Editor's note: "Tech Please!" takes a brief look at all things science and technology in China, revealing trends you won't hear about anywhere else, from cutting-edge developments to the bizarre and whimsical in the world's most exciting tech market.
2024 is the Year of the Dragon, also known as the "loong" on the Chinese zodiac.
The Chinese loong is revered for its ability to soar through the skies and dive deep into the ocean. Since ancient times, the Chinese have taken pride in the loong, considering it an immortal creature that governs the water systems in heaven and on Earth.
Now, you might be wondering, what does this have to do with tech?
Well, that national admiration for the loong has extended to some of China's most significant modern innovations, many of which are named after this omnipotent creature to symbolize good luck.
As we approach the Year of the Dragon, this episode of Tech Please will guide you through some of the coolest "loongs" in China and beyond.
1. 'Tianlong' launch vehicle
The "Tianlong" launch vehicle is developed by China's commercial rocket company, Space Pioneer. Tian, meaning sky, and Long, referring to the Chinese loong, imbue the rocket with good wishes to travel between the skies and Earth.
Tianlong-2, China's first commercial liquid-fueled carrier rocket, had its maiden flight last July and is capable of delivering 2 tonnes of payloads to low-Earth orbit.
The larger and more capable Tianlong-3 is expected to compete directly with SpaceX's Falcon-9, with a payload capacity of 17 tonnes to low-Earth orbit and 15 tonnes to sun-synchronized orbit (SSO). It is expected to have its maiden flight in June 2024. It is designed to have reusability, but the maiden flight will not recover the first stage.
2. 'Jiaolong' manned submersible
China's first manned submersible, developed over a decade ago, is named Jiaolong, a sea dragon. In ancient mythologies, it was believed to soar through the clouds when thunderstorms came and transform into a true dragon after overcoming adversity.
The Jiaolong submersible has set numerous records, descending over 7,000 meters at the Mariana Trench, and has paved the way for the Fendouzhe manned submersible, which had touched down at the deepest point of the Diamantina Trench over a year ago.
These advancements have ushered in a new era in deep-sea exploration, dispelling the mysteries that were once hidden beneath the ocean's depths.
3. Amphibious aircraft 'Kunlong'
Lastly, China also has this indigenously developed large amphibious aircraft family, AG600, codenamed Kunlong. "Kun" refers to a giant fish in Zhuangzi, capable of transforming into a gigantic bird – a fitting description of this aircraft.
The advanced AG600M version can scoop up 12 tonnes of water to help combat forest fires. Its water-landing capability also makes it invaluable for maritime search and rescue, strengthening China's emergency response capabilities.
Of course, there are numerous other devices named after the loong, such as Yilong, the unmanned aerial vehicle, Weilong, or J-20, China's most advanced stealth fighter, and even China's chip maker Loongson, whose Chinese name translates to the "chip of the dragon."
Notably, Elon Musk, also named his spacecraft Dragon (for both cargo and crewed), although the name comes from a different reference – the song, "Puff, the Magic Dragon."
From the launch vehicle that reaches for the stars to the depths explored by the manned submersible and the vast horizons covered by the amphibious aircraft, these innovations reflect China's commitment to pushing boundaries and unlocking the mysteries of our world. As we welcome the Chinese New Year of the Dragon, may the spirit of these incredible endeavors inspire us all to soar to new heights, dive into uncharted waters, and embrace the opportunities that lie ahead.
Wishing everyone a prosperous, joyful and dragon-inspired Chinese New Year!