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Tech Thursday Episode 40

Worm turns on caterpillar fungus, pennies from heaven, Huawei’s “very scary” technology, China has the biggest number of patents and WeChat passport

Each Thursday, The World of Chinese takes the most ground-breaking, impressive, or just plain weird technological advancements related to the Middle Kingdom and serves them in bite-sized chunks to keep you up-to-date on the latest news in the world of Chinese technology.

Worm turns on caterpillar fungus

Long criticized for the damage its cultivation causes to the environment, as well as bogus health claims (along with several other TCM ingredients), caterpillar fungus has finally been called out. China’s Food and Drug Administration has declared the caterpillar (or chongcao, 虫草) business a lie, with a notice forbidding its advertising as a health supplement.

In 2016, a CFDA check revealed up to four times the standard level of arsenic in the commercial chongcao products. The declaration is unlikely to have any effect on the market for this TCM quackery though: Ever since 18th-century doctor Wu Yiluo included chongcao in his Thoroughly Revised Materia Medica (《本草从新》), this odd fungus—which only grows around desiccated  caterpillar corpses in the grassy plateaus of southwest China—has attained the reputation of a magical tonic that can boost the immune system and even fight cancer. In modern-day China, chongcao was at one point more expensive than gold, has long served as a high-end gift, and spawned an industry worth over 30 billion RMB. Indeed, chongcao retailers have already fought back, saying the fungus cannot be toxic as “it’s planted and we can control the arsenic level.”

Pennies from Heaven

In Mengzhe town, Yunnan province, villagers are currently busy hunting for meteorites, after China Association for Scientific Expedition (CASE) asked for help gathering evidence from a shower last year. The request triggered a gold rush when a similar shower occurred on June 1, with locals and out-of-towners flocking to search every inch of the Local cane farms and the paddy fields, affecting villagers’ livelihoods. The stones are being sold, with the price enjoying a meteoric surge up of to 1,000s of RMB per gram.“Please regard the fallen meteorites with reason; a beautiful life should be built through your effort and labor; to get rich overnight through searching for meteorites is blind,” said a notice from the very tired local government.

Huawei releases “very scary” tech on phone users

Huawei finally released new phone, Honor Play on June 6, with the promise it contains “very scary technology,” in the words of Consumer Business CEO Yu Chengdong. The “scary” technology is called “GPU Turbo,” which aimed to improve the mobile gaming by using a hardware-software integrated Graphics Processing Unit that not only increases the GPU speed but also improves the phone’s power efficiency.

This technology will not be limited to the Honor Play alone, though:  Huawei owners can get the new features by simply updating their mobile phone’s. OS.

A gaming phone which also offers “4D” haptic feedback  (or vibrations), the phone is priced at 2,399RMB for the 6GB+64GB model.

China shows patents

In a fresh statistic bound to freak out the newly emergent “Yellow Peril” brigade even further, recent World Intellectual Property Office statistics show that China’s State Intellectual Property Office received more applications in 2016 than the EU, US, Japan and South Korea combined. What’s more, this follows the seventh annual year-on-year increase in Chinese applications, with 1.3 million patents (compared to the US, in second place at 605,571) received for intellectual property.

In short, China is running the show in patent applications. Impressive as this seems, there’s a bigger picture to consider. “While the explosion of domestic patent applications in China is impressive, this growth does not necessarily correspond with dramatic advances in innovation,” notes China Power, a site dedicated to “unpacking the complexities” of China’s rise. “Comparing patent applications and grants between countries does not take into account differences in government policies and the domestic regulatory environment. [China] explicitly equates patent generation with innovation and calls for government incentives to bolster the number [resulting in] patents being awarded to small design tweaks and incremental innovations.” At the world’s top patent offices, in other words, the majority of these patents would not cut the mustard.

WeChat passport

Passports and identity cards may soon be rendered pointless—within China at least: Tencent Holdings has announced plans to replace travel documents between Hong Kong and China with a “Scan-WeChat-to-cross-border” procedure. Currently, visitors to each side of the border have passports and chip-embedded travel cards which use fingerprint and facial scans to pass through unmanned gates.

HK Chief Executive Carrie Lam participated in a WeChat scanner demonstration this week, suggesting the city may well be up for the mooted “biometric data-based E-card scheme for mainland and Hong Kong citizens to link identity documents to their WeChat app and cross the border with simple code and face scans,” Reuters reported. While HK and China have a “One Country, Two Systems” policy, smartphone users know that, on the mainland, at least, there is only one app: WeChat, which has 1 billion users.


TWOC‘s editors are a bilingual, international team that is always on the lookout for original and human-centered stories to share with our readers. We are dedicated to accuracy, objectivity, and looking at each of China's stories through the eyes of its participants. Get in touch through our About Us page if you have a story to pitch!

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