant journalists like Richard McGregor and Mure Dickie, keeping them from covering their stories in the depth they deserve. Let slip the dogs of war, FT. Turn your superb staff loose – use the wire services for breadth and let Mure and Richard deliver the true insight.

No, It Will NOT look like Xintiandi

In the Hutong, ushering in the drywall guys, the electricians, and the painters.
1839 hrs.

As many of you know, I have struggled mightily over the last several years to find a personality and a voice for this blog. Well, I found it, all right.

And that’s the problem.

My original goal with this space was to help identify and correct some of the mistaken thinking about doing business in the media and technology sector in China, something I wind up doing with many of my clients. And I think by identifying some of that misguided thinking, I helped a little bit.

But in the couple of weeks, last weeks, I’ve been increasingly troubled by my own tone, and I spent the past several days rereading the 150-odd posts from the past two years, and really listening to myself talk through this blog.

Apart from discovering I am still far from the kind of writer I want to be, I discovered that my writing persona has become someone I don’t like very much.

The final straw was last Saturday. My rabbi, a Great Soul if there ever was one, came up to me, patted me on his shoulder, and told me he was reading my blog. I froze. And I realized that what was bothering me is that what I have been writing – certainly the way I’ve been writing it – has not been in keeping with the person I’ve been trying to become over the last four years.

Okay, you can stop gagging. I’m finished with the confessional.

Seriously, though, I’ve come to realize that while being Mr. Schadenfreunde here at my desk has been a lot of fun, it’s been more like the fun you have when you’re eating something you’re not supposed to – it’s a guilty pleasure at best, and you know you’re going to pay for it somehow.

This morning, I woke up at 5:30am and realized that while my motives may be good ones, my methods need improvement. As an old chief petty officer once told me “Do you steer a ship by telling the helmsman the 359 courses he shouldn’t take? Of course not. You steer a ship by telling the helm the one direction he should take.”

The sites I find I want to read constantly are the ones that truly serve a need, that offer solutions, that answer a question, consolidate information. That point people in a direction.

The guys at ChinaLawBlog, for example, setting the planet straight on how China’s legal system, such that it is, actually works. Ethan and his partners at ChinaStockBlog, helping punters play China from the safety and comfort of their homes and offices. Jeremy, Dror, and the gang at Danwei, who have provided an unparalleled eye on the media business in China. Danny and his team at ChinaTechNews, still the best single repository of free tech news in China. (Pacific Epoch is very good as well, but they charge and they don’t take my editorials.)

And even sites not focused on China – Tom Barnett , Guy Kawasaki, and Tom Peters, and Merlin Mann at 43 Folders.

And my BlogMentor, Will, over at ImageThief, who provides superbly-written comic relief about China and manages to be funny without being gratuitously caustic.

Taking these people as a general guide, I’ve decided it’s time for a change. It’s time to stop telling people what they shouldn’t do, and catching people making mistakes, and it’s time to start pointing people in the right direction, and catching people and companies doing smart stuff.

So here’s what’s happening.

With the completion of this post, we’re going to shift gears a bit. On Sunday, 7 May, a new site, The Peking Review , will go live. The Peking Review will focus on something I am frequently asked to do (and something I find myself doing even when not asked): recommending resources (books, websites, articles, posts, blogs, movies, television programs, people, services) that will genuinely HELP people figure out how to do business here in China. My role will be to act as a filter, not slamming the “bad” resources, but identifying the good ones and isolating the good that can be pulled out of the others.

Silicon Hutong will continue as an adjunct site to The Peking Review that focuses totally on resources for the technology, media, communications, and entertainment industries.

We’re open for contributors, and if you’re interested, please let me know. I can be reached at siliconhutong(at)mac.com.

I’m grateful to all of you who have been reading this blog. I welcome your comments, and hope you find it’s new form even more worthy of your time and attention.

Best regards,

David

Silicon Hutong 2.0

Freezing The Tuchas Off
1945 hrs

Coming into the new year, I thought this would be a good way to express why you haven’t seen or heard anything on this forum for the past couple of months.

