What happens when 600 million Chinese get wired and become the world's largest group of Internet users?What happens when China's state-owned companies link up with the global marketplace?
In answering these questions, journalist David Sheff goes into the trenches of the Chinese technology revolution and introduces the players who are leading China into the 21st century. Bo Feng, the former sushi chef who is now a leading venture capitalist, and Edward Tian, who has been dubbed China's Bill Gates, are some of the unlikely revolutionaries making history as they struggle to transform a nation. But presiding over all these developments in China is a repressive government caught between craving business dominance and fearing the results of giving its population uncensored information and a voice.
In this compelling book, David Sheff provides an in-depth account of what is happening now with the tiger at the keyboard and a cautious prediction that, if caught within the World Wide Web, China may become a free market to be reckoned with globally.
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About the Author
There is a new revolution in China, one which intends to unite the people of this vast and populous nation as never before; both highways, roadways and the information superhighway, are being constructed simultaneously, leapfrogging a rural economy into the modern-day information age. "In China, I feel the explosive combination of forces aligning to create the kind of change that alters the course of history," writes David Sheff in the introduction to China Dawn, his latest book. About the entrepreneurs who are trying to spark a social transformation by bringing the latest information technology to the planet's most populous country, China Dawn, researched over three years, is the chronicle of the nascent Chinese technology revolution a movement with, Sheff says, "the immodest goal of transforming the life of more than a fifth of the world's people."
David Sheff's articles and interviews have appeared in Playboy, The New York Times Magazine, Rolling Stone, Wired, Outside, Forbes ASAP, The Los Angeles Times Magazine, Esquire and Observer Magazine in England, Foreign Literature in Russia and Playboy (Shueisha) in Japan. He is currently on assignment for Fortune and Vanity Fair. His book, Game Over, was published by Random House in the United States and Hodder and Stoughton in Great Britain as well as in Japan, Germany, France, Italy, Brazil, Israel, and other countries. Vintage published the paperback edition in 1993. The book, reissued in 1999 with a new introduction, was universally praised by reviewers for Time, Newsweek, Fortune, Forbes, USA Today, The New York Review of Books, and hundreds of domestic and international magazines and newspapers. The New York Times called it "beguiling" and "irresistible. . . almost as hypnotic as a successful video game." The Houston Chronicle said, "This book is a must-read. Game Over is about as readable as a business book can be." The Chicago Tribune called it "A cross between Barbarians at the Gate and The Soul of the New Machine."
The Playboy Interviews with John Lennon and Yoko Ono, conducted in 1980, became a Literary Guild Selection book. Other interviews, including those with Ansel Adams, nuclear physicist Ted Taylor, Gore Vidal, Steve Jobs, Tom Hanks, Sting, Scott Peck, Betty Friedan, and Keith Haring, received wide recognition, as did his "Portrait of a Generation" in Rolling Stone. His radio documentaries for National Public Radio on John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath and Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird won several awards. He also wrote and edited "Heart Play: Unfinished Dialogue," which won a Grammy Award nomination for Best Spoken Word Recording of 1984.
Sheff is currently a contributing editor of Playboy, Wired, and Yahoo! Internet Life and is on assignment for Fortune and Vanity Fair. He was formerly an editor of New West and California magazines..
He attended the University of California at Berkeley, where he received a degree in social science. He lives in San Francisco, California with his wife and three children.
Read an Excerpt
China Dawn Chapter One
With Rice and Rifles
It is the summer of 1998, when the futuristic Capital Airport is under construction across the tarmac, so our 747 parks at old Beijing Terminal, a blocky warehouse with the unmistakable design flair of Stalinist China: emaciated green. After maneuvering through immigration, I am met by a chauffeur. As instructed, I follow him outside to a scuffed charcoal Buick. He holds open the rear door and speaks a rehearsed greeting in English: "Welcome to China. Fasten your seat belt."
Rarely have I received advice that is more prescient. The driver, like the mass of Beijing drivers, attacks the gas pedal and horn with equal glee, untroubled by lanes, one-way signs, or roadway shoulders. A small jade charm, like a glass Life-Saver, dangles on a red string from the rearview mirror. For safety. Over the course of the harrowing drive along tree-lined highways, we narrowly miss a man on a rickshaw, a van that transports people and split pork carcasses, a truck spilling green melons, and hundreds of bicyclists, including one who is balancing sheets of corrugated metal on his head.
