A Chinese chip scandal?

Bruce Einhorn

It hasn’t generated global headlines like the South Korean stem-cell controversy, but China may be in the midst of an embarrassing high-tech scandal of its own. In 2003, Chen Jin, a professor at Shanghai’s Jiaotong University (alma mater of former President Jiang Zemin and one of the most prestigious schools in the country), led a team that developed China’s first home-grown digital signal processor, dubbed the Hanxin 1. Since building a local semiconductor industry was (and still is) a top priority of the Chinese government, Chen’s achievement won him widespread acclaim. Premier Wen Jiabao and former Hong Kong Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa were among the high-profile officials to visit Chen’s lab.

But last week the Epoch Times, a website affiliated with the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement, picked up a story reported earlier this month by the Chinese-language Ming Pao newspaper in Hong Kong that questions Chen's achievement. The Epoch Times of course has an interest in publicizing bad news about the Chinese government, but the Ming Pao is one of the most respected newspapers in Hong Kong. And according to the Ming Pao, investigators from China’s Ministry of Science and Technology, Ministry of Education, and Ministry of Information Industry have been looking into charges that Chen didn’t come up with anything new but copied a DSP from Motorola’s chip division (now spun off as a separate company, Freescale). The Ming Pao, which first published news of the investigation in early March, on March 14 reported that the investigators have concluded Chen’s claims for the Hanxin 1 were indeed exaggerated.

I’ve tried contacting Chen, but his office says he’s unavailable for comment. Meanwhile, according to the Ming Pao, the investigation is continuing.

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