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IBM at Home 

In the future, I want to be able to freely choose to whom I give or lend my personal computer to."

Chris Xie and Zhao Guobin also share the same point of view.  In their apartment in Mountain View (California), these two young Chinese men, who recently moved to Silicon Valley, just recently created their own start-up called "GreenTea", and put together a unique software which is in the process of being released onto the market under the program name: "GreenTea".

Up to now, programs that were developed by start-ups, only worked on larger servers, explains Chris Xie, the inventor.  On the other hand, GreenTea runs on any type of standard personal computer.   If they keep their promises, GreenTea will enable all internet users to share other users hard drives and other user's computer's capability: therefore, never being too short of memory.

All we need are a few hundred thousand users in order for you to have a "super computer" in your own living room.

Play on IBM. Or listen to the sky, while looking for little green men.


Wednesday, January 16, 2002


Fortune-seekers return


Scott Su surveys the landscape of Silicon Valley - spotless two- and three-storey buildings, new cars racing along the highway and a light railway service that leaves no noise or smoke.

"Chinese want to take risks and make a fortune. They do not want to work their way up in a company. They want to go into business on their own and hit the jackpot with a stock listing. That is why they are going home," he said.

Mr Su, a native of Xian and graduate of its Communications University, has worked for three years at Cisco Systems, one of the biggest companies in San Jose, heart of Silicon Valley, where 20,000 to 30,000 mainland Chinese work. Cisco employs 37,500 people, including 11,000 engineers, one-third of them ethnic Chinese.

Mr Su said: "The return migration began in the middle of last year, when people began to lose their jobs. Many missions have come from China, seeking recruits and offering opportunities. The response has been very good. Many are looking for an opportunity."

Since China allowed its people to study abroad at the end of the 1970s, more than 300,000 have gone to study in foreign countries, mainly the United States, and only a fraction have returned.

The most popular destination is California and especially San Francisco, popularly known as Jiu Jin Shan (Old Golden Mountain). Chinese were among the first settlers here, arriving in the 1840s, and now account for one third of the urban population.

Silicon Valley has grown up over the past 20 years to the south of San Francisco, in cities like San Jose and Santa Clara, and has attracted thousands of mainland Chinese, who are strongest in science, engineering and computer subjects.

But the collapse of the Nasdaq and the information technology (IT) bubble, causing thousands of people to be laid off last year, has shifted the balance of comparative advantages, causing many Chinese to think of a career at home.

Beijing has not published the number of those who have returned. Chinese in Silicon Valley estimate the figure at several hundred and say that it will increase as long as the US economy does not pick up.

It is a repeat of the story of Taiwan, which sent thousands of students to the US from the 1950s, seeking economic opportunity and political security. Less than 20 per cent returned home.

This proportion started to rise from the late 1980s, as wages and opportunities at home improved, with the Government setting up high-technology zones, companies offering incentives to returnees and the threat of a Communist invasion receding.

Similarly, Beijing is eager to exploit the downturn in the global IT market and bring back its overseas talent. At the end of December, Vice-Premier Li Lanqing launched a week of activities aimed at persuading Chinese students to come back. More than 360 visited science parks in Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, Xian and more than a dozen other cities to discuss projects.

Mr Li told a national meeting on December 28: "These students are a precious resource of the nation. We have joined the World Trade Organisation and the race of global competition, in which the need for talent is urgent. We must work hard to create the conditions to attract these talented people to come back."

The Government offers tax breaks, cheap land and other incentives to such returnees. One who took the plunge was Chris Xie, 33, who came to take a master's degree at the University of California at Riverside in 1989 and had not expected to return home. In 1998, he set up GreenTea Technologies to run from his Bay Area apartment but could find no seed money.

A Shanghai biotechnology firm offered to invest US,000 and gave him a share of its Shanghai office space. Mr Xie has offices in two other Chinese cities and is pursuing deals with top computer firms. GreenTea sells a technology, which Mr Xie developed, that is a platform for pooling the power of many personal computers together to form one very powerful computer.

Mr Xie said: "Many have gone back, some because they lost their job and others because there is opportunity in China. One friend with no green card moved back with his family because he thinks he has more opportunities there and a high standard of living."

But Mr Xie's mother and girlfriend live in California and he has got used to the American, not the Chinese, way of doing business.

"We are maintaining operations in both places. We want to see how the business develops."

Jiang Wei, who works at Intuit and has lived for 12 years in the US, said the climate in Silicon Valley had changed drastically.

"I know many people who are actively looking at opportunities to go home. The US economy is not good, there have been many lay-offs and the Chinese market is very active. It is different from one to two years ago.

"Everyone knows the political uncertainty of China but is optimistic over the next five years. An annual salary of 500,000 yuan [about HK,500] in Pudong is very attractive to a single person. For myself, I am not soliciting opportunities but have an interest in going back."

Zhang Hanchang, who works in a small hi-tech start-up in a Silicon Valley firm and has lived in the US for 15 years, said the move back to China began at the start of last year.

He said: "China has a lot of IT talent but its base is much lower than that in the US, so it needs people. The ones who have gone back are those with five years or less in the US and who still have connections in China. Such guanxi [connections] are vital. I have been here too long and do not have them. I have become an American and could not adapt."

There was also the problem of converting yuan earnings into US dollars.

An American management consultant said the numbers looked good for China.

"Other markets look bad. Japan is going to the toilet and things will get worse. In China, you can still lose money but the infrastructure is better and things are more transparent. Those going back belong to a finite supply of talent. Experience in Silicon Valley makes it easier to raise money. Venture capitalists want people who 'get it'."

But Chinese say those considering a move cannot ignore personal factors. If a wife and children are settled in the US, they usually prefer to stay and the adjustment for a child from an American to a Chinese school is too great.

The ideal is to go back with a US passport or green card in your pocket - but what to do if a good opportunity presents itself when you do not?

Chinese said that patriotism was not a factor in the return, unlike the 1950s when thousands of Chinese returned home to build what they believed would be a new and better country. This move is driven by money and status.


Copyright, GreenTea Technologies, Inc.