Some thoughts on Chinese-Americans in relation to elite high school academic contests

Last night I was too tired to watch more of 红楼梦. I’ve now finished 4 episodes out of 50 (started a bit on the 5th one as well), which corresponds to the 9th chapter out of 120. But it wasn’t quite time for me to easily fall asleep. So it occurred to me to look up the winners of USA Math Olympiad for 2019.

https://www.maa.org/sites/default/files/pdf/usamo/2019%20USAMO%20Winners.pdf

https://www.maa.org/sites/default/files/pdf/usamo/2019%20USAMO%20Honorable%20Mentions.pdf

There they are. And then it occurred to me to look at https://aapt.org/physicsteam/2019/team.cfm and http://www.usaco.org/index.php?page=finalists19.

I couldn’t help but notice how Chinese the names were. Of the 12 USAMO winners + 7 USAMO HMs, there were 15 Chinese, 1 Korean, and 3 whites/Jews.

Of the 20 USA Physics Olympiad finalists, there were 16 Chinese, 3 Indians, 1 Jew, and of the 20 USA Computing Olympiad finalists, there were 20 Chinese, 4 whites/Jews, and 1 Indian.

And as an FYI, I know people who have been each of these three categories, in years much closer to mine, and I am familiar with what these contests are like and their content. I’ll say that the physics olympiad is the closest to actual physics. The math one is a bunch of difficult olympiad style problems some with rather “brute force” or at least not terribly elegant or mathematically substantial solutions in the inequalities and synthetic geometry categories, and the computing one is a bunch of algorithmic problems requiring some cleverness in terms of dynamic programming, greedy, graph algorithms, even a bit of computational geometry.

Then years ago, there weren’t actually this many ethnic Chinese in the names of the winners of finalists of these contests. These are mostly the kids of 70 后 (born in 1970s) STEM immigrants from mainland China who have been selected for a combination of g, conscientiousness, interest in STEM, and (shudders) also lack of patriotism/woke-ness. Most of these kids are basically uber high IQ, nerdy banana-boys, really into these contests, winning academic awards, and learning math and science. My experience has told me that very few of these kids are anything close to culturally Chinese, and I don’t expect this to have changed.

I know it’s rather politically incorrect or at least awkward in America to comment on the ethnic factor of this contest, in particular the gross Chinese overrepresentation. I’m sure many find it very annoying but are too afraid to say it openly.

Speaking of annoying, this very annoying Jew in math kept telling me about how Chinese-Americans are a high powered, how they’re smarter than the native Chinese at the far tail. That *might* be true. The best native Chinese kids of the same age might have some difficulty beating those Chinese-American kids in those finalists lists in those contests, the last few years, US has done better than China at IMO I believe. But the native Chinese have their own advantages, like heck, they actually have their own language, own culture, own country, own government, own media, own military, and in the career world, I would expect them to do better since they will have much more political support.

There is also that people I know have said that these contests select not only for far tail g but also for not very high aesthetic discernment, because those with really high aesthetic discernment would lack motivation to prep too much for the more contrived aspects of these contests. I rather agree with that point of view.

I’ve interacted substantially with people in that category. They are certainly very smart and very fast and accurate and powerful at doing stuff, solving problems. But I find many of them lacking in awareness of cultural/historical context. When I learned math and science, I found myself more naturally interested in the history and development of it than most others. So even though I interacted with those kids to a fair degree, I also kept a bit of distance from them. I now find native Chinese many nowhere near as smart IQ wise more interesting and pleasant to talk to than them. At least subconsciously, I found many of them rather misguided in many ways. For more context, I’ll reference this quote of ChinaSuperpower on Reddit.

Chinese in China don’t do any of these things you mentioned. Confucianism was abandoned by 1960s. Only AA parents use Confucianism as a tool to keep their kids docile. Chinese in China are too busy building a massive blue water navy to challenge USN and take leadership. AA sometimes have no idea what modern China is about. Chairman Mao’s army annihilated US army in Korea and that’s why USA hates him LOL. Chairman Mao then proceeded to explode multimegaton hydrogen bombs in the 1960s that ultimately led Nixon to bow down and recognize PRC as a UN security council P5. Chinese today are patriotic and even low class people have sex and get married no problems.

Meanwhile it is first generation Asian emigrants who are white worshipping. They brainwash their children to erase any chance their children might figure out how powerful China is. Their agenda is to make their daughters white mans sex toys and their sons the coolies. This is the child sacrifice they are making to please the white man who is their God deep in their hearts. It’s the deal with the devil that first generation emigrants don’t what you to know about. They just want to keep you docile with math, physics, piano and Confucianism.

AAs should take their heads out of their math and physics books and read about Chairman Mao and modern China. China is the defender of against Western hegemony. It’s a red pill though. Once you know the truth you know you are just a child sacrifice to white Gods by white worshipping first generation emigrants. Your choice whether to live in ignorance or accept reality.

