HONG KONG — Once derided as a technology backwater and copycat, China is justifiably proud of its technology boom. Its people zip around the country on high-speed trains. They can buy, and pay for, just about anything with their smartphones. For Chinese traveling abroad, the rest of the world can seem slow and antiquated.

香港——中国曾因技术落后和抄袭遭到嘲笑,但它现在有理由为自己的科技繁荣而自豪。人们可以乘坐高铁穿梭于全国各地。可以用智能手机购买和支付几乎一切东西。中国人在国外旅行时,可能会觉得世界的其他地方太慢、太落后。

Now, that progress has been cast into doubt, and even some of the smartest people in the technology world are asking how they got it so wrong.

现在,这些进步遭到了质疑,甚至一些科技界最具智慧的人都在思考,他们之前为什么会错得这么厉害。

The Trump administration gave ZTE, which employs 75,000 people and is the world’s No. 4 maker of telecom gear, a stay of execution on Thursday. ZTE, which had violated American sanctions, agreed to pay a $1 billion fine and to allow monitors to set up shop in its headquarters. In return, the company — once a symbol of China’s progress and engineering know-how — will be allowed to buy the American-made microchips, software and other tools it needs to survive.

周四,特朗普政府宣布暂缓对违反美国制裁规定的中兴通讯的处罚。中兴同意支付10亿美元的罚款,并允许监督人员进驻它的总部。反过来,这家公司将被允许购买美国制造的微芯片、软件及其他赖以生存的工具。这个拥有7.5万名员工的全球第四大电信设备制造商,曾是中国工程技术进步的象征

China’s technology boom, it turns out, has been largely built on top of Western technology.

事实证明,中国的科技繁荣,在很大程度上是建立在西方技术的基础之上的。

广告

The ZTE incident, as it is called in China, may be the country’s Sputnik moment. Like the United States in 1957, watching helplessly as the Soviet Union launched the first human-made satellite, many people in China now see how far the country still has to go.

此事在中国被称为“中兴事件”,也许将是该国的“苏联卫星时刻”。正如1957年的美国无奈地看着苏联发射第一颗人造卫星,现在,中国许多人也看到了这个国家还有多大的差距要去追赶。

“We realized,” said Dong Jielin, an adjunct professor at the Research Center for Technological Innovation at Tsinghua University in Beijing, “that China’s prosperity was built on sand.”

“我们意识到,”北京清华大学技术创新研究中心的兼职教授董洁林说,“中国现在的繁荣是建立在沙子上的。”

China now feels a new urgency to change that.

中国现在有了一种新的紧迫感,想要去改变这一点。

This week, I begin a column for The New York Times that looks at the paradox of modern China through the lens of technology. For years, China has defied the axiom that a free political system and economic growth go hand in hand. The thriving tech industry is the epitome of the so-called China model, which says people can rise and prosper under tight government control.

本周,我开始为《纽约时报》撰写一个专栏,透过科技的视角看待现代中国的纷繁复杂。多年来,中国藐视了自由政治体系必与经济增长并进这一公理。它繁荣的科技产业是所谓中国模式的缩影,这种模式认为,人民可以在严厉的政府控制下发展和致富。

Most people outside China think of it as “1984,” a dystopian society ruled by a repressive government with powerful brainwashing machines, which it is in many ways. But if you live in China, it feels more like that other dystopian novel, “Brave New World.” It’s a colorful, vibrant and consumeristic society. In many ways, Chinese people have more choice than they ever had before — except when it comes to individual liberty.

中国以外的大多数人认为这是“1984”的世界,一个反乌托邦社会,由一个掌握着强大洗脑机器的专制政府所统治,在很多方面确实如此。但是如果你生活在中国,就会感觉这里像是另一部反乌托邦小说《美丽新世界》(Brave New World)。这是一个多姿多彩、充满活力和消费至上的社会。在很多方面,中国人比以前有更多的选择 ——除了涉及个人自由的时候。

China offers a competing vision to those who see technology as a global, liberating force. Its robust online culture coexists with stringent censorship. China forcefully espouses a view of sovereignty in the cyber realm that sees a greater degree of government control than the internet’s creators ever envisioned — a view that doesn’t seem as far-fetched as it once did, as politicians around the world grapple with the unintended consequences of technology.

