Diversity, Consistency, and Efficiency – Part II

After the entry Diversity, Consistency, and Efficiency, many readers posted so great comments that I cannot help quoting it. (Quoting in full text is rare on this blog.)

Roger Chan commented:

Good points in your article above. Some other important factors I’d mention, to nurture the growth of companies like Google in Chinese cities:

1. Transparency, transparency, transparency. You *absolutely must* have transparency for a company to be successful and to attract wide-scale investment, that is, transparency in the management, transparency in the financial records, transparency in both successes and errors. Without transparency, investors will not trust your company and it will fail. This is why there must be intolerance for corruption in the Chinese companies and the government– this damages transparency and leads to mistrust by investors.

2. Innovation by the company with R&D. Research and development, translated into products, is the cornerstone of success in places like the USA’s Silicon Valley. This applies both to new products, as well as to Chinese cultural exports (such as films)– to reach the “big leagues,” you have to innovate your own products and come up with your own ideas, not copy those of others. As all the cheap knock-offs of Hollywood films in Hong Kong and Shanghai indicate, many smart Chinese people still spend too much time copying the ideas and culture of others, rather than innovating their own.

3. A more solid banking sector and stock market. Many other people have talked about this, but China’s banking sector does need reforms, and banks have to be smarter about their loans and avoid bad loans.

4. More partnerships between universities and companies to do the most innovative scientific and engineering work. I know that Chinese companies and university laboratories can be incredibly innovative– I’ve read Chinese scientific journals before (I can read the characters), and the work in there is as good or better than universities in the US. You need to increase the volume and output of this scientific work and increase the collaboration of university and corporate laboratories. To do this, increase both the number of trained scientists and the specialized journals in which they publish their ideas. Then encourage them to work together.

5. When you start up new scientific and engineering journals in China, the journals should be *in Chinese*, your native language. I heard an idea a while ago to start up a bunch of English-language journals in China, but this would be a total waste of time– it’s very difficult to write a scientific paper in a foreign tongue even if you’re very good at it, and 10 times faster to write a paper in your native language. For example, the Japanese started up a bunch of English-language journals in the early 1990s, but the editors and paper authors wound up wasting years of delay *even after the labs had finished their projects*, trying to nitpick the English composition while their competitors just published in their native Japanese (with the best papers being translated into other languages anyway). Your scientists would be wasting precious time mastering the fine points of English composition when they should be focusing on publishing their ideas in their native language. You have that luxury since you have 1.4 billion people and soon the most scientists and engineers in the world. It may be useful to have online versions of the journals in both the Chinese characters and in Romanized pinyin, which can help many non-Chinese read them; it’s easy to interconvert between them, a simple computer program can convert the characters to pinyin. (Millions of non-Chinese, including Europeans and Americans, can read pinyin well even as they’re still learning the characters.) As a bonus, millions of Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Singaporean, and even some Western and other scientists would soon publish their papers in the Chinese journals (since the Chinese characters and the language are extensively studied throughout East Asia). But the journals should be in Chinese to encourage efficient publication and communication. I emphasize this especially.

6. Strengthen your patents, trademarks, and copyrights system. This is very important– the countries with the most innovation and most successful companies (like Google) also have the most robust patent and trademarks systems, since this ensures that people are rewarded *financially* for their ideas. You have to have that sort of economic incentive to convince people to put in the hard work that creates a company like Google and makes it an economic enterprise. You have to reward them and also protect them from others who would just copy their ideas. China’s intellectual property laws are still too weak– you need to make them stronger.

7. Finally, stop buying up so many US Treasury bills, and instead focus all your surplus dollars from trade into development and infrastructure at home. Companies like Google, Hewlett-Packard and Dell require reliable roads and telephone lines to do business, which requires infrastructure investment by the local, state and federal governments in the USA. You in China earn many dollars from your trade with the US, but then you waste your profits by buying up US T-bills, on which you lose money as the US dollar falls. So, you are essentially giving away your hard labor and your products to the US for free! You should instead use your profits from exports to the US, to build up your own infrastructure and focus on development in China. This will make you a mature economy and able to start companies like Google, Microsoft and IBM. As long as you continue to send Chinese export profits (and savings) to the US in those T-bill purchases, China will continue to be a third-world country (and the US will try to impose tariffs on you as well). Instead, use your profits to build yourselves up at home. In the process, just allow the RMB currency to rise, *gradually*. A rapid renminbi rise would be dangerous, as it was for the yen in Japan in 1990. Instead, just gradually reduce your US T-bill purchases and diversify into buying Euros and yen so that the RMB gradually rises, then use your excess dollars (and other export currency profits) to invest in infrastructure at home and purchase of strategic resources. To have big and successful companies, you need to be focus more of your export profits at home.

