My observations of Chinese scientists and engineers in America

这个是用英文写的,后来加了中文翻译。

In short, they are still quite culturally isolated from the mainstream. I’ve interacted with graduate students and graduate departments before. In those, the Chinese students largely self-segregate. Their conversational English is limited. As for the professors from mainland China, they mostly do their research and teach their classes and are rather inactive in actual department matters. They are respected for their technical ability, but they are not really actually assimilated, from what I’ve observed. And many of them take on mostly Chinese students, as non-Chinese students would naturally find a Chinese advisor somewhat uncomfortable, culturally, especially if most of his students are Chinese. They do generally behave in a way that could be characterized as “keeping their head down” and “toeing the American line,” because they know that even as a tenured professor they’re not anywhere near as socially or politically influential. They interact mostly with Chinese outside the work setting, I’ve attended parties of somewhat or very high up Chinese immigrant scientists and engineers before so that I can attest to this. Even in the workplace, they have lunch with mostly other Chinese immigrants (I have participated in those as well). The people of other more assimilated races obviously don’t like them or even secretly hate them, but they are too afraid to openly say it. It is obvious from the segregation and the way whites treat them, and I think those Chinese immigrants are perhaps too insensitive in this regard. Many Chinese out of desperation for their career will purposely try to act more “American,” in a way that makes them seem pathetic, that would be met with utter social disapproval in China. They do act like they are better than Chinese in China for sure, and they project that image when interacting with whites. Though many of them still will try to use/exaggerate their American position and university name tag to get stuff out of China. They know that whites don’t give a fuck about them, but in China, they can still fool a lot of people.

简而言之,他们文化上与美国主流依然隔离,即使在理工科人里。我跟博士生和博士系打过交道。在那些里,中国学生大多自我隔离。他们的英语口语是有限的。对于来自中国大陆的教授而言,他们大多做自己的研究,教他们的课,然后在系里的行政和活动等不怎么参与。他们由他们的技术能力被尊重,但是据我所观察,他们没有融入。好多收的学生大多是中国学生,因为非中国学生自然会对于一个中国导师感到不舒服,文化上和沟通上,尤其如果他的学生大多是中国的。总而言之,他们的表现被形容为“低着头”,“接受美国人为主流”,因为他们知道即使是个终身教授,他们的影响力也比一个科研和职位差不多的白人差不少。工作之外,他们主要跟其他中国人打交道,我参加过一些位置相当高或很高的中国移民科学家和工程师在他们家里组织的请客吃饭及聚会,所以我有资格做这个评论。就是在工作场合,他们也主要和其他中国移民吃饭(我也参与过这些)。那些能融入美国的民族的人很明显不喜欢他们甚至暗暗地仇视他们,只不过不敢直接说。从他们的隔离和白人对待他们的方式,这个很明显,以及我觉得对于这个那些中国移民有点太不敏感了吧。有些那些中国人会出于对他们的事业故意表现的更“美国化”,经常以一种使得他们显得很卑鄙可笑的方式,这种方式会被中国的中国人非常不看好的。他们当时表现如他们强于中国的中国人,至少跟白人打交道的时候他们愿意给这种印象。不过,他们依然会利用并夸张他们的美国职位及大学牌子从中国获取东西。他们知道白人根本不在乎他们,但是,在他们却能骗到很多人。

Like Shing-Tung Yau in pure math, who has said a ton of ridiculous stuff in China, like “in America, even law students have to learn math.” He talks all the time about how great America is in China. And then there was physicist Shoucheng Zhang, who died at age 55. His VC firm failed (this was what someone with indirect connection to him told me), there was an FBI investigation against him. He wanted serious privilege in America, as opposed to merely being a low-profile top scientist, with that tenured Stanford professorship not enough. He wanted more, he wanted influence in China. He also wanted a venture capital firm for Chinese in Silicon Valley. He wanted to feign loyalty to China too as an evangelical Christian who naturalized as American citizen despite being sent to study in Germany in the middle of undergrad on Chinese government funds. Really, anyone with some common sense will realize that a mainland Chinese immigrant cannot attain what he aspired for in America, where ethnic Chinese are socially and politically an untouchable caste. And lately, I learned of Kai Li, Princeton computer science professor, who apparently pulled his American connections to help get funding from an American VC for this fingerprint recognition company whose main client is the Chinese police department. Most of these immigrants are not actually loyal to America, they only pretend to love America to advance their career there. Americans should know that once they talk with Chinese in China they put on a completely difference face. I’ve had some personal interactions with this type of stuff, and it’s absolutely disgusting.

