China, the source of high-tech products – for now

July 31, 2011

The June 2011 National Geographic Magazine (NGM) is sitting on my desk reminding me to write a post about THE SECRET (Chinese) INGREDIENTS OF (almost) EVERYTHING.

In fact, today, China supplies 97% of the world’s rare earth needs.

NGM’s Folger tells us, “Although China currently monopolizes rare earth mining, other countries have deposits too. China has 48 percent of the world’s reserves; the United States has 13 percent. Russia, Australia, and Canada have substantial deposits as well. Until the 1980s, the United States led the world in rare earth production …” Then China entered the competition and soon dominated the global market.

How important are these rare earth minerals to our modern high-tech world?

The U.S. military depends on these minerals for night vision goggles used in combat, and to help control Predator drones, and Tomahawk cruise missiles.

MRI medical scans need a rare earth mineral to work while hybrid cars would not exist without them and wind turbines used to generate an alternative source of energy requires hundreds of pounds of one rare earth element while compact fluorescent light bulbs use another rare earth to light up.  Even our smart phones, flat-screen televisions and sunglasses (to protect our eyes from UV light) use rare earths.

Folger reveals that there is currently a shortage of rare earths with global demand about 60,000 tons. However, China will only be exporting 24,000 tons this year, since its growing middle class demands the same high-tech toys that many Americans and Europeans take for granted.

To have a better idea of how this demand of rare earths will grow in China, the McKinsey Global Institute predicts China’s middle class will reach about 612 million Chinese by 2025 to become the world’s largest population of consumers. This will change ‘made in China‘ to ‘sold in China‘ possibly creating markets for luxury goods made in the USA.

Does this mean that soon Chinese may be complaining about US workers stealing jobs from China?

Meanwhile, other nations (such as the US) are rushing to develop rare earth metals until the US is capable of producing enough to supply the demand in America for high-tech gadgets.

Discover more from Keeping the Rare Earths in China


Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story that Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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Keeping the Rare Earths in China

October 1, 2010

At one time, it must have seemed like a good idea to allow China to process 90% of the earth’s supply for rare earth oxides/metals.

After all, rare earths are dangerous and costly to extract and the extraction methods used in China are highly toxic. The Economist reports that there have been horror stories about poisoned water supplies.

The thinking around the world must have been, “Better that China wrecks its environment than us.”

The Other Side of the Story

These rare earth-based metals are important in manufacturing sophisticated products such as flat-screen monitors, hybrid and electric-car batteries, wind turbines, aerospace alloys and high-tech weapons, which the U.S. needs to fight wars.

Then China became angry when Japan arrested a Chinese fishing boat captain whose trawler collided with a Japanese patrol boat in contested waters.

What China did to force the Japanese to do what China wanted caused the rest of the world to sit up.

China shut off the supply of rare earths to Japan.

A report from Reuters by Julie Gordon says this caused companies that depend on rare earths to struggle to secure a supply. It also woke up the rest of the world—a lesson learned that you don’t keep all the eggs in a basket that you don’t own.

See Hitting Endless Home Runs


Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

To subscribe to “iLook China”, look for the “Subscribe” button at the top of the screen in the menu bar, click on it then follow directions

Wolf Totem: A Novel by Jiang Rong-book review

March 2, 2010

Jiang Rong

Another way to learn about China is through Chinese literature and film. Jiang Rong is the pen name for Lu Jiamin, a Chinese citizen. Set during the Cultural Revolution, Wolf Totem describes the education of an intellectual living with nomadic herders in the grasslands of Inner Mongolia.

The publisher of Wolf Totem says this novel is an epic Chinese tale and that is true. Wolf Totem taught me a lot about this almost extinct culture. I learned about the fascinating connection between wolves and Mongols and why this connection may have been the reason why Genghis Khan was so successful in his conquests.

I recommend this novel to anyone that wants to learn more about the life of the Mongols and another aspect of the Cultural Revolution. However, the philosophy of maintaining a balance with nature is a bit overdone. I got the message the first time the characters talked about it but then the topic comes up over and over and over—a bit to much for my taste.

I won’t give away the ending, but don’t expect it to be a happy. Most Chinese novels don’t end with happy endings.

A defense of Wolf Totem By Timothy Weston

Daughter of Xanadu (viewed as single page)

January 28, 2010

A review (guest post) by Tom Carter of Daughter of Xanadu by Dori Jones Yang

Who would win in a fight: Mulan or Emmajin Beki or Teenage Angst, Mongolian-style? “Can you imagine, a mere girl fighting on the battlefield?”

The role of females in combat is a debate as timeless as war itself, and one that remains divisive and unresolved to this century.

