Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Chinese National in America

This was from an interview about a scientific topic with a person who grew up in China but did his graduate work and first jobs (except one) in the US. So yes, this is a ridiculously limited sample size. However, he seems to have thought about international differences and seems quite candid about most topics; even he mentioned that this is a learned behavior from being in the US, talks with Chinese nationals here and in Europe/Rest of the World, family, and even extended family who are now studying or working in America. That last group is not one I had ever considered in any immigrants or visitors in the last forty years, though it was a common pattern in those who arrived 100-200 years ago, to not only have family nearby, but a brother in Chicago or an uncle in Rhode Island. Coming from a surveillance society, those conversations must be interesting, as they grow used to candor and having to navigate that. Wait, you told my father (back home) that I said that? That may be a problem for him.  

So. Some interesting things I heard. 

He found some people were suspicious of him not only when he arrived in America, but continuing through the decade here. But people were even more suspicious of him when he went to a different region of China for his undergraduate studies, and more suspicious of him still when he worked in Thailand. Americans who pay attention to these things will not be shocked to hear this, that while everyone is suspicious of people "from away," Americans are generally less so.  In fact, anyone who is not married to the narrative of how prejudiced Americans are with foreigners will be unsurprised.

He intends to return to China in the foreseeable future for the remainder of his career. Those who have studied and worked abroad have a special cachet and desirability, and he is trying to calculate - and here his family network around the world is important - when will be the optimal time to maximise that, to offset whatever cut in salary and reduced freedom of research action he will have to take. He wants to go home for good. But the research opportunities and money are still better here.

China would still prefer to order graduates where they should work and how much they will be paid, but they simply can't anymore, as the private companies and the universities are in bidding and persuasion wars for the talented young people. The government would also prefer to tell companies what research they should be doing, but to attract talent, those often have to let researchers work on the projects they like and follow their own noses on what is important.  The interviewee thinks that Americans are still much better at this independent thinking, having a long tradition of it, but that the Chinese are catching on.

He thinks that in new fields, such as genomics, China is pouring in resources to not only catch up but to lead, and sometimes they succeed at being the world leaders.  In more established scientific fields like physics and chemistry, he sees them as catching up but still far behind. 

I noticed that he answered smoothly and comfortably on sensitive topics, but never said anything that either praised or criticised the government of China.  I imagine it is second nature in any public setting at this point. I tried to read the tea leaves and could not.

He chuckles that the Americans, especially since the supply-chain issues arose, complain about all the manufacturing that is done in China, while in China they complain that they do all the manufacturing, but somehow the Americans provide the value-added features to those parts, which allows them to be sold at much better prices.

Hmm...there were other points which now escape me.  I will update if I recall them.


Thos. said...

Do you have a link to the interview?

Assistant Village Idiot said...

This is the bulk of it, but there are additional notes at his substack behind the paywall.


Gavin Longmuir said...

"in China they complain that they do all the manufacturing, but somehow the Americans provide the value-added features to those parts, which allows them to be sold at much better prices."

History might be a useful guide here. Back in the post-WWII days, a significant part of the oil used in the West came from primarily Middle East under-developed countries. Through the miracle of "transfer prices", the crude oil from those countries was very cheap and low profit, while high profits were earned by Western companies from the refining & marketing stages of bringing the product to the consumer.

Eventually, in the mid-1970s, those countries got their act together as OPEC and forced a change in the terms of trade, such that much of the profit was now earned from producing the crude oil in their countries rather than from refining/marketing it in the West. The glittering ultra-modern cities of today's Arabian Gulf demonstrate the consequences.

Geologists talk about the Principle of Uniformitarianism -- Anything that has happened before can happen again.