It was a small gift designed to inspire big dreams. The University of Chinese Academy of Sciences included samples of self-developed chips in an admission letter package sent to 400 undergraduate freshmen to encourage students to be more innovative and embrace the country’s goal of developing domestic high technologies. A Loongson III chip was attached to an open letter to new students from university president Li Shushen, according to a post from the university’s public account on Chinese social media platform WeChat. “It looks small but it can empower a big world. It is unpretentious but it is a portrayal of the independent research and development of the Chinese Academy of Sciences,” Li said in the letter. The Loongson, which translates as Dragon chip in English, was first developed by the Institute of Computing Technology (ICT) at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in 2001. Subsequently, the country’s first domestically designed Quad core CPU chip, the Loongson 3A, was completed in 2009. The sample chips attached to the letter were produced by Loongson Technology Corporation, established in 2010 as a joint venture investment of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) and the Beijing government with the goal of commercialising the research and development of CAS-developed chips. China encourages private enterprises to tap government subsidies for tech R&D Beijing student Zou Honggang was first among the freshmen to receive the chip when university staff delivered the package to him at home last week. “This is my first time to see a real chip!” Zhou told the university staff. “I’ll put this chip and my high school badge together on my desk as a spiritual token urging me to move forward and work hard to contribute to solving bottlenecks of China technologies.” It might just be a promotional gift for students but the move carries much bigger meaning amid the US-China trade war and perceptions among Chinese that Washington is trying to contain China’s rise as a tech power. In May Chinese telecoms champion Huawei Technologies was placed on a US blacklist that banned American companies from selling it products and services, including semiconductor chips, although US President Donald Trump partially walked back the ban after meeting Chinese leader Xi Jinping at the G20 last month. A year earlier Chinese telecoms maker ZTE was hit with a similar ban as punishment for backtracking on an earlier agreement with US authorities over sanction violations. That ban was reversed after ZTE agreed to pay a US$1.4 billion fine and let US inspectors monitor company operations. Since then, Xi has on a number of occasions called for home-grown innovation and stressed the need for self reliance in core US technologies like chips, a message echoed by university president Li. “Key technologies must be firmly held in our own hands and must be self-reliant. If the country wants to become a world superpower in technology in 2049, China must be determined to innovate independently,” Li said in the letter.