While present-day arguments for and against allowing women in the military revolve around psychological and biological issues, back in olden times, one needed only cite “tradition” and “familial roles” to silence the detractors.

The teenaged heroine of Dori Jones Yang’s new 13th-century historical fiction novel, Daughter of Xanadu, is one such detractor, albeit immutable.

Often imagining herself on the battlefield, “the son my father never had,” Emmajin Beki, the granddaughter of Mongolian king (and emperor of China’s Yuan Dynasty) Khubilai Khan (1215-1294), learned to ride a horse before she could walk and can outshoot all her cousins in archery. She confidently and outspokenly aspires to emulate her female ancestors who assisted Chinggis Khan in conquering Asia (“the blood of all these earlier strong women flowed in my veins”).

Unfortunately, for this princess, “the days of strong women had ended once luxurious court life had begun.”

The Mongols, fattened, lazy and resting on their laurels, now prefer to tell stories of battles-past over lavish “orgies of excess” rather than engage in new wars, much to Emmajin’s restless discontent.

When she makes known her desire to “become a legend” like real-life women warriors Aiyurug Khutulun and Hua Mulan of China, the great Khan placates her by sending her on a secret mission to spy on a family of foreign merchants currently visiting the Mongol court.

The merchants’ young son turns out to be one Marco Polo, the now-legendary Venetian journeyer credited for introducing Asian culture to the west.

To Emmajin, however, he is just another “colored-eye man,” a court curiosity from Christendom whose gallantry and romantic gestures are as ridiculous to the manly Mongolians as his facial hair (“his beard was so thick I could imagine food sticking in it”).

Try as she might, however, Emmajin, caught in the peak of puberty, is unable to resist Marco’s western charm, and quickly finds herself enamored by his worldly vision (“I had learned to see the world through Marco’s eyes”) as well as his pelt.

“What would the hair on his arm feel like?” she often fantasized about at night.

But she was a Mongolian first, and reluctantly sacrifices her blossoming relationship with the foreigner to complete her spy mission (“He was not a friend but a source of information.”).

Authoress Dori Jones Yang is a Caucasian American, yet she is no stranger to writing from the perspective of conflicted adolescent Chinese girls, as evinced in her previous, award-winning novel, The Secret Voice of Gina Zhang.

In Daughter of Xanadu, she hones in even deeper into the physiological confusion and emotional conflictions that make youth such a joy, turning Emmajin into such a hormonal wreck that this male reviewer often found himself gritting his teeth in frustration at such contradictive revelations as, “if he had pursued me, I would have rebuffed him. By holding himself aloof, he challenged me to win back his esteem.”

Daughter of Xanadu is not all-teenage angst. As our protagonist matures, so does the content of the story.

Emmajin eventually persuades Khubilai Khan to allow her to train for war against the Burmese at the Battle of Vochan (present-day Yunnan province), where the embarrassment of getting her period in front of the all-male troops is a bloody omen for what’s to come.

Upon seeing her cousin slain, innocent Emmajin is transformed into a “mindless killer.”

Bloodlust unleashed, the young princess swings her sword indiscriminately (“the hatred pounded in my ears…killing him felt good”), resulting in hundreds of men dead by her hand alone.

One can only imagine all the Mulan vs. Emmajin fan fiction that this novel will inspire!

By story’s conclusion, Messer Polo, who witnessed and wrote about the Mongols’ real-life battle against the Burmese in his book, The Travels of Marco Polo, has elevated “Emmajin the Brave” into the living legend she wanted to be, though she now regrets it.

“These men needed a hero, but I no longer needed to be one.” She resigns her sword and rank, and departs with Polo back to Europe as the Khan’s emissary of peace, leaving the literary door wide open for a sequel.

Dori Jones Yang, who also penned the best-selling Pour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time, is a skilled historian.

In researching Daughter of Xanadu, Yang, fluent in Putonghua, traveled all the way to the ruins of Xanadu in remote Inner Mongolia, which this itinerant backpacker can personally attest is no easy journey.

The short chapters and brief sentences, edited with razor precision for a younger audience, along with a helpful glossary for ESL students, make reading Daughter of Xanadu a breeze, though adults will admittedly want to beg this book back afterwards from their tweens.

This post first appeared as a four-part (guest author) series starting April 17, 2011 at Daughter of Xanadu – Part 1


Travel photographer Tom Carter is the author of China: Portrait of a People (San Francisco Chronicle Book Review), a 600-page China photography book, which may be found at

Discover more “Guest Posts” from Tom Carter with Is Hong Kong Any Place for a Poor American?

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