On Nov. 20 President Trump’s trade advisor, Robert Lighthizer, issued an exhaustive report on China’s efforts to beg, borrow, and steal U.S. intellectual property.
Eleven days later, on Dec. 1, Stanford University Professor Zhang Shoucheng, who had been collaborating with the Beijing regime’s drive to dominate hi-tech under its “Made in China 2025” plan, killed himself.
Now I have no doubt that the Chinese-born professor was depressed. He had good reason to be. After all, Lighthizer’s report had singled out the company he had founded and chaired, Silicon Valley-based Danhua Capital, for criticism. Danhua, the report said, was illustrative of the “web of entities” created by China “to invest in high-technology U.S. startups … to further the industrial policy goals of the Chinese government.”
You see, Danhua Capital was bankrolled almost entirely by the Chinese government - to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.
As the United States Trade Representative’s (USTR) report details, nearly all of the funding in question came from a Chinese state-owned enterprise (SOE) called Zhongguancun Development Group (ZDG) that was set up by the Beijing Municipal Government.
The closeness of Zhang’s ties with the Communist regime is illustrated by the fact that Wang Anshu, the Mayor of Beijing, was the personal guest of the Danhua Capital chairman at the signing ceremony in Silicon Valley in May 2013.
Zhang’s assignment, as described on the ZDG website, was to identify“original and disruptive technologies developed at Stanford … and guide those projects back to ZDG in Beijing to commercialize.” In other words, Danhua Capital was a technology harvesting scheme.
ZDG’s work with Zhang and Danhua as governed by its overall strategy, which it described as “ZDG capital goes out and foreign advanced technology and human capital is brought in.” Money can’t buy you love, but enough of it can buy you access—one way or another–to the latest in American hi-tech innovations, along with the skills you need to commercialize it in China.
I suspect that the now-deceased professor, who was a leader in the field of quantum physics, might have been conflicted about his role in this scheme even before it was made public by the USTR report.
After all, he had lived in the U.S. since 1983, graduating in 1987 with a doctoral degree from in quantum physics from SUNY Stony Brook. His children, Stephanie and Brian, had been born and educated in America. Professionally, he was blessed to have been given the opportunity to engage in cutting-edge research, first at the Institute for Theoretical Physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and later as a professor at Stanford, where he was hired in 1993. He had even been nominated for the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2014. Although he failed to win the Nobel that year, many of his colleagues thought that it was only a matter of time before he did.
Could he have accomplished the same things in China? It is highly doubtful. While the state-run media delights in pointing out that eight Chinese have won Nobel prizes in the sciences, it invariably fails to mention that all were U.S. citizens, either by birth or naturalization, when they won their prizes. It also fails to mention that their ground-breaking research was conducted in the U.S., not in China. These truths are inconvenient because they suggest that it was the freedom of thought and action that they enjoyed in America, rather than their ethnicity, that was the critical factor.
I am willing to grant that when Zhang first set up his company, his only thought was to help the country of his birth to prosper. Xi Jinping had only been newly installed as the General Secretary of the Communist Party and the path he would take was not yet clear. Perhaps Zhang had convinced himself that by helping China’s continued economic advance, he would be in a position to encourage political liberalization and respect for human rights.
It would not become clear for another couple of years that nothing of the sort was in the offing. Chinese communist regime remained a thuggish, tyrannical dictatorship. Not only that, but the regime was taking full advantage of modern technology to actually increase its surveillance and oppression of various disfavored groups, including Christians, Muslims, and the Falun Gong.
Those who study physics often see, more clearly than most, the evidence of intelligent design that the universe reveals. This seems to have been true in Zhang’s case. “Motivated by his desire to witness the glory of God through scientific research,” his family reports. “He brought an infectious spirit of curiosity to the entire world.”
Who but a believer would cherish William Blake’s poem, “Auguries of Innocence”, as Zhang reportedly did:
To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour
How depressing it must have been for Zhang to witness the ongoing persecution of his fellow believers in China.
How depressing it must have been to realize that he had set up a front company to allow the corrupt Communist Party to pilfer—all perfectly legally of course–the crown jewels of American technological innovation.
How depressing it must have been to realize that, after all the benefits and blessings he had received from his adoptive country, America, that this was the way he was repaying it.
Of course Professor Zhang was depressed. Who wouldn’t be under the circumstances?
He was, by all accounts, not only a great intellect, but a good and decent man. We mourn his passing. And pray that other overseas Chinese will not be seduced in the same way into “helping the motherland”, because this in practice often means strengthening the misrule of the Communist Party.