The car speeds by a building-long sign of the times, a mural depicting a farmer with a hoe alongside a technician soldering an integrated circuit. The title painted in slanted red lettering: agriculture, technology' hand in hand working for the country. Mottoes like this one, ubiquitous on billboards and banners, are as stilted as the slogans from the Cultural Revolution that implored the Chinese to embrace Mao Zedong Thought and denounce the imperialists (us!), "capitalist roaders," and their running dogs.
Pedestrians leaping fortheir lives, the car tears into the financial district of Beijing with its wide boulevards lined by buildings shimmering in the sunlight. (They are sparkly on this ultra-bright, almost luminescent day. I will see them soon enough in their more normal state, clouded by grimy brown Beijing haze.) The car skids to a stop on -- that's on -- the curb of a crowded street lit up with megawatts of street lamps and blinking ads for noodles and dot-coms (click and get sick reads an inexplicable billboard). I jump out and duck into a traditional restaurant with red balloon lanterns with yellow tassels and a round doorway. Inside, there's Bo.
Facing three men around a cuneiform dining table in an undecorated private room, Bo sticks out among the gathering. He has a fresh buzz haircut, titanium-framed glasses, and an improbable Nike ensemble, while the others wear short-sleeved shirts, dark pants, and black shoes.
Bo introduces me. Sitting at the corner of the wedge is Edward Tian. Next to him is Liu Yadong, a slightly taller and thinner man with high cheekbones and a pinched face, a pale complexion, and a floppy pompadour. Bo says that Liu is Edward's old friend and his company's chief operating officer. The other man is Gong Hongjia, youthful in his mid-twenties with a broad face and a thick broom of jet-black hair. Gong, I'm told, is the founder of a successful start-up. He founded Dekang to market software he developed to bill telephone calls just as the wireless boom began in China. He has 30 percent of the market and sales of $6 million. "Gong Hongjia's company is the leader in its field, but there is growing competition from abroad," says Bo.
Gong looks up and half smiles. "Yes," he says. "We are fighting harder. We are fighting with rice and rifles."
Mao once said that the people of China would persevere against the far better armed forces of Chiang Kai-shek's American-backed Kuomintang army "with rice and rifles." At Gong's appropriation of the Maoism, the group laughs heartily.
"That's us fighting the West," says Gong, now solemn. "But make no mistake. Intel, HP, Microsoft, Oracle, and the others assume that China will be theirs, but they underestimate the Chinese entrepreneur."
Bo adds, "Most foreign companies hire a group of highly paid executives who live in $10,000 a month apartments in Shanghai. A lot of U.S. companies send over a sales-and-marketing team and think they'll nail China. They don't have the awareness or the drive that the Chinese entrepreneurs have. There's no comparison between entrepreneurs who run businesses in China and U.S. companies that have outposts here."
He orders dinner and we watch a young waiter stick his hand into a glass case that is teeming with vipers and "eye" snakes. He snatches one tightly below the head and carries it, its body whipping and writhing, away into a back room. The snake appears later on a platter. There are crispy bony chunks grilled and painted with sweet vinegar and shallot sauce. The snake's skin, thinly sliced, has been tossed with cucumbers in a salad. Each person is presented with a pair of tulip shot glasses filled in turn with crimson red and cloudy yellow liquids. One holds rice wine mixed with the snake's venom and the other is rice wine with its blood. Bo lifts his glass and the rest of us follow him. "To China," he toasts, and we drink down the bloody elixir, which travels simultaneously down my spine and straight to the backs of my eyes, which tear up. Bo has an enormous smile. "Now you are Chinese," he says. The others laugh uproariously and Bo says, "You'll have wild dreams tonight."
Alongside upholstered Nokias sit plates of the snake along with lobster sashimi (the lobster is still moving) and baked tortoise. Chairman Mao once said, "The Revolution is not a dinner party," but this one appears to be. It is a feast fit for heads of state, or in Bo's case one of China's first dedicated high-tech VCs.
It strikes me that this meeting would have been inconceivable only a short time ago. Venture capitalists may be a familiar breed...China Dawn. Copyright © by David Sheff. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.