mcgjcn added:

R. R. Gesteland said “One group of the world’s societies worships the clock and venerates their Filofaxes. The other group is more relaxed about time and scheduling, focusing instead on the people around them.”

U.S. as Rigid Time society value schedule and discipline… may lack of flexibility.

China as Fluid Time society value flexibility… may lack of efficiency/consistency.

Globalization is causing culture mix, but it takes time.

Just continue to add some points (again, random thoughts)

  • Consistency produces efficiency; efficiency produces quality. As Martin put it, quality, by nature, is consistency.
  • I cannot comment on whether efficiency (or in other word, lower cost) and quality (in other word, consistency) are two major competitive factors on global market. It is especially so with WTO (World Trade Organization), and free trading zones. We don’t know whether cost/quality combination will still work after 100 years, but at least, it is the current worldwide standard.
  • Whether the standard of the world will change from value/money/business driven to other fact driven? I have no idea and don’t see any sign yet.
  • China’s diversity has deep historical and culture reasons. Just as Gesteland put it, focusing on people instead of worship time/schedule is key China culture element.
  • Efficiency of thinking can be archived by mathematics. The quantitative thinking in western culture tend to convert all problems to number problems (from modern economics, to chemical, to (the extreme extend) computer). It is another effort to drive the common essence among different stuff, while in China, people keeps diversity as it is.
  • China will change, but very slowly. The world is also changing
  • Dennis Waitley said: “The only danger raised with adversity, mistaking the mistakes to yourself.” It is very true in current China – the economy problems do not 100% due to the current system/culture. Don’t mistake the mistakes.
  • Many business in China are flexible, but not consistent.
  • In the Business of Zhending Chicken case, it full respect diversity of users, but lose efficiency.
  • To survive in China, people from foreign countries need to put aside of criticism options, and learn the philosophy used here. To keep one’s finger crossed and pray for the change of China is not realised in short time
  • People power is one of the key weapon to fight against diversity.
  • By default, employees are different with each other. They are diversified and can handle diversified questions they face everyday. People don’t like well trained customer service representatives with U.S. standard, because lack of the human element. “Human element” is diversity (in particular, pleasant surprises). It is removed for consistency. However, this is exactly what customers in China expect – they always expect pleasant exceptions (the enemy of consistency).
  • Diversity is the reason of low efficiency.
  • People need to accept lower efficiency does not mean failure in China. Highest efficiency does not always mean success, especially in those industries requiring people-to-people interaction.
  • According to the book The Botany of Desire, a plant’s-eye view of the world, diversity is grand rule of the nature. Human’s effort to drive consistency will eventually fail (after several centuries). Single-type tomato in South Ireland has called half of the popular starving to death when one type of plant cannot resist a new virus. It may be true for huge international companies.
  • Conflict of culture (flexibility v.s. consistency, strategy v.s. ad-hoc, people v.s. system) will be ultimate question in the process of any internationalisation process.

Feel free to post the content or link to other forums, since I am really interested in this topic. Deep dig into the topic is worthwhile, since it helps to answer lots of questions people in both continents have.

