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Silicon Dragon: How China Is Winning the Tech Race
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on August 7, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Every journalist dreams of writing a book and Silicon Dragon (McGraw- Hill, $24.95) is Rebecca Fannin's. She interviews a dozen of China's most successful entrepreneurs and builds a book around her profiles of their roads to success. These are some of China's movers and shakers in the high tech industry, especially in Internet and wireless communication sectors. All of them are well known inside China but most are relatively unknown to the West. By describing and analyzing the keys to their success, Fannin has provided some lessons learned that are useful to anyone contemplating doing business in China.

As readers go through the 150 pages of easy to read text, they find certain common themes. The first lesson is that a proven business model from the U.S. does not guarantee success in China. Whether it's Alibaba vs. eBay, Dangdang vs. Amazon or Baidu vs. Google, the local version has first mover advantage and can move quickly to localize the business model to ensure acceptance in China.

The established American competitors initially focused on their U.S. market and paid no attention to China. By the time they are ready for China, they attempt to leapfrog via acquisition of a local company. They then make the mistake of replacing the Chinese management team with culturally deaf and dumb managers from home or even move the headquarters back to the U.S. Thus they further handcuff themselves by removing the ability to react quickly to a fast changing market. The book offers many other gems on rules of conduct in China that readers will find useful.

Alas, the subtitle of this book: "How China is Winning the Tech Race" is unfortunately misleading. With the possible exception of the last chapter on possible technological breakthrough on light emitting diodes based on silicon, other chapters depict no threat of world leading edge, technical breakthroughs. Even the LED development with its vast potential to revolutionize the lighting of the world is at the pre-commercial stage. All the other chapters describe clever, hard working entrepreneurs that have basically improved upon something that already existed.

My personal view of where China will make a world leading edge, technology breakthrough is to look in life sciences and not in electronics. My reason is that China has been investing heavily in R&D. In such cases as stem cell therapy, researchers in China do not have the school of intelligent design as competitor for funding.

Regrettably, this book exhibits too much rush to publish and could have improved its quality with a bit of fact checking and editing. For example, the book says "China accounts for 24% of world production of semiconductors." This is not true. China accounts for 24% of consumption but barely produces one fifth of what they consume. Albert Yu is described as "now-retired programmer" at Intel. His actual last position was Senior Vice President in charge of Intel's microprocessor development. The two top foundries in Taiwan are identified as Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. and United Microelectronics Corp. UMC is correct but the other, by far the largest and best known in the business is TSMC, where T stands for Taiwan.

Blemishes like those listed above, and there were others, are reasons why I deducted one star in my rating of otherwise an useful case study sort of business book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on February 22, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Unlike some tomes about China that talk of the nation and its place amid the sweep of history, Rebecca Fannin does something I find more powerful: Using detailed tales of a dozen Chinese entrepreneurs to tell the story. Fannin sets the scene by telling of the impending rise of China, the increase in IPOs born there, the ballooning volume of venture capital investment, and as a fair-minded journalist also talks of the many challenges and potential pitfalls. While the experts she quotes say it will be 10-20 years before China ascends, one can taste that ascent through the creative business class she portrays -- whether a demure "Yu Yu," the creator of an Amazon.com wanna be, the head of the ever-present and powerful Alibaba.com B2B service site, or the engineer and accidental entrepreneur behind the Internet Explorer challenger known as Maxthon. She hints at who from the Middle Kingdom might be the next Steve Jobs or Bill Gates. She draws sometimes amusing parallels between today's China and Japan in its early days of economic ascendancy, and of Silicon Valley of the Web 1.0 boom days. Only occasionally, Fannin tips her hand, telling us, for example, that her bet is with Baidu rather than Google. But she also notes that while the search engine is growing, Google is learning quickly and will challenge.