A Blog is a business venture. If you do it with no clear idea what you are offering and what you personally want to take away from it (even if that idea is subconscious), you will fail. After a pretty good start I was flailing a bit, and I realized I needed to find a voice and a focus that would allow me to meaningfully join the chorus of blogs all singing about different aspects of China.

So over the past two months I have meditated intensely on this subject, and was on the verge of a conclusion, but I needed an outside opinion.

So I hunkered down at TGIFridays across from St. Regis with Will at ImageThief and, over salads and burgers and accompanied by our long-suffering spouses, we talked about what he thought Silicon Hutong should be and what I wanted it to be. As usual, his clarity of thinking was invaluable. Will is a former colleague, a fellow diver, and someone I knew would mince no words in his feedback. He did not disappoint.

Silicon Hutong is not going to try to cover life in China better than ImageThief and ESWN, is not going to cover politics better than SimonWorld or The Peking Duck, power politics (and a lot of other stuff) better than Musings Under the Tenement Palm , or media better than Danwei and the hundreds of blogs that focus on those issues in China.

Instead, Silicon Hutong will focus on what I do best – that special breed of business iconoclasm that is focused on destroying misconceptions about China and business. Topically I’ll naturally gravitate to the industries that interest me – I.T., media, mobile telecoms, entertainment, consumer electronics, aviation, and agriculture – but will occasionally wander if it makes sense.

Your feedback – positive and otherwise – is always welcome.

Back in the Hutong, Pushing the Thief

Running out the Door
1000 hrs

Running out to a function for my son’s school – interestingly enough the only Jewish day school in Northern China – but wanted to check in.

After a desperately-needed one month hiatus and research trip in the U.S. and a brief run to Singapore, Silicon Hutong is back and getting ready to post.

In the meantime, a not-so-shameless plug for the Image Thief blog of my friend and former colleague Will Moss. Great stuff, Will. I think you missed your calling.

Changes in the Hutong

In the Hutong
After Dinner

For those of you who follow us over here at the Hutong, a quick update:

• Silicon Hutong is undergoing a MAJOR makeover. We are delighted to announce that we have asked Creative Design Studios to create a site for Wolf Group Asia (my new digs) and turn Silicon Hutong into something far nicer to look at, with a blogroll, photos, graphics, and other goodies.

• I’m heading to L.A. for some R&R and to do some interviews for my book project for three weeks. Due to the limitations of the software I am using, I’m not sure I’ll be able to post, but I’m going to be logging and will post on return.

• I’m going to ease up on the 1000 word posts a bit and start keeping things a little more pithy. I’ll still be posting the occasional long entry, but I want this to be something that remains an easy and insightful read.

As always, I welcome flames and other correspondence at siliconhutong@mac.com.

Best,

David

Irish Ball

Hangover Recovery Unit
Silicon Hutong Clinic
Beijing

Irish Ball in Beijing last night, Sunny and I there courtesy of Cyril and the gang at I.T. United. Still getting over it, but a good time had by all. Cyril is one of those guys who is plugged into a whole lot of fascinating people, and we shared the table with some deeply fascinating people. And anyway, any table with senior executives from Airbus, BMW, Panalpina, and the Beijing city government can’t help but be really interesting.

One of the wonderful things about living in Beijing – ball season. Ran into a bunch of people I haven’t seen in a while, including Greg from Sun. Sun is up for taking a chunk of the open source war over here, and Greg is leading the charge with regional governments in Northeast Asia. That’s a tough battle, given that the Asianux folks have a long lead and have something of a home court advantage.

Third Ring Road from the Silicon Hutong Desk, China World Tower 2


Not a bad day, really. One day, China World Tower 3 – 78 stories – will sit on the site of the building in the foreground, and in the background next to the grey tower on the right behind the freeway and on that big plot of open land will be CCTV’s new Miracle of Architecture. Nice view, while I had it. Now, of course, the Silicon Hutong Suite is right where all great tech businesses get started…in the Garage.