9 thoughts on “Diversity, Consistency, and Efficiency – Part II

  1. Hello guys,

    interesting topic here. I don’t wanna talk much about business stuffs, but just found some discussion by Roger not quite realistic at all. He argued that scientific papers should all be published in Chinese journals using the Chinese language. I mean, hey man, what’s the point here? First off, whether you accept it or not, like it or dislike it, it’s already a fact that English is by all means the international language, especially in academia. Science is also to some extent an art of communication, you don’t expect to make great distributions to the scientific world while working alone, I mean this is extremely true in today’s world. Maybe it worked out doing all things by oneself 50 years ago, but no way right now. So the question comes down to how do we communicate with colleague elsewhere around the world. Because we simply cannot afford to recruit an interpreter each time we speak with others, we just need to speak one language, and precisely English. It might not be your mother tongue, but it makes things easier and the collaborations more efficient. And I’m sorry, Roger, but your idea to write Chinese using the Romanic letters, the so-called pinyin, is just ridiculous. There is no such in-between in Chinese. Character is the soul of Mandarin, the basic component and at the same time of course irreplaceable. Writing pinyin is just something to help you know the exact pronunciation, not the way to communicate. I would bet neither native Chinese nor westerners would understand an article written in pinyin without problems, even so they do, it takes simply much more time.

    And after all, why doesn’t Jianshuo publish his blog purely in Mandarin? So if you happen to be a hard-core advocate of Chinese language, you could say something like, aha, how complex this beautiful language is! It’s simply not possible for all those foreigners to grasp it. So let’s speak English, it’s easier…(of course I don’t mean that at all) Good luck to all!



  2. Thanks JianShuo, This is a very interesting topic.

    What are the most consistent and efficient things in this world? Machines and Computers. For the first a few years, when I came to United States and living in one of the most liberal cities in the States, San Francisco, that is exactly what I have felt. We even, humans, in a way have been reduced to be part of the machine, just continue moving and moving, weeks after weeks. Even after work, the shops you go to, the TV and movies you are watching are so “consistent, efficient and homogenous.” I hate corporate American even I am part of it as well. That is the worst part, you really don’t have much options, especially you are fresh minted, the first generation immigrants.

    However, just come back from China for a month long trip, the changes happened for the last 5 to 10 years in China are amazing. The pace of commercialization is mind boggling. China have become a much more “consistent and efficient” country than 5 or 10 years ago. In a way, western way of “consistency and efficiency” has dramatically improved the living standard in China and will continue to do so.

    My point is that when a country is going thru the transition from under-developed country to a developed country, the “consistency and efficiency” have bring a lots of positive social and economic impacts, However, when the process reaches certain point, the “positive” side start to diminishing and the “evil or inhuman” side start to take shape. To put “consistency and efficiency” into the social content is a much more complex than the economic one.

    For now, I enjoy going to the farmers market to get our fresh vegetables and fruits, it is such a pleasure to give the money to the people who actually grow them even it means pay a little bit extra than the “consistent and efficient” supper market.

  3. Speaking of transparency, there’s an article in today’s (Monday, Feb 27) Wall Street Journal about China adopting international accounting standards.

    Adding Up Chinese Data

    Accounting Rule Changes Should

    Give Investors Better Insight


    February 27, 2006; Page C10

    SHANGHAI — China’s plan to substantially adopt international accounting standards next year should offer investors more information about the actual value of companies listed on the country’s stock exchanges.

    Starting in 2007, companies listed on the Shanghai and Shenzhen exchanges will be required to largely adopt International Financial Reporting Standards for their financial reports, China’s Ministry of Finance said earlier this month. Authorities are expected to publish details of the new accounting code soon…

  4. Clicking on the icon next to my name at the bottom of my post above returns 20-30 previous posts even though I’ve only posted approximately 5 times to this site. Obviously there’s more than 1 person named “Mark”. Is it possible to link this to “Email Address” rather than “Name”? Just a thought…

  5. Jie wrote:

    “First off, whether you accept it or not, like it or dislike it, it’s already a fact that English is by all means the international language, especially in academia.”

    Sorry to respond with a lengthy rebuttal, but this issue– the language of choice for publishing scientific articles and other academic papers in China, Taiwan and elsewhere in East Asia– is an extremely important topic for China and the region in general and one, in fact, where I recently chaired a seminar. I’m a Chinese-American raised mostly in the US, but I’ve spent time both in Taiwan and mainland China, so I’m essentially bilingual and bicultural. I’ve done some crucial historical research on this topic and I need to confront Jie’s points, since his post is full of misconceptions that would cause tremendous damage to China’s effort to become a mature scientific nation.