中国为那些视科技为全球解放力量的人描绘了另一幅图景。在中国,强盛的网络文化与严格的审查制度并存。中国在强势推行网络领域主权的观点,其政府控制程度之高,是互联网创造者未曾预想过的——而这种观点现在看来似乎并不像以前那样难以置信,因为全世界的政治人士都在努力应对科技带来的意想不到的后果

Before we get to that future, however, the ZTE incident offers a glimpse of where China stands now.

然而,在我们走向那样的未来之前,中兴事件让我们看到了中国现在的处境。

广告

ZTE’s near-collapse has shaken tech entrepreneurs, investors and ordinary Chinese people alike. In social media chat groups, at dinner tables, at industry conferences, terms like “semiconductors” and “fundamental scientific research” have become buzzwords. My novelist, economist and philosophy professor friends all ask me: How far behind is China’s microchip industry? How long will it take us to catch up with the United States? (Some ask even more basic questions, like: What’s a microchip?)

中兴几乎崩溃这件事令科技创业者、投资者和普通中国人感到震撼。在社交媒体聊天群里、饭桌上和行业会议中,“半导体”和“基础科学研究”等词变得时髦起来。我的小说家、经济学家和哲学教授朋友都问我:中国在微芯片行业内的差距有多大?我们需要多久才能赶上美国?(有些人会问更基本的问题,比如:什么是微芯片?)

“The recent ZTE incident made us see clearly that no matter how advanced our mobile payment is, without mobile devices, without microchips and operating systems, we can’t compete competently,” Pony Ma, chief executive of the Chinese internet giant Tencent Holdings said last month at a science forum.

“尤其是最近的中兴事件,更让大家清醒地意识到:移动支付再先进,没有手机终端,没有芯片和操作系统,竞争起来的话,你的实力也不够,”中国互联网巨头腾讯控股首席执行官马化腾上月在一个科学论坛上说。

China feels new urgency to increase its technological abilities. Its current push — called Made in China 2025lies at the root of worsening trade relations between the United States and China. But the problems with ZTE, which had $17 billion in revenue in 2017, will only spur Chinese leaders to push ahead.

中国现在有了提高技术能力的紧迫感。它目前推行的名为“中国制造2025”的计划,是源起于美中贸易关系的恶化。但2017年营收达170亿美元的中兴遇到的问题,只会刺激中国领导人继续向前推进。

“Self-reliance is the foundation for the Chinese nation to stand firmly in the world, while independent innovation is the only way for us to climb the peak of the world’s science and technology,” Xi Jinping, China’s leader, told its top scientists late last month.

“自力更生是中华民族自立于世界民族之林的奋斗基点,自主创新是我们攀登世界科技高峰的必由之路,”中国领导人习近平上月底对本国的顶尖科学家说。

As Chinese ask how they can keep up, many are also wondering why they didn’t realize they were so far behind to begin with.

当很多中国人自问如何追赶的时候,还有一些人首先就在想,为什么他们会没意识到这种落后呢。

“The best students always think they performed poorly in exams,” said Ding Jichang, founder and chief executive of Mobiuspace, a Chinese mobile app developer, “while the bad students always think they aced it.”

“学霸总觉得自己考得不好,”中国移动手机应用程序开发公司大宇无限的创始人兼首席执行官丁吉昌说,“学渣总觉得自己很牛。”

For starters, the idea of China as technology powerhouse isn’t wrong. As Mr. Ding pointed out, Chinese companies early on figured out the power of the smartphone in daily life. ZTE and others are competitive in many areas, like mobile data technology.

首先应该说,中国已是科技强国的想法并没有错。正如丁吉昌指出的,中国企业很早就在日常生活中发现了智能手机的强大功能。中兴和其他公司在移动数据技术等许多领域都具有竞争力。

广告

But many in China — and many cheerleaders of the Chinese tech scene — also found themselves in a feedback loop of their own making. The powerful propaganda machine flooded out rational voices, said Ms. Dong of Tsinghua University. The tech boom fits perfectly into Beijing’s grand narrative of a national rejuvenation. Innovation and entrepreneurship are top national policies, with enormous financial backing from the government. Even now, some articles critical of China’s lagging semiconductor industry have disappeared from the internet there.

但在中国,许多人——包括为中国科技行业呐喊助威的人——发现自己处于自己制造的反馈循环中。清华大学的董洁林表示,强大的宣传机器淹没了理性的声音。科技繁荣完全符合北京对民族复兴的宏大叙事。创新和创业是国家的首要政策,获得了政府的巨大财政支持。即便到了现在,一些批评中国落后的半导体行业的文章,也在从中国的互联网消失。

And it wasn’t just Chinese people. Michael Moritz, the American venture capital investor, warned that China “is leaving Donald Trump’s America behind.” Peter Thiel, a PayPal co-founder, wondered how long it would take for China to overtake the United States. Three to four years, he concluded.