Fannin (whom I know profesionally) also treads lightly -- some might say too lightly -- over sweeping issues that could have huge consequences, such as challenges from the West over intellectual property or copyright infringement, or the potential strains on the country being placed by a new moneyed entrepreneurial class along the coasts that's leaving peasants to the West out of this industrial revolution. But that may be an unfair complaint. The work Fannin has done in painting textured and sometimes colorful portraits of individuals, replete with relevant facts, figures, context and possible knocks on them, tells a story of a China that goes into more rich detail, and may tell us more, than we usually get.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
Increasing numbers of Western observers, not to mention the Chinese themselves, are coming to realize that Chinese models of innovation and management may eventually drive competitive advantage beyond the home court. It's old news that China has the lead in manufacturing, but what about technology? More specifically, growing technology-based businesses to scale has been the trump card of the U.S. economy for decades. So why are Silicon Valley venture capitalists betting more each year on Chinese tech businesses? Rebecca Fannin's Silicon Dragons is a smoothly written, handy guide to the "who, what, when, where and why" of high profile Chinese tech companies, and an inside look at both the American investors who back them, and the role that American models, education, and capital continue to play in China's development. It's also required reading for anyone who needs to understand Chinese business culture, and why it fosters such nimble, ambitious and technically expert enterprises.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on February 20, 2008
Format: Hardcover
i read ms.fannin's books a couple times across pacific in the past month in several sleepless flights. at first i just wanted to know how she wrote about some of the personalities that i knew personally. having either chuckled or surprised at many of those acute observation and behind the scene stories, and some true intimate facts that i thought only a few of us knew :), i came to realize that this author/journalist is not one of your typical sterotypical western news media type, who went to china a couple times, was either awed by the charms in shanghai xintiadi or upset by the tackiness of some seedy bar in beijing xianlitun, and considered themselves an expert in china, and began either to praise or criticize china based on cliche, obvious tall tales, or a news article he/she read on a dragon air flight to pudong international amidst cocktail offered up by the business class attendant.

rather, i found she talked from inside, she had intimate interviews with true insiders, she observed with a trained, cool eyes toward important business and technical events, she commented objectively and helpfully on outcomes and policy announcements, she derived and formulate her view of china's past, current, and likely future technological scene based on true insight and, seemingly daring yet believable, hypothesis.

if one forces me to say something 'critical', i'd just say she is too modest and courteous to offer too many strong opinions deem too strong to many of our beloved and famous american venture capitalists :p we could all learn a great deal from her inside view and the interaction she has with those 12 representative entrepreneurs in china. one may or may not agree with her assessment of china being the next beacon of technical innovation, but one can never ignore the vivid fact that the force is coming strong and formidable.

as a participant of china's late technical advancement and entrepreneurial development for the past decade, i found her book useful, helpful, fascinating, and truly fun to read.

i wish when we first ventured in the world of pioneered by sina, netease, alibaba, and sohu, someone like rebecca, and book like 'silicon dragon' were there for us to learn.

highly recommended.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on February 22, 2008
Format: Hardcover
There is a "Huns are coming" school of thought about China and India and Asia's other fast-emerging economies. Reading about China in particular makes one think that the hordes are once again sweeping across the plains and soon will sack our economy (Clyde Prestowitz's "Three Billion Capitalists" is a recent example). We seem faced with an amorphous seething mass of `them.'

"Silicon Dragon: How China Is Winning the Tech Race," shows us who `them' are. She takes us inside 11 different Chinese high-tech firms and introduces us to the entrepreneurs in all their brilliance - and bumbling. There's at least as much bumbling as brilliance amongst the entrepreneurs we meet.

It's an essential book for anyone who wants to understand the high-tech business in China. It falls short of being a good old-fashioned yarn about the Chinese version of the Internet boom, in part because all of the companies she writes about might suffer the fate of Netscape. It's simply too early to tell.