    First of all, remember that the leading scientific languages in years past were Latin, French and German at various points. Scientists around the world (including Americans in the 1800’s) had to publish, for example, in German to an extent to get their ideas out, and they certainly had to read German. But at the same time, Americans were publishing to an extent in their own English-language journals, which they could do quickly and more efficiently because it was their native tongue. This is more or less the “default” state for a language in which important science is done, but which isn’t the major international tongue– French scientists today, for example, publish articles in both English and their native French. When the US became the world’s bellwether for science and technology in the late 1950’s (it was *not* right after WWII, as German continued to dominate the journals even into the 1950’s), the language shifted because *the most important work was appearing in the English-language journals*. Obviously, scientific languages– by definition international– have shifted throughout the centuries, and the current one is not set in stone, either.

    What should decide the language of choice in which to publish? Basic cost-benefit analyses are what decide it, and ultimately, the costs to Chinese-speaking scientists of publishing exclusively or chiefly in English vastly outweigh the gains. (As I’ll show below, this also applies to Japanese and Korean scientists as well.) I think that was the point of Roger’s post above– it was certainly at the heart of the discussion in our seminar. There are numerous benefits to Chinese scientists *reading* English journals obviously, since they get to read the work of the top scientists (still mostly in the US) who publish for the most part in their native language. There are also benefits to *writing* papers in English, i.e., at the present time, greater visibility in the US and outside of the US (where English is indeed the most important scientific language, as German was for over a century) and a greater chance for collaborations. However, there are also tremendous costs to this arrangement, especially for the *writing* part (more than the reading), since Chinese-speaking scientists have to spend a tremendous amount of time in their careers mastering the fine art of English composition, very different from Chinese and full of strict and arcane rules, that’s different from their own. It basically requires that you spend years, often up to a decade, working in a lab in the US or UK, something that only a small fraction of scientists can realistically do, and the time spent mastering the niceties of composition in the language detract substantially from the time available to master scientific concepts and do good scientific work. Furthermore, particularly as the quality of Chinese science *does* continue to increase, it would mean– if Chinese scientists are encouraged to publish only in English– that China would suffer a continuing and extremely damaging brain drain of its best scientists leaving for the US and UK, thus leading to a vicious cycle in which Chinese science is continually weakened and never quite able to gain in strength.

    I’ve met a number of Chinese, Japanese and Korean scientists who felt compelled to write in English, but then told me years later that it had done enormous damage to their careers, since they’d spent well over a decade, basically, in a second career– becoming English composition experts– that took away a lot of time and energy from their main jobs as scientists. It hindered their scientific accomplishments, period. One Chinese scientist for example had performed outstanding work, and his English was actually almost fluent when he spoke, but he spent *almost two years* working on the darn manuscript for his particular project in English for an English-language journal, only to have it still sent back many times for endless reviews by the American journals due largely to language issues, *even when native speakers proofed the paper*. He eventually published in a Chinese-language journal, taking only a couple months to write the paper, and was thereafter able to get a nice fellowship position in reward for his hard work. Multiply this problem by millions of Chinese scientists, and you can see that there’s enormous damage done to the careers of Chinese scientists and the Chinese scientific establishment in general if they’re expected to publish chiefly in English, especially when Chinese science becomes high quality. Even the Japanese and Korean scientists in my seminar said unanimously, that, if given a choice between publishing in English and Chinese, they agreed that Chinese would be preferable to English because of the shared character system and also some shared vocabulary. While it would take the Japanese and Korean scientists over a decade to publish maybe 3 or 4 decent English papers, they could publish 10-12 in Chinese, while also getting more work done and initiating more projects. Mind you, the Japanese and Koreans would still be able to *read* English-language journals (and many also German-there’s still good science in the German journals), but they’d much prefer to write in Chinese if given the choice.

    The point here is rather obvious: The Chinese and Japanese scientists had realized that the *costs* of being expected to publish their work in English greatly outweighed the *gains*. This is what many American scientists had themselves found in the 1950’s. They published some of their work in German-language but also some in American English-language journals and, as they began to recognize that the costs of German-language publishing (discussed above) outweighed the gains, they gradually switched over to publishing a majority of their work in their native English rather than in German– which, in turn, increased the quality and prestige of the American journals. They could get more done– it just soaked up too much time to have to work so hard on their composition in German, and this despite the fact that the two languages are very closely related to each other! And while initially there were many European and Asian scientists who couldn’t read the English papers, this became less a problem as the US became a sci/tech leader.

