If there were an award for the best book title, Blockchain Chicken Farm would surely be in running for 2020. Xiaowei Wang leads off this collection of connected essays about technology and society with a story about how the blockchain has been deployed in China’s rural organic chicken farms to provide untamperable provenance for China’s upscale consumers.
Ten years ago, a spate of suicides at Foxconn’s factories in Shenzhen thrust the company into global headlines. These workers, part of a million-strong workforce, were involved in making Apple’s iPhone, the world’s premier status symbol smartphone. While the suicides are now mainly in the past, the issues raised in Dying for an iPhone remain pertinent to China’s labor situation and global manufacturing generally.
Many potential readers of James Griffiths’s new book well have had direct experience of the “Great Firewall of China” of the title. But that doesn’t mean they won’t find the book useful. Griffiths stitches events and issues, most of which are—individually—reasonably well-known, into a coherent narrative. The result is a readable, well-documented history of the internet in China.
With almost 17% year-on-year growth, India’s is the world’s fastest growing smartphone population; more than a billion phones are estimated to be sold over the next five years. There are now more Indians with smartphones than the entire population of the United States, driven by phones that cost as little as 10,000 rupees (US$150).
The internet was supposed to have delivered China into freedom by now. But that optimistic consensus has been proven wrong so far. In their books, academics Rongbin Han and Margaret Roberts, attempt to explain why.
There is an old saw about advertising that only half of it works, but one never knows which half. And one suspects that despite all the data gathered and statistics generated, the online counterpart remains more art than science. Digital marketing involves navigating, in the words of Donald Rumsfeld, a number of known unknowns: things that at least one knows one does not know. For Westerner marketeers, however, China is largely a haze of unknown unknowns, things one doesn’t even know one doesn’t know.
In mid-19th century China, after suffering multiple humbling defeats by imperial powers, a movement to modernize China’s military developed. The idea was that the national essence or culture of China could be better defended with superior Western methods and technology than outdated Chinese methods—seen as the extension of a static political culture. That the methods and technology were Western did not matter—they were not tied to the imperial aims which produced them; they could be adapted by anyone, and were essentially culture-less.