如纯数学的丘成桐,在中国说了很多荒谬的话,如“在美国,法学院的学生都得学数学”。在中国,他老说美国多么多么好。然后有那个55岁死的物理学家张首晟。他的风投商失败了(一位跟他有非直接的联系的人这么跟我说的),FBI调查了他。他想在美国得到特别不寻常的优越地位,而非仅仅作为一个在公共鲜为人知的顶级科学家,那个斯坦福的终身教职是不够的。他想要更多,他想在中国也有影响力。他也想要一个中国人在硅谷的风投商。他也想,作为一个福音派基督徒并归化美国籍的人,装对中国的忠诚,尽管他本科读了一半时拿了工费留学德国。其实,有点常识的人都是意识到一个中国大陆移民在美国是绝对得不到张首晟所想要的,在中国人在社会和政治上为贱民的美国。还有最近,我得知李凯,普林斯顿计算机系教授,利用他的美国关系帮着一家中国公安局为主要客户的指纹识别公司拿到了美国风投商的投资。大多这些移民不是真正对美国忠诚,他们只是会为了他们的事业貌似一下。美国人应当知道这些人一旦跟中国的中国人交流会完全不一样的。跟这些有过些个人的接触,觉得它非常之恶心。

Something that most Americans might find a bit counterintuitive is that most Chinese people don’t like Chinese-American scientists either. They’re not really Chinese anymore, especially if they’ve raised banana children in America who don’t even know the culture and language. They are increasingly also politically untouchable in their ancestral home country. That’s something that China and US have in common in this ongoing trade war and civilizational clash. They both dislike Chinese-Americans. This does not need much explanation. Nobody likes traitors and spineless opportunists.

有一点大多美国人可能会觉得出乎预料的是大多中国人也不喜欢移民美国的中国或华人科学家。他们已经不是纯粹的中国人了,尤其如果他们在美国养了都不会中文的香蕉孩子。在他们的故乡,他们也越来越是政治贱民了。在正在进行的贸易战和中西文明冲突中美倒有个共同点,那就是他们都反感美国华人。这不需要多解释。没人喜欢叛徒或无脊梁的机会主义者。

The few white Americans I could get along best with in America were actually those who wanted to preserve Western civilization. Once I knew them well enough, I could actually talk with them honestly and openly on such matters. And they better understand where I’m coming from as well…

那些少数最能与我合得来的美国白人却是那些想保留西方文明的那些。一旦对那几位足够熟悉,我倒能跟他们相当真诚开放地讨论这些问题。然后他们也比其它白人更能理解我的思维和想法。

Ironically, there is actually some form of mutual respect between WASP and Chinese conservatives… they do actually have a bit in common…

或许有点讽刺的人,美国白人保守派和中国左派能有一种形势的互相尊重。。。他们互相之间还算有点共同之处。。。

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Some thoughts and historical background on those stereotypes of Asian scientists not having that rock the boat creativity personality conducive to “zero to one” work

I wrote this to Steve Hsu after he discussed the matter in the title of this post to me.

I saw a wechat moment involving 吴文俊 Wu Wenjun who did seminal work in algebraic topology and later automated theorem proving who I mentioned.
The Chinese who first did seminal work in modern science tended to be in pure math the field that is aside from a brain at the far tail arguably lowest barrier to entry. In theoretical physics the arbiter is experimental validation so there is more politics/connections/cred involved whereas for pure math if the proof is correct then it’s absolute truth.
Before 1950 Chinese in pure math already produced SS Chern (differential geometry) Hua Luogeng (analytic number theory and some other fields too to be fair he may well have been smarter and also more discerning than Terry Tao) Weiliang Chow (algebraic geometry) Wu Wenjun (algebraic topology), Chern and Chow stayed in US after PRC was founded while Hua and Wu returned. Hua’s student Chen Jingrun proved best current result towards Goldbach conjecture (every sufficiently large even number is sum of two primes or sum of prime and semiprime). I read that he and his students in the 50s in China did some seminal work in several complex variables that was published as a monograph that was translated to Russian and then English. Also Zhang Yitang’s breakthrough started with his learning the work of Chen Jingrun as a teenager on his own before he went to college at age 23.
To be fair pure math got only more abstract and esoteric and divorced from the rest of science after WWII. Chinese mathematicians were still kind of minor the really mainstream stuff was happening in US France USSR Japan. To my take it was really only Chern who really revolutionized math and he was born in 1911.
As for physics aside from Yang and Lee in theory I know there was a guy 赵忠尧 who experimentally discovered but likely didn’t fully explain the positron in the early 30s (at Caltech I believe), I think he had to go back to China after getting his PhD and if not for that likely he would’ve done more there and maybe actually gotten full credit for that thing. Back then there was just much more low hanging fruit. Nowadays we’ve kind of reached a bottleneck in science.
In experimental physics I also know of 王淦昌 who led a team that discovered some particle while in USSR in late 50s but it was not quite Nobel prize level maybe close. And of course there were some ethnic Chinese in US like Steven Chu who did win Nobel in experimental physics.
Certainly it was very difficult to do such level work in China or in the four Asian tigers due to lack of powerful scientific community at the forefront in those places. I think Japan was different after WWII they already had first rate science of their own by then. So naturally the best Chinese in pure science were the ones who went to US and stayed before PRC or went the Taiwan/HK route afterward. Mainland China really only had access to USSR in 50s and also during that era the best people tended to be pressured into applied work.
Again the era of fundamental advances seems to be kind of over. There hasn’t been much serious breakthrough in science and technology since end of cold war. World Wide Web and AI doesn’t really count in my view. Nothing compared to semiconductors and satellites and computers and lasers which all happened during cold war. AI is just a natural product of advances in computing power and GPUs.
My Indian friend also said that Indians did better in pure physics than Chinese due to Brit education. CV Raman Bose Chandrasekhar their elite got into modern science arguably earlier than the Japanese too let alone the Chinese. Modern science is a Western thing East Asians just got into it quite late with Chinese much later than Japanese and Koreans even later really.
Access and tradition matters a lot too it’s not just about g or the right maverick personality. It’s just too bad that East Asians didn’t create modern science or anything close to it on their own despite obviously being quite gifted in it based on their achievements after they got into that stuff. But not long after it became kind of saturated.
You’re free to publish this on your blog credit me for it of course.

