• Wed
  • Aug 20, 2014
  • Updated: 12:52pm
My Take
PUBLISHED : Friday, 07 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 07 June, 2013, 1:14am

Hu Zhicheng's treatment a sober warning to patriotic returnees

Hu Zhicheng is exactly the kind of overseas Chinese Beijing wants to attract in its drive for technological mastery in the new 21st century global economy. But his awful experience over the past five years will give pause to other gifted foreign Chinese specialists or indeed any overseas experts who want to contribute technical know-how on the mainland.

Aside from the well-aired criticism about the need to improve the rule of law in such cases, it's simply in China's self-interest to protect such high-value knowledge workers, not abuse them. Hu's experience is not isolated. A Chinese-American engineer and entrepreneur, the mainland-born Hu trained at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with 48 patents to his name. Among his inventions is emissions-cutting technology for catalytic converters. The company he helped found is so successful that about half of China's domestically made cars now carry the converters. So is he now a patriotic billionaire, celebrated for his return to the nation to make his contributions? No. But he should count himself lucky for being allowed to go home to the US after being jailed and then detained over the past five years.

His forced stay might have been extended indefinitely but for the summit between Presidents Xi Jinping and Barack Obama in California. His sudden release appears to be a goodwill gesture ahead of the meeting. It's reminiscent of how Soviet Russia and communist China used dissidents or prisoners as pawns in negotiations with Western powers, mostly the United States. Such inhumane practices are not worthy of an emerging great power. It's unclear what caused the business dispute that landed Hu in hot water. One version says he upset a rival company run by a well-connected businessman when he refused to buy its inferior products. Another says the rival feared competition from Hu's company. Whatever the truth, he was jailed for 17 months on commercial theft charges over which even local prosecutors had cast doubts.

After his release, he was prevented from leaving the country for reasons that were never explained to him. But no new charges were laid against him.

If this is the kind of treatment that awaits patriotic returnees, who would want to come back?


For unlimited access to:

SCMP.com SCMP Tablet Edition SCMP Mobile Edition 10-year news archive



This article is now closed to comments

The gift of thinking comes with obligations
we must be charitable to fools
and not to take advantage of their stupidity
it’s clear from the rubbish you flaunt
that you have no face to be bashed
But I do worry that if whymak breaks your tortoise shell
and spill its noxious innards
he may be prosecuted for pollution
Clearly you've found yourself in a wrong place
A wild jungle is where you belong
name a time and a place... see you there, and i will beat you both... esp you pslhk with you bullsh-t rhyming you make me sick you fruitcake... talk is cheap...
nothing witty about what you say whymak... you are an idiot who thinks he is smarter than he actually is... you comments don't merit any intelligent response... let me know if you want to meet up, i would love to bash your face in
Illiterate reader Wong-Tortoise-Egg's bravo to my witticism: "shut the fck up whymak!"
Thank you very much! I am a bit tired for an encore.
Mr. Lo, one more comment about some of your readers below. They are far from intelligent.
You may have informed or educated some with a true story. But you have also unwittingly unleashed the Pandora's Box of Confirmation Bias for those with lower IQs.
Some readers' comments follow to a tee this Chinese idiom: 一犬吠形 百犬吠聲 . (One dog barks at something that just happened, hundred of dogs are now baying at his bark.)
Intelligentia of East and West share a common disdain for manufactured consent by the fourth estate. As one of few insightful writers of this publication, I hope you won't lose sight the impact of your story.
Very well said
Its my hope also
"..he upset a rival company run by a well-connected businessman when he refused to buy its inferior products. Another says the rival feared competition from Hu's company." Both are likely to be true.
There are many anecdotes like this not just about China, but also the US and other democracies. Yours truly has his own similar stories about the US.
What does this one mean in the big picture? Read this one:
Most people committed to intransigent hate passions will not accept facts or the big picture. These close minds will stick to only one type of anecdotes.
When I was R&D group leader and manager in the US, two friends, with one reported to me directly, were hounded by my firms after they found better paying jobs. My firms sued and stopped them from working for the new employers. This happens quite frequently in the US to knowledge workers like us. Or when your skills no longer match the firm's needs or your salary is too high, they throw you away like a wasted rag. In Europe, engineers are protected by labor laws.
The discrepancies between the big picture and anecdotes are easily understood. There are so many layers of governments in China which make it impossible to generalize.
Zhu Rongji found implementation of his own policy tough going too while reforming the finance sector. And many think China is a dictatorship.
shut the fck up whymak
This article fits perfectly with another article in the paper today that 87% of Chinese going abroad for study in science and technology don't return to China. I doubt China's top leaders were involved in Hu Zhicheng's issues, however it's easy to conclude that China's lack of rule of law allows this type of thing to happen at a great loss to China's economy.
Wrong! China is still not advanced enough to use all her talents. Young scientists and engineers embarking on a new career want to stay at the research frontier because one has only a few years to learn in the capacity of a postdoctoral fellow and junior research worker after their doctorates. Default into continued employment is least distractive to career building while still in early productive years. After all, Americans pay quite handsomely compared to China.
Many of Hong Kong and Taiwan science and engineering friends fell into this pattern. After achieving some renown, some returned to Greater China and split time with their already established career in a US institution, but now with big buck to match their recognized talents.
I really cannot understand what's in the head of these state leaders. If the reports are true that a well connected competitor put him in jail, can't people like Wen JIa Bao or Hu Jintao (under their rein then) realize the implications on China's image and ability to attract world class talents and have stepped in? I thought they can't be that stupid, but apparently I am wrong.
John Adams
I find the way that China treats people like Hu Zhicheng very sad
Until China has totally impartial legal system it can never really progress to "world- first" status
china is a giant sh-tbox
Welcome to the "China Dream", where foreign people invent stuff, Chinese officials and their cronies steal it and profit by it, and meanwhile throw the guy in jail and won't let him leave the country.
Chinese law is lore or lawlessness, la.


SCMP.com Account