China tightens its grip on freedom in academics
Scholars often debate risking their livelihoods and personal safety in order to conduct research in certain areas.
- Authoritarian governments that rely heavily on coercion must be more intrusive about how education shapes the personality and character of its members.
- In China, there are topics that scholars know to avoid — especially, the Three Ts: Taiwan, Tibet, and Tiananmen Square.
- While the majority of scholars are likely toeing the party line when it comes to their research, some are working toward encouraging academic freedom in the country, often at significant risk to themselves and their families.
In March of 2019, Chinese President Xi Jinping called on Chinese educators to "nurture generation after generation [of young people] who support Chinese Communist Party rule and China's socialist system." What does this mean for the state of scholarship in China? Toeing the line between the right and wrong viewpoint is a serious matter for scholars in that country. It can be the difference between a fulfilling career and being barred from research, removed from the country, or even imprisoned.
This interconnection between government and education is ancient — think, Plato's "Republic." Any society needs to bring new members into conformity with the order that society aims at. In the U.S. this is called civics education and comprises understanding the rules under which our society is structured. These rules allow a wide degree of individual freedom rooted in individual rights. Citizens must understand those rights and how those rights constrain and protect us in our interactions with each other and the government. Traditionally in the US many of these rights are also not seen to be the sole privilege of citizens but what are owed to humans as many are extended to non-citizen residents and visitors.
Authoritarian governments that rely heavily on coercion must be more intrusive about how education shapes the personality and character of its members. The system erected by the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) rests on control by the party. As such, the government looks to prohibit thoughts and actions that would undermine party control.
Consider the case of Liu Xiaobo, the scholar and human rights activist who, along with more than 300 other Chinese citizens, signed Charter 08, a political manifesto demanding freedom of expression, human rights, and economic liberalism in China. According to Chinese officials, signatories of this statement were guilty of "inciting subversion of state power." Liu was sentenced to 11 years of imprisonment though he died of liver cancer after serving eight.
While this incident might have made international headlines, it is not a wholly unique one in the age of the internet garnering easier access than ever to liberal values. Scholars across China are regularly targeted for working on subjects that upset the CCP or are coerced into restricting their research to acceptable topics.
President Xi Jinping inspects the Chinese People's Liberation Army Garrison In Hong Kong.
Lessons in the wrong ideology
In China, there are topics that scholars know to avoid. First are the Three Ts: Taiwan, Tibet, and Tiananmen Square. There are also seven additional subjects that educators are forbidden from teaching that are listed in the so-called Document Number Nine, a document circulated amongst the CCP that was leaked in July 2013. These seven forbidden subjects are those that promote Western constitutional democracy, universal values, civil society, neoliberalism, Western-style journalism, "historical nihilism," and questioning China's reforms and socialist nature.
This document was first leaked in 2013, the same year that Xi came to power, and it is believed to have been developed or at least approved by Xi. Since its publication and Xi's assumption of power, the CCP has wielded increasingly forceful influence over what is and is not permissible in China's higher education system.
Being 'taken for tea'
While studying the actions of the CCP against scholars in mainland Chinese universities is challenging for obvious reasons, studies from universities in Hong Kong, Australia, North America, and other regions conducting research in mainland China have recently been published.
Chestnut Greitens and colleagues conducted such a study on over 500 researchers. They found that nearly 10 percent of their sample had been approached by authorities and "taken for tea," a euphemism for when scholars are interrogated and intimidated. As one scholar relayed:
Our research group, consisting of Chinese and foreign scholars, were conducting survey research in [redacted]. Some elements of the research topic were considered politically sensitive. We were contacted by the county government, spent a full day "having tea" and discussing the project, and finally asked to leave the county. We complied.
