Western countries are always complaining about how Asians are stealing their intellectual property, especially people on the mainland. Now it may be Asians' turn to complain. The ancient practice of washing clothes - across Asia - by pounding them with rods in streams or ponds has apparently been 'appropriated' by some academics in Britain. Mainland country girls, for example, like the ones pictured below in Zhejiang province , use beaters to wash their clothes by a stream. Stephen Burkinshaw of Leeds University has invented a washing machine, called the Xeros, that promises to use just a cup of water to do the laundry each time. It does so, apparently, by pounding the clothes with plastic chips inside the machine. His research team says the new environmentally friendly device uses just 2 per cent of the water and energy consumed by conventional washing machines. People will also save on not having to buy tumble driers because the clothes will come out partially dry. 'We've shown that it can remove all sorts of everyday stains, including coffee and lipstick, while using a tiny fraction of the water used by conventional machines,' Professor Burkinshaw was quoted as saying in The Independent. Xeros, the company marketing the machine, aims for it to hit the market as early as next year. I don't know, but our maids and housewives have been beating dirty clothes for centuries to clean them in what amounts to a pan-Asian cultural practice. They deserve, I should think, an intellectual acknowledgement, possibly some royalties.