May Day in China

In China, people have May 1st thru May 4th off. Because of that, I am meeting some people and also taking some time to wind down. There is also that May 4th 2019 is the 100th anniversary of that May 4th Movement back in 1919 which was crucial towards the founding of communist party, etc, and we are seeing some stuff on TV with Xi Jinping and other high up party people in relation to that.

I won’t go much into the background of that, not that I know too much about it. Basically, it was a protest out of the decision in the Versailles Treaty to hand over the colonies in Shandong (Qingdao in particular) relinquished by Germany to Japan instead. I’m not all that clear as to what happened in the end, I believe China was able to win back those places but with some heavy price. The movement was crucial towards the beginning of “Marxism” in China with people like 李大钊, 蔡元培, etc.

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Fun with Marissa Mayer

Marissa Mayer is an epitome of all that’s wrong with Silicon Valley, and the world at large, increasingly influenced by it, culturally, in quite an undesirable way. She is an obvious pseudo-nerd (where here, nerd = really smart talented honest technical person) posing as one for marketing, like much of the SillyCon Valley elite. I’m not being “sexist,” for all that James Damore has triggered. There are women who are genuinely technically competent with good character, and Marissa does not seem to belong in that category. I had to be reminded of her again. How?

Well, I talk frequently with this girl who did undergrad (in CS and math) at MIT, who is now at Uber. She’s not that nerdy though.

In a group chat, she was like:
sigh it makes me worried about planning on staying at uber for 4 years
An uber (no-pun intended) nerd guy responds:
it’s ok to stay at one company if your career is actually progressing
if not then you should leave
Her:
i just wanna get promoted and then leave
but it’ll probably take all 4 years
Me (tongue-in-cheek, for those too autistic to detect sarcasm):
Her name why don’t you become the Marissa Mayer of Uber instead
The same uber nerd:
nobody likes Marissa Mayer
Another guy:
i think my name just noticed that they’re both female
with his superior pattern-matching mind
Me:

Uber nerd’s name, if you could, would you do Marissa Mayer

Him:
idk, she’s old
The other guy:
uber nerd’s name needs someone to intellectually stimulate him