A further 12 percent said their Chinese colleagues had been approached and asked about their work, roughly a quarter were denied access to archival records, and 17 percent had interview subjects withdraw in a suspicious or unexplained manner. The primary concern of these researchers, however, was not their own safety but rather that of their Chinese colleagues or informants. Researchers recommended paying attention to how mainland Chinese collaborators reacted, as they were far more likely to face the consequences of any politically sensitive research project. One researcher said, "This is more important than your publication or your tenure or your degree. If you think in these terms and observe cues of whether people are comfortable or want to cooperate, you should be OK."
But these concerns can also persuade researchers to engage in self-censorship. In an interview with Big Think, Robert Quinn, the founder of the Scholars at Risk Network, discussed how researchers can be persuaded to do the CCP's work for them:
We don't understand how much our thoughts, our very thoughts and therefore our identities, are shaped by implicit permission to think that or ask that or say that. … When they come and haul away the professor in the office next to yours to prison, that affects whether you're going to publish the next article. How do we measure that?
The right to know: How does censorship affect academics?
Consequences for mainland Chinese scholars
While statistics on the nature of academic freedom within mainland China are limited, the Scholars at Risk network has assembled a report detailing the experiences of several Chinese scholars, titled Obstacles to Excellence.
The report describes several features of Chinese academia with chilling effects on research, such as the use of student informants. These informants report on other students' and teachers' comments and activities for the CCP. Dezhou University in Shandong Province reportedly issued a directive to set up a student informant network intended to "destroy the seeds of discord that may affect security and stability before they sprout."
Scholars that are perceived to sow "the seeds of discord" often face serious consequences. Some Chinese scholars reported having their travel restricted, being fired from their positions, being followed by plainclothes police, having their communications monitored, and having other measures taken up against them. For example, legal scholar Teng Biao, a signatory of Charter 08, was forbidden from publishing books and banned from teaching. In 2011, plainclothes police officers detained Teng, throwing a sack over his head, and held him for 70 days while he was beaten and tortured.
These actions by the CCP tend to be more severe in the more politically sensitive regions of China, such as Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia, and Tibet. In the Xinjiang province, for instance, where the persecuted Uighur minority primarily resides, residents are made to install surveillance software on their mobile phones. The province also hosts a number of re-education camps where Uighur Muslims are made to eat pork and drink alcohol, recite CCP anthems, and attend indoctrination classes.
While the majority of scholars are likely toeing the party line when it comes to their research, some are working toward encouraging academic freedom in the country, often at significant risk to themselves and their families. For this reason, acceptance of scholars fleeing persecution is imperative for nations with more fortunate attitudes toward academic freedom. Even so, this fear of displacement will historically affect the scope of knowledge in a country like China, making the pursuit of academic freedom more important than ever.
The main bioactive compound in catnip seems to protect cats from mosquitoes. It might protect humans, too.
- For centuries, humans have observed that cats exhibit strange behaviors when exposed to catnip and silver vine.
- A new study examined how the main bioactive compound in these plants affects cats' opioid systems and protects them against mosquito bites.
- The findings suggest that the compound nepetalactol could be used to develop new mosquito repellents for humans.
