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How Silicon Valley Sees China (+10 yrs of Xi'an frisbee)

November 23 · Issue #58 · View online
Matt Sheehan's Newsletter
Hey there,
I hope everyone is holding up alright and coasting into a low-key but still delicious Thanksgiving. I’m writing today to share a new short analysis piece of mine: How Silicon Valley Sees China.
Over the past two years I’ve got a lot of questions from policymakers and journalists asking, “How does Silicon Valley see China today? Is it changing?” The people asking are usually looking for a one-dimensional answer (partner–>rival!), but as readers of this newsletter know, Silicon Valley’s ties with China are way more tangled up than that.
So I made a chart!

And all dimensions broken down into 3 main phases.
And all dimensions broken down into 3 main phases.
In the piece and the charts, I did my best to tease out five different threads or dimensions of the way Silicon Valley sees China, and then plot their rise and fall over the past decade.
The important disclaimer here is that these charts are built off my *qualitative assessments* of these trends over time. Now, those assessments are in-turn built on hundreds of interviews, conversations, and projects with actors throughout Silicon Valley: entrepreneurs, investors, engineers, executives, and researchers. (In terms of bias, I’m probably over-weighting for the take of VC investors and employees at the big companies.) That’s a lot of qualitative data to work with, but still, it’s just my take, so please take it as such.
I included some other charts and explain what’s behind the inflection points in the piece, which you can read here. Give it a look, and let me know what you think.
Selected and annotated graph for the technological dimensions.
Selected and annotated graph for the technological dimensions.
Ten Years of Xi'an Ultimate Frisbee
And now on a totally different (and more sentimental) note…
Last week some friends from my old ultimate frisbee team in Xi'an sent me a video from a recent tournament that they held in the city. Watching that video got me all nostalgic for the friends I made out there, and time we spent working together to build up the sport in Xi'an and beyond.
For those who don’t know, playing, coaching and teaching ultimate frisbee was a huge part of my time in China. I absolutely loved sharing the game and its culture with young Chinese people. For a lot of kids who grew up in a super high-pressure academic environment, joining a frisbee team in college is often their first chance to be part of a team, to be an athlete, to travel the country with friends, and just to cut loose and have fun. It’s a really beautiful thing to see.
Anyway, after watching the video from the tournament in Xi'an, I looked back at some old emails and Couchsurfing posts, and I realized that this past Friday – November 20th, 2020 – was exactly the ten year anniversary of the first frisbee activity I ever organized in Xi'an. It was just a small group of Chinese and foreigners throwing a frisbee at a local university, but it was where I met one of my best friends and the future co-founder of the first Xi'an ultimate frisbee team, the Roujiamo / 肉夹馍. That meeting and the team that emerged out of it genuinely changed my life in a whole bunch of ways, and it helped start something that I think this is really special out there.
The original Roujiamo crew, gathered at the first-ever Xi'an tournamnet in 2015.
The original Roujiamo crew, gathered at the first-ever Xi'an tournamnet in 2015.
Today, I spend most of my days working on the much colder and impersonal questions of technological competition between the US and China, and I think that work is really, really important. But while we do that work, it’s also important to keep sight of the human side of this relationship. Nowadays, with all the focus on US-China competition or rivalry, it’s almost gone out of fashion to think that these human connections matter at all. But they do matter. They really, really matter, and I hope we all keep doing the work to keep them alive and well.
I wrote a bit more about this, and included a bunch of pictures, links and videos, in this Twitter thread from last Friday.
Ok, thanks for indulging this little trip down memory lane, and for reading and sharing the piece above. Have a wonderful week and for us Americans, a happy and safe Thanksgiving,
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