Face recognition in China

I recently learned that face recognition, led by unicorns SenseTime and Megvii, has reached the level of accuracy and comprehensiveness that it is percolating into retail and banking, and moreover police are using it to detect suspects, or so various media articles say, like this one. Just Google “face recognition china.” I’m both surprised and impressed. Of course, in hindsight, what they did was mostly collect, aggregate, and organize enough data to train the deep learning models to the level that they can be put to production. The Chinese government has, after all, resident identity cards for all Chinese citizens with photos. I was certainly somewhat envious of the people involved in that in China, and I feel like such a failure compared to them, and that my life has been so boring and uneventful in comparison. Of course, whether I’m suited to do deep learning is another matter. After playing a bit with neural nets, including on the canonical MNIST data set, I sure was disappointed, and I understood immediately why this guy, who is doing a machine learning PhD at Stanford, had said to me that deep learning is very engineering heavy. I wish I had the enthusiasm and motivation for stuff like GPUs. As for that, all I’ve done was play with CUDA in a way so minor almost as if I did absolutely nothing. Again I don’t see myself as terribly suited towards engineering (I’m too much a purist at heart), but I might eventually be compelled to become interested in that, and once I do, I don’t think I’ll do badly. This also makes me wonder what I would’ve ended up like had I stayed in China. I’m sure I would’ve been weird there too, though I would also be more like everyone else. I wonder what I would have ended up majoring in there, and what I would’ve ended up doing afterwards. I’d like to think that I would have gotten a much better education and cultural experience there, though of course, the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. For instance, in America, Asian quotas means you are judged relative to other Asians, but being in China means that automatically, and China, by virtue of having low resources per capita, is, needless to say, a grossly competitive society with fewer second chances, and thereby even harsher on late bloomers, though surely, the gaokao happens at age 18, whereas in America, grades start necessarily mattering at as early as age 14-5, when many are still very immature. I must acknowledge that as much as I dislike various aspects of the American education system, it is extremely generous, from what I see, relatively speaking, in tolerating failure at a young age. In China, you test into a specific department at a university, and once you’re in, it’s very hard to change, which means some land in majors they end up finding themselves unsuitable for. At age 18, it’s really hard to make such a decision, especially when you don’t really know anything about the actual content of the major, which is usually the case when one is a clueless kid. This is why I say that before you commit officially to an area, always try to learn something about it on your own beforehand to increase confidence that you actually have at least reasonable, and preferably high, talent for it.

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My whole experience with the American school system

I accidentally stuffed my face last night and found myself too uncomfortable from that to do anything productive, to my great disappointment. So I verged onto non-technical topics again, and in particular, I reflected somewhat on my personal experience growing up as a Chinese immigrant kid in America, and I write this with a hope that it might be inspiring to others with a similar background.

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A revisit of the drama behind the Poincaré

I recall back in 2008, when I first cared enough to learn about mathematicians, I read a fair bit of the media articles on the proof of the Poincaré conjecture. At that time, I was clueless about math, and these mathematicians seemed to me like these otherworldly geniuses. I do remember thinking once to myself that maybe it would be kind of cool to part of that world. Except at that time, I was way too dumb, and maybe I still am. However, now I actually have some idea of what math research is about, unlike back then, when my conception of math and mathematicians was more of a naive popular one.

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Cauchy’s integral formula in complex analysis

I took a graduate course in complex analysis a while ago as an undergraduate. However, I did not actually understand it well at all, to which is a testament that much of the knowledge vanished very quickly. It pleases me though now following some intellectual maturation, after relearning certain theorems, they seem to stick more permanently, with the main ideas behind the proof more easily understandably clear than mind-disorienting, the latter of which was experienced by me too much in my early days. Shall I say it that before I must have been on drugs of something, because the way about which I approached certain things was frankly quite weird, and in retrospect, I was in many ways an animal-like creature trapped within the confines of an addled consciousness oblivious and uninhibited. Almost certainly never again will I experience anything like that. Now, I can only mentally rationalize the conscious experience of a mentally inferior creature but such cannot be experienced for real. It is almost like how an evangelical cannot imagine what it is like not to believe in God, and even goes as far as to contempt the pagan. Exaltation, exhilaration was concomitant with the leap of consciousness till it not long after established its normalcy.

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My awesome roommate

I recently met this cool guy because we live in the same place. Though he’s not that nerdy (by that, I mean super mathy), we still share many common interests. For instance, he expressed interest when I told him a bit about 艾思奇(Ai Siqi). Additionally, he told me about his appreciation for André Weil and Simone Weil, particularly her mysticism, which I found quite pleasing as I was reading about them not long ago. He also told me about this guy who is trying to understand Mochizuki’s “proof” of the abc conjecture despite being not long out of undergrad, who has plenty of other quirks and eccentric behaviors. Like, that guy joined some Marxist collective, and goes on drunken rants at 3 am, and is in general “aspie af,” something that he described me as too when messaging that guy himself. There is also, “he would literally kill himself if he had to do a tech job.” (laughter) That guy’s dad happens to be a (tenured) math professor from mainland China, more evidence that madness runs in families. Continue reading “My awesome roommate”

Oleg

Oleg is one of my ubermensch Soviet (and also part Jewish) friends. He has placed at (or at least near) the top on the most elite of math contests. He is now a math PhD student with an advisor even crazier than he is, who he says sometimes makes him feel bad, because he has done too little math research wise. However, this persona alone is not that rare. Oleg’s sheer impressiveness largely stems from that on top of this, he is a terrific athlete, extremely buff and coordinated, enough that he can do handstand pushups, to the extent that he regards such as routine. Yes, it is routine for a guy contending for a spot on a legit gymnastics team, but you wouldn’t expect this from a math nerd huh?

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