Zhang Tiankan

Academic, columnist

Zhang Tiankan is a Chinese academic and columnist whose research interests lie in the relationship between science and technology, philosophy, culture, history and society. He is also a published author of various books and articles in China and abroad.

A QR code for Covid-19 contact tracing was displayed at the entrance of a shopping mall in Shanghai, China, on 29 November 2022. (Qilai Shen/Bloomberg)

China's growing digital economy does not guarantee a 'digital civilisation'

Amid the frequent refrain of building a digital civilisation in China, Chinese academic Zhang Tiankan warns of the natural progression assumed in digital progress leading to greater civilisation. Innovations such as facial recognition technology or human tracking devices are placed in the hands of man and can be used for good or evil.
Health workers wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) carry barricades inside a residential community that just opened after a lockdown due to Covid-19 restrictions in Beijing, China, on 9 December 2022. (Noel Celis/AFP)

China’s reopening will not lead to a million deaths

Chinese academic Zhang Tiankan explains why some estimates that China's reopening without safeguards could result in 1.5 million to 2 million deaths is improbable if one looks at the facts. Such predictions could cause public alarm and mislead policy making.
Zhong Shanshan, founder and chair of Nongfu Spring, and China's richest man. (Internet)

China's richest man Zhong Shanshan sells pure spring water, but can Nongfu Spring stay clean and green?

Nongfu Spring, China’s largest packaged drinks company, prides itself on its clean and green natural water source and low production costs. However, Chinese academic Zhang Tiankan stresses that despite its financial success, the company will need to do more for the environment if it wants to keep its future growth intact.
A sign encouraging voter turnout is seen at a campaign yard sign distribution site in Madison, Wisconsin, US, 17 October 2020. (Bing Guan/File Photo/Reuters)

Intellectuals and accountability: Should scientists sway public opinion on politics?

Zhang Tiankan chastises renowned journals The Lancet, The New England Journal of Medicine, Science and Nature, for veering off their professional domains and making prescriptive statements about which US presidential candidate to vote for. Such behaviour is irresponsible and unbecoming, to say the least. He asks: Shouldn't intellectuals be accountable for their views and positions?
A Tesla China-made Model 3 vehicle owner sits inside a car during a delivery event at Tesla's Shanghai factory in China, 7 January 2020. (Aly Song/File Photo/Reuters)

Are smart cars really smart? Ways not to be held hostage by apps and tech

Chinese academic Zhang Tiankan looks at Tesla’s recent network outage incident in September and remembers a similar one suffered by Chinese consumers in May this year — a no-response "smart" car or a "missing" one on your connected car app is no fun at all. Zhang says while technology is useful, we must be aware that over-reliance can leave us vulnerable to malfunctions or prone to disparaging those who have yet to embrace the digital age.
The Giant Buddha overlooks the waters and Leshan city. (iStock)

Giant Buddha and sponge cities: Combating floods where three rivers meet

The recent floods in Sichuan were serious enough to wet the feet of the Leshan Giant Buddha, which sits on a platform at 362 metres above sea level at the confluence of the Dadu, Qingyi, and Min rivers. Academic Zhang Tiankan explains that while the Giant Buddha represents the ancient Chinese's wisdom in combating floods, modern-day Chinese will need to step up the building of “sponge cities” to prevent floods.
The conservation of China's green peacocks sparked huge debate in China recently. (Photo: Arddu, https://www.flickr.com/people/21178134@N00 / Licensed under CC BY 2.0, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)

Can less than 500 green peacocks grind a billion-RMB hydropower project to a halt?

Construction work at a 3.7 billion RMB hydropower station was suspended by court order in China recently, because it could destroy the natural habitat of endangered green peacocks and a rare plant accorded first-grade protection by the state. Chinese academic Zhang Tiankan weighs up the arguments of nature versus economic gain. What is the cost of having an intact, healthy ecosystem? Should it all be expressed in economic terms? And how can humans fight nature's battles on the latter’s behalf? Can there be a win-win situation?