America wants to believe China can’t innovate. Tech tells a different story.

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America wants to believe China can’t innovate. Tech tells a different story.
The Washington Post, July 19, 2016
World: Asia & Pacific
By Emily Rauhala

“BEHIND THE FIREWALL: How China tamed the Internet | This is part 4 of 6 of a series examining the impact of China’s Great Firewall, a mechanism of Internet censorship and surveillance that affects nearly 700 million users.”

 

“The truth is that behind the Great Firewall — the system of censorship designed to block content that could challenge the Chinese Communist Party — China’s tech scene is flourishing in a parallel universe.”

 

BEIJING — Silicon Valley may be powered by organic kale, but when Chinese tech gurus gather at 3W, a coffee shop-slash-incubator in the Chinese capital, they want sunflower seeds. And they want them fast.

 

Ahead of a recent meeting, 3W’s co-founder, Xu Dandan, used WeChat, a Chinese platform with hundreds of millions of users, to place an order with Beequick, a local start-up that delivers supplies from mom-and-pop shops. Thirty minutes later: Crunch, crunch.

 

And if Xu and his friends were craving a different crispy snack like, say, crayfish? A business accelerator at nearby Peking University has a start-up just for that. Grab your China-made phone, open WeChat, and, just like that, your crustaceous needs are met.

 

For those who haven’t spent time in China’s thriving cities, it can be hard to imagine how digitally connected they are. This is no longer the China of the 1990s, a nation of shoe factories and fake bags, not cutting-edge apps.

 

Outsiders tend to know one thing about China’s Internet: It’s blocked — no Facebook, Twitter or Google. They imagine a country languishing behind a digital Iron Curtain, waiting, frozen in time, for the fall of the Web’s Berlin Wall.

 

The United States wants to believe that the scourge of censorship thwarts online innovation, but China is challenging the idea in ways that frighten and confound.

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About the Author:

Emily Rauhala writes about foreign affairs for The Washington Post. She spent a decade as an editor and correspondent in Asia, first for Time magazine and later, from 2015 to 2018, as China correspondent in Beijing for The Post. In 2017, she shared an Overseas Press Club award for a series about the Internet in China.