[...]
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on October 31, 2008
Format: Hardcover
The entrepreneurial profiles in "Silicon Dragon" are the best depiction of the "real" China that I have read yet. As an American pursuing an international MBA at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, I heard a lot about the backward business attitudes in mainland China. When I decided to make a visit into China's interior to see for myself I found quite the opposite. Contrary to what I had been taught in B-School, I found a land where people were pursuing the American Dream with zeal. Rebecca Fannin has managed to capture the energy and spirit of twelve Chinese entrepreneurs who are changing the world of business. Reading "Silicon Dragon" re-focused my attention on globalization and how closely the US economy is tied to global economics. "Silicon Dragon" is a "must read" for today's entrpreneur. A well written, well documented, fascinating peek into the hearts and minds of China's economic thought leaders.
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on April 2, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Rebecca does a great job capturing the flavor of (largely web) entrepreneurship in China today. This first (or second, depending on perspective) generation of public market aware tech entrepreneurs is breaking ground much like the wave of folks who did the same in the US tech industry in the '70s after Steve Jobs and Apple made it every tecchie teenager's dream to build a company. Like the PC industry in the 70's the world revolved around larger than life entrepreneurs. Some how ultimately made it big, others who failed, and some who failed then came back. She's identified all of the above and captured their essence in her book; now we just have to wait and see how it plays out for everyone!!
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on November 7, 2008
Format: Hardcover
If you go "googling"(not "baidu-ing") the key words "Silicon Dragon", it returns 2 entries on the Amazon. First one is this book, and the second is about the Taiwan high-tech industry. No one can deny the important role Taiwan plays in the electronics industry right now, but who had foreseen it when it started to accelerate? Just years ago, we called it Taiwan Miracle on economy, does China ready to take its turn?

I won't repeat the whole content of the book here, you should buy one and read it, or see the other reviews which had summarized it. I just pick out the points that interest me.

"Cultural Gap" -- This term is the problem that blocks any international enterprises. From Fannin's book you can see how the well-known US companies made that mistake, again. Globalization and internationalization are never just to merge a local company and assign a outside manager. My question was, is this gap which protected or is protecting the Chinese enterprises would reversely become the limitation for them to scale up to the global level, when they want to compete in, say, US market ? In the book it implies the key : the US venture capitalists. From their background they may play a role of pushing-up when the day comes.

"Market Size" -- Do you use Baidu searching engine? Never heard of it? But it doesn't change the fact that it dominates a large market. Why should you care about it? You should if you are an investor or a competitor, since even Amazon begins with US market only, and now in Europe and Asia. Having settled on the China market is similar to settle on the US market for its market scale.

"Acceleration"-- Has China won the tech race of marathon? No. But China has won the tech race on acceleration. Long ago a Japanese tour guide introduced the price of the stock share of one Japanese enterprise, say, $1000 per share. My friend told him, "do you know in Taiwan, a stock increase its price from a dime to $10 per share within one year?"

I don't know if China can maintain its track, for its many problems also depicted in the book. But having a glance through this book may widen your vision. I would deduct half star for the current economy situation is not covered due to the publish date, but we can follow Ms. Fannin's future writing anyway.
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on February 13, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Ms. Fannin points out entertaining and informative success stories in China and also the challenges these companies are facing. While the title might be slightly ahead of its time and/or over reaching, its clear that entrepreneurs and investors are taking the risks, learning the lessons and showing no fear of failure which are the foundations of a future tech powerhouse.

In the near term, its also clear that China will have to tighten up its intellectual property laws to encourage collaboration from firms outside China and development within China. Right now, if one has a truly ground breaking innovation it appears that it would make more sense for that person to try to get to the U.S. where they know they can protect and exploit their technology. Longer term, I suspect this and other issues will be worked out and while the U.S. may not lose out to China it will certainly have a formidable challenger to keep the U.S. on its toes!
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7 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
One would have to be brain-dead not to forsee China working its way up the product food-chain, from cheap imitations, to quality products, to innovator, to the "Toyotas" and Samsungs" of the future.

If, unfortunately, one falls into that category, "Silicon Dragon" will not help. Its collection of various entrepreneurs' stories does not provide any sense of timetable, likely sustained areas of future excellence, and/or list of those companies most likely to become global standouts.

Further, I'm still wondering why I should be impressed by it's introductory "headline grabbers" - world's largest number of mobile phones (500 million; so?), 3X the U.S. number of engineering students (other sources report that these graduates require about six months additional training to be usable), and a dozen (13-1) more billion-dollar (capitalization) tech firms than the U.S. (data for U.S. doesn't pass the "smell test").
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