不只是中国人在这么做。美国风险投资者迈克尔·莫里茨(Michael Moritz)警告称,中国“正在把唐纳德·特朗普领导的美国甩在身后”。贝宝(PayPal)的联合创始人彼得·泰尔(Peter Thiel)也在思考,中国再过多久会超过美国。他的结论是,三到四年。

The boom kept many from asking hard questions. They promoted China’s surge in patent filings without looking at whether the patents were any good. They didn’t ask why China still imports 90 percent of its semiconductor components even though the industry became a national priority in 2000.

繁荣导致许多人不敢提出尖锐的问题。他们颂扬中国专利申请数量的激增,却不关心那些专利的质量如何。他们没有思考为什么中国90%的半导体元件仍需要进口,尽管该行业在2000年已成为国家重点行业。

The tone has changed. At an annual conference of top venture capitalists in Shanghai in late April, several major investors admitted that too much money went to start-ups that could go public quickly. Few want to fund the hard work that requires long-term research and development. Now, those investors face some of the blame.

论调已经变了。4月底,在上海举行的一场顶级风险投资人年会上,几位大牌投资人承认,有太多资金流向了可以快速上市的初创企业。很少有人愿意为需要进行长期研发的艰苦工作提供资金。现在,这些投资者面临一些指责。

“The public is saying that investors are bastards,” said Ni Zewang, chairman of one of China’s top venture firms, Shenzhen Capital Group, according to the conference transcript.

会议记录显示,中国最大的风险投资公司之一深圳市创新投资集团的董事长倪泽望表示,“现在社会上都说投资人是混蛋。”

Allen Zhu, who became famous for investing in star start-ups, including the ride-sharing company Didi Chuxing Technology and the bike-sharing app Ofo, said he invested in a few chip start-ups years ago but lost his money. “For investors, the ratio of investment to returns isn’t proportionate,” he said.

朱啸虎因投资明星初创企业而出名,包括叫车公司滴滴出行共享单车应用程序Ofo。他表示,多年前,他投资了几家芯片初创企业,但是赔了钱。“对风险投资人来说,这种投入和回报不成比例。”

Thanks to the ZTE incident, that problem has gone away.

由于中兴通讯事件,这个问题消失了。

广告

Albert Liu, chief executive of the chip start-up Kneron, says that in the past, only one of four investors he met with would express any interest in his company. But when he had a round of meetings with 50 investors in May, nine of 10 were interested.

芯片初创企业耐能(Kneron)的首席执行官刘峻诚表示,过去,在他见过的投资人中只有四分之一对他的公司有兴趣。但5月份,在与50位投资人进行了一轮会谈之后,他发现,10个投资人有9个对他的公司感兴趣。

He used to have to spend a lot of time explaining why chips are important in the age of artificial intelligence. Now, he says, investors will tell him: “Let’s skip this. I know why.”

过去,他必须花费很多时间来解释为什么芯片在人工智能时代如此重要。他说,现在投资人会对他说:“这个不用讲,我知道。”

Some Chinese companies are doubling their efforts to develop their own chips. Gree Electric Appliances of Zhuhai, the world’s biggest residential air-conditioner manufacturer, started building its own chips for air-conditioners three years ago in an attempt to lower costs and better control its supply chain.

一些中国公司正在加倍努力开发自己的芯片。三年前,全球最大的家用空调制造商珠海格力电器开始研发自己的空调芯片,意在降低成本,更好地控制供应链。

“After the ZTE incident, we realize how important it is to be able to make chips on our own,” says Tang Xiaohui, a senior executive in charge of Gree’s smartphone and chip development. The company’s chairwoman announced on state television recently that Gree would spend $7.8 billion on chip research and development in the next three years.

“中兴事件后,我们更看到了国产化这一块的重要性,”格力负责智能手机和芯片开发的高管唐晓晖表示。前不久,该公司的董事长在国家电视台的节目中宣布,未来三年,格力将在芯片研发上投入78亿美元。

The chipsets Gree develops may not be as good as the American ones, Mr. Tang said. “But we’ve got to have a Plan B.”

唐晓晖表示,格力开发的芯片组可能不如美国的好。“但我们得有个备用方案。”