    The point is, there are four factors that lead a scientific language to take off and become internationally popular, which the US possessed by the late 1950’s: #1, a large, self-contained scientific community and a very large, industrialized and urban population within its own borders (which increases the pool of people talking to each other, in their shared native tongue), #2 high-quality science being published within the country’s labs, themselves housed in high-quality universities and companies, #3 international respect for the country’s scientific work, and #4 the small amount of courage it takes to trade a temporary reduction in readers, at the outset of a language transition, for increased productivity. China already has the first two factors and the second, in particular, is rapidly gaining. The third will rise with the second, so the crucial ingredient is the fourth-quite simply, Chinese scientists having the confidence and the courage to make the switch and publish most of their high-quality work in Chinese. This then creates a “positive feedback loop” (a “virtuous cycle”) whereby the Chinese journals print more prestigious work and gain more international respect and, in turn, readership, which in turn facilitates more publishing in Chinese (which makes Chinese scientists more productive), and so on. It is a matter of simple courage mixed with the inherent quality of the science, pure and simple, which the Americans had in the 1930’s-1950’s and which I suspect that the Chinese also have now.

    Again, to reinforce the historical lesson, the American scientists in the 1950’s making the language transition could have been slaves to fashion and fads, and continued to publish all in German-language journals despite the fact that they were doing the excellent science themselves, thus slowing down their own work significantly. At that time, “everybody” knew that you wrote your papers in German. But the Americans made a smarter choice, and while there was a temporary reduction in their readership initially as they wrote in American English, the US scientists became far more productive and, over the course of years and decades, the rest of the world became interested in what they had to say. That’s why the scientific language switched over, and that’s why it may well switch again. In fact, China right now is essentially in the position that the US was in during the 1920’s and 1930’s, and as the quality of Chinese science grows, China must have the confidence to found journals and publish more in Chinese. Again, this will have a positive feedback loop effect as more Chinese scientists then have the confidence to publish in Chinese journals, which increases their prestige, which then facilitates more Koreans and Japanese (who are familiar with the characters) to publish, which then further increases the quality and prestige, and so on.

    This leads to the point about the Chinese characters, and it’s obvious, Jie, that you completely misunderstood Roger’s point. He wasn’t saying to write all the papers in pinyin only– he was saying it would be helpful to have electronic journals with an easy capacity to toggle such that Chinese learners in the West, for example, could use a simple program to convert the character-based papers into Mandarin pinyin with which many are already familiar (using software that’s already available), as they simultaneously get better at reading the characters. Roger was *not* saying to get rid of the characters altogether, a very crucial distinction that you failed to appreciate! In fact, this leads to an interesting corollary, which is that in many ways written Chinese is ideally suited to become the standard global scientific language, since in principle one can use the Chinese character-based system to represent any language based on the ideograms that the characters represent. Yes, I know, the hanzi have phonetics as well as radicals, and Japanese for example has a grammar that’s not easily suited by the characters alone. But the point is, it’s possible to read a manuscript in the ideograms without speaking the language itself, which increases the potential for readability; this is why, for example, few Japanese can speak Chinese but they can at least get the general gist of a Chinese newspaper article, for example. (It was in fact a Caucasian American student who raised this point in the seminar!) The core of Roger’s point, I suspect, is that Chinese has the potential of *dual representation* whereby the standard Chinese uses the characters, but Western readers in training stages can use a simple software program to switch between pinyin and the characters, facilitating comprehension. It’s as simple as that. As Roger said, the best work in Chinese would be translated into other languages anyhow as, for example, the papers of the great German physicists, chemists and doctors from the late 1800’s (who all wrote in German) have been translated into other languages. (Jie, please don’t start up on how it’s odd I’m writing this particular post in English– I’m doing so because Jian Shuo Wang has designated this as an English-language blog. This topic can be and has been published in Mandarin on other forums.)

    So the basic message is this: To become an international scientific language, a language must have, above all, a very large base of first-language speakers and a strong scientific establishment in countries that have that native language and publish in it. Science published in that language must have international recognition (which comes with increasing quality of the work). Perhaps most importantly, the speakers of the language must have the simple confidence to make the first fledgling moves to confidently publish quality science in their own language, which in turn attracts more people from within and outside that country to publish in it. As they say in the USA, “A journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step.” China already has most of these factors, and needs to have confidence to publish in Chinese as well.

