Sheng Li (gmachine1729) wrote,
Sheng Li

More on the unrealistic expectations of Chinese-Americans

Originally published at 狗和留美者不得入内. You can comment here or there.

This is in response to


This reminds me that Steve Hsu thought in 2019 that the Chinese in computer science suck, including the ones in America. He was like,

Name a single programming language created by a Chinese!

I actually looked a bit into this and on Chinese Wikipedia, I found information about this programming language developed and used in the 60s in China, which was a variant of ALGOL. I also found online some Chinese papers published in the 1970s involving indigenously developed programming languages for indigenous operating systems. The guy who created the first operating systems in China was a son of a mathematician who was SS Chern’s master’s advisor, who did some years of exchange at a computer company in Britain in the early or mid 60s. Interestingly, the world’s first operating system was created in Britain, not in America, in 1961. To be fair, operating systems and programming languages and compilers are not that hard. Programming language is mostly a tool. I talked about this with a friend of mine in China who’s published pure math papers. He thinks that once the programming languages satisfy the needs, there isn’t much point in developing more of them. Knowing a bit of type theory myself and having written a toy compiler for a class with a partner in undergrad, I do think programming language theory is very interesting in its own right. I don’t think it’s really all that useful, and I can totally see why there was hardly anyone investigating it seriously in China between 60s and 80s, when the country was poor and resources were limited. There was pretty much no theoretical computer science in China before Andrew Yao in 2000s, maybe because theoretical computer science is for the most part actually a rather useless field, though computability and complexity theory are interesting, though also somewhat fringe even by pure math standards. Maybe that’s partly why Berkeley math department denied Stephen Cook tenure.

I’m also pretty critical of Fields Medalist Shing-Tung Yau’s talking all the time about how China hasn’t produced many great mathematicians and criticizing the Chinese education and academic system that he’s never been genuinely directly involved in. Interestingly, he told a Westerner interviewing him that his father, after fleeing in 1949, actually believed that the KMT would successfully counterattack within a couple years, after which they would be able to return to mainland, which indicates that his father was delusional.

Yau also aggressively lobbies the Chinese government to invest $200 billion to build a supercollider for high energy physics. He is utterly ridiculous. More evidence that overseas Chinese, including the scientists and engineers, are at the core opposed to the interests of the real Chinese in China.

By the way Princeton and Berkeley professors Wu-Chung Hsiang and Wu-Yi Hsiang, brothers and kids of KMT officials who fled to Taiwan, also pretty much hate Yau. Wu-Yi exposed Yau’s ridiculous behaviors in a talk at Beijing University, which Yau fell out with in the 2000s.

I wrote a piece criticizing Yau, referring to Yau’s utter political stupidity as indicated by his words in the linked video. His reputation in China is already pretty much ruined, and he’s making it worse by saying something as stupid as that in a video publicized online. In that piece I wrote, which one can find on my blog, I bluntly noted that militarily forcing out the KMT reactionaries to Taiwan is much more significant than the production of a few more great Chinese mathematicians in China, which should be obvious to anyone with the slightest bit of common sense. Yes, I love theoretical science, but I don’t treat it as a “sacred” enough to lose my common sense, as some nutters in academia do.

It’s also no surprise and entirely expected that the Chinese who stayed in America after 49 did much more at the forefront of science and technology (excepting military technology) than the Chinese in China. It obviously doesn’t mean they are more talented or inherently better than the ones with American graduate degrees who returned. That generation and their kids in their long term lost their social status by immigrating. China won’t really accept them as their own either. Unlike the ones that returned, they didn’t accept that the reality by being from a then much weaker country and ethnicity, they in some sense had “debts to pay”. For their own careers or economic living standards, they implicitly sacrificed the prospects and status of the next generation(s). In this regard, it’s fair to say that they are lesser than the ones who returned to China in terms of character and overall ability. Science and technology ability and achievement is not everything. A analogy I like to make is that a kid from a family of limited means shouldn’t be doing expensive sports to come across as “cool” after seeing a cool rich kid do that.

This is of course not unique to Chinese. The baby boomer generation in America, who had it so easy in comparison, also pretty much screwed over the prospects of the millennials. They are much to blame for America’s decline. At the end, the collective society and its ethos matters much more than a few individuals at the top.

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