Friday, June 17, 2016

The End of Apple in China?


Today we learned that a Chinese court ruled that Apple was in violation of a local Chinese patent and could be prevented from selling iPhones in China. Apple has appealed the decision, but this move has been talked about on Chinese social media for at least a month.

Despite how things work in the rest of the world, we have to look at Chinese tradition, going back to the Han dynasty, to see how China deals with advisers and companies that are outside the Middle Kingdom.

Jonathan Spence, in writing his book, "To Change China," takes us back to the Han Dynasty to show how China operates. It was important for the Emperor to understand astronomy in order to make predictions. A group of Jesuits went to China, and spent three years in seclusion with Chinese teachers learning the language. They then offered their considerable knowledge of the heavens to the Han Emperor.

For quite a while, they contributed their knowledge of astronomy to help the Emperor. Finally, they asked the Emperor for permission to proselytize for Catholicism in China. The Emperor replied by thanking them for their help. Thus ended the collaboration between the Jesuits and the Han Dynasty.

This is a pattern which has continued throughout Chinese history. Individuals or companies will go to China with the hopes of becoming part of the Chinese system. They always are thanked and sent away, once China has become able to use the information themselves.

General Electric has been building an airplane for China. I wonder what will happen when the plane is completed, the military has taken all that knowledge, and China can build their own passenger planes. We will have to see how that ends. As for Apple, they made some money selling iPhones in China. It will provide a good experience for Tim Cook in learning how little he understood China.

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