    This is not a trivial matter– in our seminar, we calculated that China’s scientific productivity could be reduced by up to 75% if all the Chinese-speaking scientists were compelled to write their important papers in English, based on the costs I’ve discussed above (time delay due to composition difficulties, reduction of the motivation to start Chinese-language journals, and severe brain drain of Chinese scientists to the US and UK). This would represent cause terrible damage to China’s scientific establishment and to the Chinese economy in general. In contrast, productivity in China, Taiwan and elsewhere in Asia will greatly accelerate as these scientists become more confident about publishing in Chinese. Note, I do think it’s important that Chinese scientists continue to be be able to read in English, German and other scientific languages. I also think it’s important that Chinese scientists continue to publish a portion of their work in non-Chinese language journals, especially in English but also in languages like German, French, Spanish and Japanese (depending on the language skills of the people in the lab), since this helps in the initial stages to attract more international attention. But there needs to be a gradual transition to publishing in Chinese as the quality of Chinese science and engineering improves. This will be even more important if and when the US economy unravels, which is a scary possibility here since the US national debt will soon surpass $10 trillion. But even aside from such a situation, Chinese-speaking scientists have to be confident enough to publish high-quality work in Chinese– as with other things, such confidence will inspire others to follow. If China fails to do this, and foolishly falls for the cheap and temporary attraction of publishing work only in English– even as Chinese scientists themselves become capable of top-quality work– then China and Taiwan will slip back into Third-World mediocrity status, continually bleeding off their brightest prospects to other countries and sharply reducing their own productivity and economic strength. This is far too important an issue to neglect. The growht of Chinese-language scientific and academic journals, with increasing specialization, should be promoted, and Chinese must be supported as a scientific language.

  6. Well, I agree with the most part that Doc Chang has said (pls let me call you DC), but I still have to clarify several points.

    As we know, the dramatic progress which the states made in the 50’s or the existence of English as a de facto international language is due to many reasons, among other things, the immigrants from the continental Europe during the world war, the strong financial support, a nice philosophy of doing science, etc. Saying the whole thing is only the consequence of the fact that, a bunch of scientists suddenly decided not to write their papers in German, but English instead, just made me laugh. How could this happen? I mean if each of us thinks just twice. Writing something skillfully doesn’t necessarily make you a good scientist, in this sense, it doesn’t matter too much, if at all, in which language your publications are written. The other way around, a great scientist, according to my criterion, should be bilingual or multilingual. This is simply the must for communication during collaborations and also represents the fundamentals of science, namely open mind. There is a prominent journal in chemistry called Angewandte Chemie, which you may guess was originally published in German. And yes, their first issue even goes back to the 19th century, however, in the year of 1962, they finally decided to do the publishing in German and English at the same time, which lasts until today. I told you this example just to show how the attitude of Europeans on scientific language has changed in the history. And as far as I know, these days people in continental Europe, which is not English speaking basically, do not feel anything wrong to speak English. On the contary, I think those guys in the states who insisted to use English exclusively were extremely arrogant. Yes, true. The quality of science in China IS increasing, no doubt. But this doesn’t mean that it’ll last forever or move much even faster if we write everything in Chinese, this doesn’t make sense.

    p.s.: “A journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step.” happens to be an old Chinese saying, you should be proud (or confident, as you put it) of that…


  7. It is not practical to expect emerging young scientists (in China or anywhere) to embrace chinese (or any language other than English) as the language for comunication and writing. Gaining international recognition is an important aspect of how scientists achieve the widest impact – a desirable outcome for most. The discussion regarding language choice remind me of the evolution of the Chinese society from the recent past to now – from that of all (people) for an ideal to that of what’s best for each individual. The idea that Chinese language should be used for publication seems to argue that the collective whole will stand stronger eventually. However, as I indicated in the above, this approach is not immediate helpful to the standing of emerging chinese scientists, and, as evident from history, sacrificing individual for the collective whole (country, company) has not been a general rule for success in any venture in the long run.

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