“China’s corporate culture is just three words: ‘Raise and kill,’” Mr. Lo said. “It will first cultivate you and spend lots of money and resources on you, then steal your technologies and, finally, fire you,” he said.
Mr. Li, the engineer who went back home, had worked his way up the Taiwanese semiconductor industry. He had four jobs at smaller companies before joining TSMC at its headquarters in Hsinchu Science Park, a campus sometimes known as Taiwan’s Silicon Valley, 30 minutes by high-speed train from Taipei, the capital.
TSMC is the pride of Taiwan. Visitors to its main building, set in lush foliage, are greeted by a striking sign with the name of the company’s founder, Morris Chang. One of Taiwan’s multibillionaires, Mr. Chang, 91, grew up in China, attended Harvard and M.I.T. and worked at Texas Instruments before starting TSMC in 1987.
When Mr. Li arrived at TSMC, he felt lucky but found it a slog inside the foundry, he said.
“I had the feeling of being a small screw most when working in TSMC,” Mr. Li said. “Going to China was like looking forward to a place without the constraints of an outdated framework. You can take the plunge by going there.”
For now, Mr. Li is staying in Taiwan, working for an American chip company operating there and siding with the invigorated patriotic sentiment and the ethos of individual liberty.
“The advantage of working in Taiwan is that you don’t have to worry about officials shutting down the whole company because of one thought,” he said. “The atmosphere is very important. At least I can watch all kinds of programs criticizing the governments on both sides of the Taiwan Strait without worrying about being arrested.”