cover image Little Rice: Smartphones, Xaomi, and the Chinese Dream

Little Rice: Smartphones, Xaomi, and the Chinese Dream

Clay Shirky. Columbia Global Reports (PGW, dist.), $12.99 trade paper (128p) ISBN 978-0-9909763-2-5

In this bite-size but substantive case study, Shirky (Cognitive Surplus) explores Xaomi, Chinese company, which has a reputation as "the most valuable startup ever" having grown to be the third largest producer of smart phones worldwide in only five-years. But rather than focus on the business practices or startup culture of the company, Shirky uses Xaomi's story as a "lens that makes the importance and contradictions of modern China easier to see." Most prominently, Xaomi represents China's influential and growing place on the global economic stage. With an increasing middle class, China is now the world's biggest producer and consumer of mobile phones, and Xaomi counters the image of China as only the cheap producer of Western-designed products. However, these networked devices also illuminate the tensions between China's open market and its closed political system. As more and more citizens purchase smartphones, the nominally communist government finds it more difficult "to maintain the desired equilibrium between elites, where access [to the outside world] is tolerated, and the general public, where it is feared." The future of China is a difficult one to predict, Shirky readily admits. In many ways, though, Xaomi offers hints of what may come to bear, and its successes and failures are quite significant. (Oct.)