So, yesterday, I had lunch with a guy who did high school in China, undergrad at top or near top US school, and was a PhD student at Harvard for a while. I asked him about Beijing vs Shanghai. He said that he doesn’t actually feel much difference. I mentioned how Beijing as the capital is more state owned enterprise while Shanghai with its colonial past is more international and foreign-invested enterprise. In particular, I spoke of how someone I know whose parents are 体制内 had said to me that in Shanghai you shouldn’t tell people that you’re from a 体制内 background. That guy replied that he didn’t really feel that way, that many people in Shanghai want to go into 体制内 as well. Then I mentioned stereotypes of Shanghainese being really snobbish and looking down on people from smaller places, with reference to someone’s saying that Hong Kongers and Shanghainese are very snobbish. That guy’s response was very interesting. It was

Do you know which group of people I find especially snobbish? Chinese-Americans.

And I was like LOL, yes they are more snobbish than Shanghainese for sure, and in a much more ridiculous/pathetic way.

He qualified to those who immigrated to America in the 80s and 90s. After all, he had some interactions with them while a student there. I said that some of the best of them were really successful in academia, professors at Princeton, Stanford, etc. He was like, “yes, but some of them are pretty nasty people,” with a few names of such people he’s had direct exposure to. I spoke of the negative qualities which characterize many among that cohort based on my observation, such as really wanting to be individually good and being afraid that others from the same group surpass them, and lacking in 骨气 and risk-taking spirit for the collective good, and just being very small-minded in general. I spoke of how this guy who did reach the top in academia in America who’s returned to China now for over a decade was an exception, how he openly challenged this super dirty anti-China dissident in the 90s, before he had tenure. The response was that there are exceptions, and that that guy, unlike most, actually returned to China eventually, giving up his rare, coveted position in the US.

I mentioned that ChinaSuperpower also thinks that way of those first generation immigrants, in a more extreme way than you do. He was like, “he’s not the only one who thinks that, many people do.” Of course, the ones who did actually become high up in a company or professor at good or great university are the very small minority. The outcomes of most of those first generation immigrants were pretty meh, with some even a bit depressing. Not to mention their kids…

Yes, most of the kids in those math, physics, and computing olympiad finalists lists will do fine or even really well later on. Even the really well must be qualified with a they won’t get any serious money or political power though. But they are the very small minority. On the other hand, the typical kid of first generation immigrant from mainland China is up for a rather sad outcome. I’ve seen plenty of such…

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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”

Innate mathematical ability

This morning I had the great pleasure of reading an article on LessWrong on innate ability by Jonah Sinick. Jonah has been one of my greatest influences and inspirations, having interacted with him substantially. He is unusual in one of the best ways possible. I would not be surprised if he goes on to do something extraordinary.

When I catch up with Jonah, I like to talk with him about math, mathematicians, and IQ, which happens to be what that article of his on LessWrong is about. 😉 That article resonates with me deeply because I myself had similar experiences as he did. It is hypothesized by me that I was also twice exceptional, albeit in different ways, with its effects compounded by my unusual background, all of which mediocrities within the American public school system are not good at dealing with in an effectual way.

This writing of Jonah has brought forth reflections in my own mind with regard to mathematical ability, development, and style. I’ll say that as a little kid under 6, I was very good at arithmetic and even engaged in it obsessively. However, by age 8, after two years of adjusting to life in America starting off not knowing a word of English, I had forgotten most of that. I was known to be good at math among the normal normal students; of course, that doesn’t mean much. In grade school, I was not terribly interested in math or anything academic; I was more interested in playing and watching sports, particularly basketball and baseball.

I didn’t have any mathematical enrichment outside of school other than this silly after school math olympiad program. Nonetheless, I managed to test into two year accelerated math once I reached junior high, not that it means anything. In junior high, we were doing this stupid “core math” with graphing calculators and “experiments.” I didn’t realize that I was actually a joke at math until I failed miserably at the state mathcounts contest, having not prepared for it, unlike all those other tiger mommed Asian kids, who to me seemed way beyond me at that time. It only occurred to me that I might have some real talent for math when I made the AIME in 10th grade, taking the AMCs for the first time, being one of four in my high school of about 2000 to do so. I thought it was fun solving some of those math contest problems, which were more g-loaded, with an emphasis on the pattern recognition side.

It was after that I started to read up on the history of mathematics and mathematicians. I taught myself some calculus and was fascinated by it, not that I understood it very well. But I could easily sense that this was much more significant than many of those contrived contest problems, and soon, I began to lose interest in the contest stuff. It was also after that that I learned about proving things, which the American public school math doesn’t teach. I finally realized what mathematics is really about.

Like Jonah, I had some difficulties with careless errors and mental organization. I don’t think my raw intellectual horsepower was very high back in high school, but fortunately, it has improved substantially since then that it is for the most part no longer the major impediment.

