Youthful confusion, and loss of faith and incentives
One recent question to my blog article goes as follows: “何老师！
This is very typical of questions I receive from students in China since I return yearly for the past two decades. In fact, I myself have occasionally experienced such moods during my lifetime. I promised the student that I’ll write a longer blog article to answer him/her. Here is my answer below.
1. First, you are far from unique and don’t think you are the only one with such problem and mood.
Self doubt is common among young people.
2. In fact you might say that it is good that you have these feelings. Because this means you are “self aware” which is often the first step towards growth and improvement.
3. But you should not dwell on these feelings and wallow in self pity. You need to get up and do something (the American joke is that while you can be on the right track but you will sooner or later be run over by a train if you just sit there). For one thing, I have written in the past about my own “five year plan”. It is one piece of advice I have given many youth in the past. You should have the incentive to search for this article and read it (I could give you the URL address but that will make things too easy for you).
4. You should seek advice from people who know you. For example, a diligent advisor, your parents, and your best friend. Remember, “No man is an island.” And 三人同行必有我师.
Good advice can come from anywhere..
5. Research is hard. There is no magic pill for success. Long periods of getting nowhere, frustration, and doubt are balanced and cleansed by one eureka moment. I had only four major ideas in my life and feel very satisfied and luckier than most.
6. Be adventurous. It is better to have loved and lost than never loved at all. No one can guarantee your success in life. But remember it is the process not the final result that is the rewarding part.
7. I always say it is best to endure and accept “NOs” while you are young. You can learn from
mistakes and they are not so costly relatively speaking.
8. Your greatest asset is TIME. How old person like me envy your youth.
9. Finally there is this rather well known legend. An earnest young man wants to know the meaning of life and to attain success in life. He searched far and wide and was told that a wise guru living alone on a high peak in the Himalaya mountains can give him the answer. Thus he started on this trek. After many days of dangerous and exhausting climb during which he suffered incredible hardships and nearly died, he finally arrived at the door of this guru. He barely had the strength left to ask the important question. The guru answered, “This too shall pass” and shut the door in his face.
Good luck and enjoy your journey of life!
To Organizers of Chinese Scientific Conferences
Recently through a Chinese colleague of mine as intermediary, I received an invitation to be a plenary speaker in a forth coming Chinese conference. Accompanying the invitation was an attached announcement of the conference in which I was prominently listed as the plenary speaker without my knowledge.
Let me make three observations about this issue.
1. I realize the matter of “Face” is of utmost importance in China. Declination of an invitation
may be considered “losing face” for the host. Thus Chinese often prefer to go through an intermediary with “kwanxi” to find out the answer before issuing a formal invitation. This is fine but often unnecessary. Sometimes, due to miscommunication via an intermediary, the invited speaker will get the wrong impression as the next point demonstrates
2. The organizers generously offer to pay for all my expenses for speaking at the conference. However, because of going through an intermediary, this important fact was not made known when my colleague transmitted the message of invitation. While this did not make a difference in my case since I cannot accept the invitation due to my other commitments, this can be an important consideration for other foreign speakers. After all, offer to pay all expenses (which are considerable) for a foreign speaker demonstrates the sincerity and importance the organizers attach to the invitation. It is an honor for the invited. Not doing so will be considered as a casual and worthless invitation (i.e., we can accommodate you if you pay your own way and happens to be in China. Surely you do not invite an honored guest to China this way). Here the good and honorable intention of the host was lost due to miscommunication.
3. I also understand that it is useful to attract attendance if you feature a prominent name as attendee to and speaker for your conference. But you should never do this without permission. This is equivalent to saying in an advertisement that such and such famous movie star is endorsing our commercial product without getting permission and/or paying an endorsement fee. You can be sued for damages in the US and many other countries. While I am not a famous movie star and money is not really a consideration at my stage of life. Such practice in academia is irregular and still inappropriate when dealing with foreigners. The proper way, if one must, is to list the proposed speaker’s name with a parenthetical remark (that he has been invited without indicating
whether or not he will actually be present) and then stop doing so as soon as he declines.
Chinese social practices are often very different from the rest of the world. One should be cognizant about what are the proper procedure and ways of doing things internationally. Perhaps the host thinking that I am ethnically Chinese and he should follow the “Chinese way”. I speak openly and bluntly here not because I was offended (in fact I was honored to be asked) but because my love of China, desire to see her take her rightful place in the S&T world, and to avoid such unintended consequences in the future by others.
Changing and Challenging China
In preparation for the opening of a major China study center in Shanghai next month, Harvard University convened a panel of China experts including William Kirby (see my blog article in 2008http://www.sciencenet.cn/m/user_content.aspx?id=16801and
http://www.sciencenet.cn/m/user_content.aspx?id=15321 ) for a roundtable discussion of the above topic last December. The transcript of their discussion was published in the latest issue of the Harvard Magazine http://harvardmagazine.com/2010/03/changing-challenging-china. This is a
long article to read and should be read several times to fully absorb it. The discussions were rather frank, touches on sensitive issues, but not offensive. Chinese Science Net readers, particularly those of you swept up in nationalistic fervor, may disagree with some of the things said in there. But I urge you to read it with an objective and dispassionate mind. Unless you wish China to revert to the closed-door policy of 40-50 years ago which everyone knows is impossible, then it is important that Chinese and China know something about how the outside world think of you. Below summarized are some of the noteworthy points, impressions, and direct quotes I gathered from reading the article:
1. What is CHINA – a country or a civilization? What is meant to be Chinese? The identity question.
2. In 1980, 80% of the Chinese population is rural, today it is only 50%, and estimated to be only 30% by 2030. This is a major transition for a country and of uprooting a population. 3. Thus, modernization in reality has always been an incredibly brutal process. It is deracinating and crushes the rural lifestyle. Adaptation and managing modernization is a nontrivial task even though the leaders have done remarkably well so far.
4. The treatment and discrimination of minorities in Tibet and Xinjiang by China and compared with the treatment of native Indians by the US. Science Net reader may get a fresh perspective beyond propaganda by both countries. For example, a fact I did not know is that Guangzhou actually has a large immigrant population of Africans (including President Obama’s half brother). Will they ever become full fledged Chinese citizens?
5. China as an EMPIRE compared with the US. The panelists are actually quite critical about various US actions and foreign policies around the world in protecting her own interests. But just wait another generation until China has substantial investments for resources in Africa and elsewhere in the world. The proper international role for China is complex and yet to be defined. Unlike America, she carries an extra burden of being a civilization with thousands years of history. 6. China’s economic successes are built on the same model as most industrial nations. But in the 21st century she must go beyond industrial and infrastructure developments. Diversified economy will become important
7. Chinese leaders realize that their legitimacy is built upon the twin pillars of delivering prosperity to and fostering nationalism among her populace. The first is difficult to keep up and latter can get out of control
8. Compare to other developing countries, China has effective governance in delivering stuff because it is a bureaucracy of engineers rather lawyers as in the US.
9. The phenomena of “returning sea turtles” is a welcoming fact.
In any case, I urge you to read this long article at your leisure.