Nepeta cataria, commonly known as catnip
Johann Georg Sturm (Painter: Jacob Sturm) via WikiPedia/Public Domain<p>In the study, researchers from Iwate University in Japan exposed nepetalactol-laced paper to different types of felids, including domestic and feral cats, a leopard, two jaguars and two lynx. The team also exposed nepetalactol to dogs and mice, but only the cats elicited the expected behavioral response.</p><p>To find out why cats react uniquely to nepetalactol, the researchers measured the animals' endorphin levels before and after they were exposed to the substance. The results showed that nepetalactol raised endorphin levels in cats.</p><p>But when cats were given drugs that blocked opioid receptors, their endorphin levels didn't rise, and their behavior didn't change. This suggests that cats' "μ-opioid system is stimulated by an increase in endogenous β-endorphin secretion when olfactory neurons are activated by these iridoids," the team wrote.</p>
Nepetalactol as a mosquito repellent<p>To test the efficacy of nepetalactol as a mosquito repellant, the researchers anesthetized two groups of cats. For one group, the researchers applied nepetalactol to the cats' heads. The other group was left untreated to serve as a control. The researchers then exposed the cats to Asian tiger mosquitos and counted the number of times the insects bit each group.</p><p>The results showed that the group treated with nepetalactol was much less likely to get bitten, sometimes by as much as 50 percent. The same proved true in a "more natural" experiment, in which cats were allowed to rub their faces on the plants themselves.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"This is convincing evidence that the characteristic rubbing and rolling response functions to transfer plant chemicals that provide mosquito repellency to cats," the team wrote.</p>
The world's deadliest animal<p>While the researchers don't fully understand why nepetalactol activates the μ-opioid system in cats, they think the compound could help humans avoid mosquito bites. After all, some of the study contributors have applied for a patent covering the use of nepetalactol as an insect repellent. Gizmodo <a href="https://gizmodo.com/cats-love-catnip-because-it-protects-them-from-mosquito-1846092518" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reports</a> that the researchers even tried applying the compound to their arms, which seemed to prevent mosquito bites.</p><p>For thousands of years, humans have aimed to protect themselves from mosquitos. The Egyptian queen Cleopatra was said to sleep surrounded by a mosquito net. The Romans used vinegar mixtures. And Mississippians turned to the American beautyberry plant. </p><p>Today, DEET is the most widely used mosquito repellent, but it's slightly toxic and can cause side effects, including seizures, though rarely. Developing better mosquito repellents could save many lives. The World Mosquito Program <a href="https://www.worldmosquitoprogram.org/en/learn/mosquito-borne-diseases#:~:text=Nearly%20700%20million%20people%20contract,more%20than%20one%20million%20deaths." target="_blank">reports</a> that mosquito-borne illnesses like malaria and yellow fever affect more than 700 million annually and kill approximately one million. </p>
A unique exoplanet without clouds or haze was found by astrophysicists from Harvard and Smithsonian.
- Astronomers from Harvard and Smithsonian find a very rare "hot Jupiter" exoplanet without clouds or haze.
- Such planets were formed differently from others and offer unique research opportunities.
- Only one other such exoplanet was found previously.
Munazza Alam – a graduate student at the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian.
Credit: Jackie Faherty
Jupiter's Colorful Cloud Bands Studied by Spacecraft<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8a72dfe5b407b584cf867852c36211dc"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/GzUzCesfVuw?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
People often make a killing in stocks, but what else do people buy in hopes of selling for a fortune?
- Outside of stocks and bonds, some people make money investing in collectibles and make a fair amount on them.
- One stamp even sold for a billion times its face value.
- The extreme dependence on future collectability limits the potential of most of these opportunities.
Pokémon Cards<iframe width="730" height="430" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/hVUmTaSoB5Y" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe><p> For those who weren't content to catch them all in a video game came a trading card game where you could collect them all. Some classic cards have gained tremendous stature among collectors and Pokéfanatics and sell for extremely high prices. </p><p> An older card featuring Charizard, a fire breathing dragon, regularly sells for thousands <a href="https://www.lifesuccessfully.com/gaming-articles/the-most-wanted-pokemon-cards-charizard#/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">online</a>. Given that the card could be purchased for a couple of dollars in 1999, this is quite the return. A particular pack of the cards, which cost $5 in 2003, now sells for $650, one hundred and thirty times the original asking <a href="https://adamrybko.medium.com/stocks-or-pokemon-cards-an-introduction-to-alternative-investing-32fe499083c4" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">price</a>. </p><p> Of course, not every card will fetch these high prices. Buying cards as an investment is tricky. You have to essentially guess at which cards will be considered highly valuable at a later date and will be unable to collect any dividend before selling them.</p><p> Furthermore, you have to presume that people will be collecting the cards years after buying them. While Pokémon has remained popular, it is a bit of an outlier in terms of enduring success.</p>
