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Behind the Headlines: APA News Blog

Academic Version: Applying my personal experiences and academic research as a professor of Sociology and Asian American Studies to provide a more complete understanding of political, economic, and cultural issues and current events related to American race relations, and Asia/Asian America in particular.

Plain English: Trying to put my Ph.D. to good use.

November 18, 2005

Written by C.N.

China Attracting U.S. Scholars

The New York Times has an article that describes a very interesting — and ironic — trend in the academic and scientific world: China is stepping up efforts to lure American scholars to live and work in China and to help them build up their universities to eventually rival those in the U.S.:

China wants to transform its top universities into the world’s best within a decade, and it is spending billions of dollars to woo big-name scholars and build first-class research laboratories. The effort is China’s latest bid to raise its profile as a great power. China has already pulled off one of the most remarkable expansions of education in modern times, increasing the number of undergraduates and people who hold doctoral degrees fivefold in 10 years. . . .

The model is simple: recruit top foreign-trained Chinese and Chinese-American specialists, set them up in well-equipped labs, surround them with the brightest students and give them tremendous leeway. In a minority of cases, they receive American-style pay; in others, they are lured by the cost of living, generous housing and the laboratories. How many have come is unclear.

China is focusing on science and technology, areas that reflect the country’s development needs but also reflect the preferences of an authoritarian system that restricts speech. The liberal arts often involve critical thinking about politics, economics and history, and China’s government, which strictly limits public debate, has placed relatively little emphasis on achieving international status in those subjects.

The article goes on to describe that China still faces a variety of barriers in their quest for scientific excellence. Perhaps the most interesting obstacle is the emphasis that China’s government has on short-term immediate results. As an up-and coming-superpower still in the process of proving itself, China does not have the luxury of waiting 10 or even five years for results — it needs them in three years or less.

Along with that, lack of academic freedom may be another potentially significant obstacle. Like the excerpt above describes, China is focusing on developing excellence in its scientific disciplines that would involve less political controversy, rather than those in the social science or humanities. Nonetheless, observers warn that if China continues to stifle academic freedom, the scholars that they bring in today may quickly get frustrated and leave within a year or so.

At any rate, this situation represents an interesting irony — in the past, Chinese students were doing whatever they could to study and work in the U.S. But now, that may be starting to change, as Chinese universities begin to offer the same kinds and levels of benefits and perks as those in the U.S.

In this context however, one potential drawback for the Asian American population is this — it will give racist elements in the U.S. another opportunity to question the loyalty and patriotism of Chinese Americans — and by implication, Asian Americans. That is, if a Chinese American decides to leave the U.S. to live and work in China, that may be seen as an indication of his/her true ethnic/nationalistic loyalty.

Once that happens, a new wave of anti-Chinese suspicion and hostility will be right around the corner — it is almost inevitable.


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Copyright © 2001- by C.N. Le. Some rights reserved. Creative Commons License

Suggested reference: Le, C.N. . "China Attracting U.S. Scholars" Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. <http://www.asian-nation.org/headlines/2005/11/china-attracting-us-scholars/> ().

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