I took calculus officially in 11th grade, and it was a breeze for me. I could easily compute the areas and volumes and such but the entire time, I felt quite dissatisfied, because I could not actually understand that stuff at a rigorous, theoretical level as I poured through our textbook that went up to vector calculus during lecture, which was rather inane, expected if one considers the mismatch between cognitive threshold relative to the distribution of ability of the students. I knew from reading online the rich world of math far beyond what we were covering, most of which I was not intellectually mature enough to access at that time. However, I vividly remember during summer after 11th grade, while attending a math summer program, I was able to comfortably write out the delta epsilon definition of limit with understanding of why it was reasonably defined that way. Still, I would say I was still quite weak in terms of both my mathematical maturity and overall intellectual ability. There were too many things I wasn’t aware of, including the g factor, that I easily would have been had I been higher in verbal ability, which would have enabled me to read, absorb, and internalize information much more rapidly and broadly. In contrast, Jonah had discovered independently, or so he says, the lack of free will at the age of 7!

I made some incremental advances in my math knowledge from reading and thinking outside of school the next year. As for contest math, I almost made the USAMO. Though I had improved, I was still not terribly quick and careful with solving contest style problems and doing computations. I think close to graduation, I also solved some Putnam problems.

Only in undergrad did I learn real math more seriously, but even there, nothing too advanced. US undergrad is a joke, and I also was one, just to a lesser extent than most of my “peers.” Almost certainly, Jonah, based on he’s told me, had gained much deeper and broader knowledge at the same stage, from the reading works of giants like Euler and Riemann.

I’ve noticed how there are a lot of Chinese-(American) kids really into those high school math contests, and they now also dominate USAMO and Putnam (though careful, as in the latter, there you’ve got some of Chinese internationals drawn from the elite from China). I will say that at the lower levels, many of those kids have some pretty low taste and an inability to think outside the system that would enable them to discover the existence of real math, as opposed to this artificial math game that they enjoy playing or are pressured to doing so for college. Though those contests have a high pattern recognition component to them, there is not really much depth or substantial math knowledge. It is also my belief, with reference to Jonah’s article, that math contests are mostly M loaded while real math is more V loaded. So this behavior is consistent with the lopsidedness in favor of M and perhaps also short term working memory of Chinese students. It has also been Jonah’s belief that controlling for g, these contests select for low taste and value judgement, and I surely identify with that perspective. So maybe college admissions are somewhat fair to assess an Asian penalty?

Of the thesis of Jonah’s article, a representative figure is Terry Tao. There, Jonah also pointed out that Tao’s research in math is more concrete and problem solving oriented by pure math standards, in line with what appears to be the same lopsided (modulo the absolute level, as Terry is a far far outlier) cognitive profile of his based on testing at age 9 and 10. Again, people enjoy what they are best at, and though, Terry Tao is almost certainly at least +3 sigma at verbal, he is far more rare, at least +5 sigma, a real übermensch, in the (in some sense dual) pattern recognition component, which means he leans towards the areas of math more loaded on the latter. I have heard the saying that even other Fields medalists are intimidated by Terry Tao. The breadth and volume and technical power of his work is almost unrivaled and otherworldly. The media makes it seem like Terry is a league above even the other Fields medalists. However, Jonah seems to believe that the deepest and most leading of mathematicians are the ones who are more theory builders, who create through leaps of insight and synthesis new fields and directions that keep mathematicians busy for decades, and even centuries. That would be say Grothendieck or SS Chern, and an ability that is more loaded on verbal ability, crudely speaking. Again, I have felt the same. This might explain why the advantage of Chinese students is not anywhere near as pronounced in math research as in contests, and why some people say that generally speaking, the Chinese mathematicians are more problem solving and technical than theoretical, more analysis than algebra. Likewise, we can predict the opposite for Jews who are skewed in favor of verbal. A corollary of this would be that the Jews produce the deepest thinkers, adjusted somewhat for population, which is almost certainly the case, if you look at the giants of mathematics and theoretical physics.

I’ll conclude with the following remark. I used to revere somewhat those who placed very highly on those contests, until I realized that many of them are actually somewhat weak in terms of deep understanding and thinking at a more theoretical level. Yes, I have met MOSPers who got destroyed by real math and who are not very intellectually versatile, with glaring weaknesses; I was quite surprised initially that even I seemed to be smarter if not a lot than some of them. Once upon a time, I couldn’t understand those who appeared very strong at real math (and often also science and/or engineering and/or humanities) who struggled with more concrete math and/or contest-style problem solving, like Jonah, who has written on LessWrong of his difficulties with accuracy on the trivial math SAT. I’ve met this other guy, who I thought was an idiot for being unable to perform simple computations, who is leagues beyond me in the most abstract of math, who writes prolifically about partially V-loaded areas of math like model theory. Now, the more metacognitive me has awakened to the reality that I may never by deficit of my neurobiology be able to fathom and experience what they’re capable of. After all, there are plenty I am almost certain are and are essentially doomed to be very delusional by nature relative to me, and since I’m at the far tail but not quite so much, there are bound to be people who view me the same. I can only hope that I can become more like them through some combination of exposure and organic neurobiological growth, but I as a realist will not deem that very likely.