Shoes<p> People from all walks of life, from skateboarders to the First Lady of the <a href="https://www.rappler.com/newsbreak/in-depth/imelda-marcos-shoes-mixed-legacy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Philippines</a>, enjoy collecting shoes. An entire subculture exists for people interested in collecting sneakers, and some people make quite a profit in it.</p><p> The Nike SB Dunk Low Reese Forbes Denims, priced initially at $65 in 2002, are commonly valued in the thousands of dollars now. The Nike Air Jordan 1 Retro High x Off White "Chicago" shoe sold for $190 a mere four years ago, but now sells for $4000 a <a href="https://sixfiguresneakerhead.com/sneaker-model-return-alternative-investment-stock-x-reseller/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pair</a>. </p><p> A <a href="https://www.huffpost.com/entry/sneakers-good-investment_n_5bd1f5ebe4b0d38b588143ee?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuZ29vZ2xlLmNvbS8&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAALOu0F9zs5DBHHOIjMgHOZR6K88W3rZkyD3ftBMz2nzlHfoxD4MS2Iz1vF3H-a4_xzOWIIrsJyv76Gj6xwUXaRIRdjq7M2m7I6-lxihWIcEfs7F9PgOwnx82JXPfXmWL7-RQlNUufOyvd8V6TCzMEYrEjzMXVU77IWk9MjOEtsln" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Huffington Post</a> article points out that most of these shoes offered better returns than gold over the same period. The same article quotes YouTube personality <a href="https://www.youtube.com/user/mrFOAMERSIMPSON" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mr. Foamer Simpson</a> and his explanation of the difficulties of making money on shoes:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;"> "There's a guessing game or element of unpredictability that makes it exciting for some collectors. With sneakers, you kind of never know. Sure, you know what sneakers are more limited or which ones were harder to get, but even with that, it fluctuates a lot. A sneaker that was very valuable two years ago might all of a sudden crash and no longer be valuable."</p>
Toys of all kinds<iframe width="730" height="430" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/0uYnj1i1EQw" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe><p> If there's one thing everybody loves, it's what they loved when they were children. That often translates into old and rare toys fetching insane prices at auction.</p><p> Beanie Babies, those little stuffed animals from the 90s, once sold at a price of thousands of dollars <a href="https://www.thefiscaltimes.com/2015/03/02/How-Great-Beanie-Baby-Bubble-Went-Bust" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">online</a>, not bad considering they sold for $5. Lego sets, particularly those featuring well-known franchises like Star Wars, can sell for hundreds of dollars <a href="https://finance.yahoo.com/news/20-geeky-collectibles-could-millions-201624881.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">online</a>. </p><p> As with Pokémon cards, the success stories are dependent on what people are interested in collecting long after most people forgot the toy existed.<strong> </strong>While some collectors have ideas on how to gauge what might or might not end up being valuable later, there seems to be a considerable amount of luck involved.</p>
Stamps<p> The hobby of kings has occasionally made some people as rich as one, with rare stamps and extensive collections fetching high prices at auction.</p><p> One of the famous "Inverted Jenny," stamps, a rare misprint showing an upside-down airplane, sold for $1,593,000 at <a href="https://www.linns.com/news/us-stamps-postal-history/2018/november/nov-15-jenny-invert-sale-record.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">auction</a>. The most valuable stamp in the world, the British Guiana 1c magenta, last sold for $9,480,000, a billion times its face <a href="http://www.sothebys.com/en/auctions/2014/magenta-n09154.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">value</a>. For those interested in a shorter-term investment, the USA Forever stamp has gained a face value of 75% since its introduction and can still be used to send a letter.</p>
Coins<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTUxNjY2Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMjUwNzk3OX0.HMBXb1mbiL0D-JbFcD7pBWNZ8TcOB4mzcJ6ri2aCNOg/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C1%2C0%2C1&height=700" id="41fe2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="57f1ae74688caf29e150c4ce2f7c5b41" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1245" data-height="700" />
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