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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.
Do we really know what we want in a romantic partner? If so, do our desires actually mean we match up with people who suit them?
- Two separate studies (2015 and 2020) suggest that our "ideals" don't really match what we look for in a romantic partner.
- The results of studies like this can change the way we date, especially in the online world.
- Paul Eastwick, co-author of the study and professor in the UC Davis Department of Psychology explains: "You say you want these three attributes and you like the people who possess these attributes. But the story doesn't end there."
Do we really know what we want in love or are we just guessing?<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="204859156383d358652fda6f7eadda0f"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/vQgfx2iYlso?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>More than 700 participants selected their top three ideals in a romantic partner (things like funny, attractive, inquisitive, kind, etc). They then reported their romantic desire for a series of people they knew personally (some were blind date partners, others were romantic partners and some were simply platonic friends).</p> <p>While participants did experience more romantic desire to the extent that these personal connections of theirs (people they knew) had the qualities they listed, that wasn't the end of the study. </p> <p>Paul Eastwick, co-author of the study and professor in the UC Davis Department of Psychology <a href="https://medicalxpress.com/news/2020-07-romantic-partner-random-stranger.html" target="_blank">explains</a>: <em>"You say you want these three attributes and you like the people who possess these attributes. But the story doesn't end there." </em></p> <p>Each participant was to also consider the extent to which their personal acquaintances possessed three attributes nominated by some other random person in the study. For example, if Kris listed "down-to-earth", intelligent and thoughtful as her own top three attributes, Vanessa also experienced more desire for people with those specific traits. </p>
Does what we want really match up with what we find?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQ0NDA4Ni9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTU5NjM3NzY5OX0.gdUo-UbjYhKUDOL39BDZseRynbwaK2H5dfJtbV0nw8Y/img.jpg?width=980" id="ff376" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="922bfa804efe69c3fef942c8ba91e8a2" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="concept of online dating dating apps two people connecting on a dating app" />
What we claim to want and what we look for may be two separate things...
Image by GoodStudio on Shutterstock<p>So the question became: are we really listing what we want in an ideal partner or are we just listing vague qualities that people typically consider as positive?</p> <p><em>"So in the end, we want partners who have positive qualities,"</em> Sparks explained, <em>"but the qualities you specifically list do not actually have special predictive power for you." </em></p> <p>In other words, the idea that we find certain things attractive in a person does not mean we actively seek out people who have those qualities, despite saying it's what we want in a love interest. The authors of this study suggest these findings could have implications for the way we approach online dating in the digital age. </p> <p>This isn't the first study of its kind to suggest that what we find in love isn't really what we were looking for. The evidence suggests that we really are consistent in the abstract of it all: when asked to evaluate what we want on paper, you are more likely to suggest overall attractiveness in accordance with what you've stated are important ideals to you. But real life isn't so similar. </p> <p>According to <a href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/meet-catch-and-keep/201506/when-it-comes-love-do-you-really-know-what-you-want" target="_blank">Psychology Today,</a> who covered a 2015 study with similar results, initial face-to-face encounters have very little effect on our romantic desire.<em> "When we initially meet someone, our level of romantic interest in the person is independent of our standards."</em></p> <p>While you might have no immediate interest in John, he may fit your criteria of being kind, loyal, and intelligent. Similarly, someone may be attracted to Elaine even though she doesn't have any of the qualities they originally said were important to them. </p> <p><strong>What does this all mean? </strong></p><p>The authors of both the 2015 and 2020 studies both say the same thing: give someone a chance before writing them off as a poor match. If your initial attraction is independent of the standards you've set out, the qualities which you've listed as important to you, the first time you meet someone may not give you enough information to make an informed decision.</p> <p><em>"It's really easy to spend time hunting around online for someone who seems to match your ideals," </em>said Sparks, <em>"But our research suggests an alternative approach: Don't be too picky ahead of time about whether a partner matches your ideals on paper. Or, even better, let your friends pick your dates for you." </em></p>
A new study suggests that an old tuberculosis vaccine may reduce the severity of coronavirus cases.
- A new study finds a country's tuberculosis BCG vaccination is linked to its COVID-19 mortality rate.
- More BCG vaccinations is connected to fewer severe coronavirus cases in a country.
- The study is preliminary and more research is needed to support the findings.
Professor Luis Escobar.
Credit: Virginia Tech
- Jennifer Jacquet writes that effective shaming can be a powerful tool for social change.
- Tess Wilkinson-Ryan believes shame is useless in the case of the pandemic.
- The politicization of the coronavirus takes our attention away from the failure of the administration.
Jennifer Jacquet: How do You Punish Global Mega-Corp? Shame Them | WIRED 2014 | WIRED<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="e8063d7d3f1f4bcd47356380b06772d7"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/yl4NSy0SXtc?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>She backs this up with research on the fact that we're more likely to blame people of other races for standing too close and overestimating our own compliance with public health regulations while underestimating others. In conclusion, she calls for humility: don't get so caught up in your biases that you overlook other people's efforts. The real problem is "America's half-hearted reopening," the administration's consistently inconsistent messages, lack of national regulations, and the weaponization of a pandemic.<br></p><p>Wilkinson-Ryan's article is a fantastic example of what we <em>should</em> be focused on. But is shame really useless? I would argue no. </p><p>This goes back to <a href="https://bigthink.com/21st-century-spirituality/individualism-is-spreading-and-thats-not-good" target="_blank">differences</a> between individualistic and collectivist societies. In her book, <em>Is Shame Necessary? New Uses for an Old Tool</em>, NYU associate professor Jennifer Jacquet points out that shame served as a "primitive emotion" that worked well in tribes restricted by <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunbar's_number#:~:text=Dunbar's%20number%20is%20a%20suggested,relates%20to%20every%20other%20person." target="_blank">Dunbar's number</a>. Shame is a powerful motivational tool if you'll never know more than 150 people. Early societies were collectivist by default. </p><p>By contrast, guilt is experienced in private, away from the group—a marker of individualism. You need privacy to experience private emotions. Guilt, therefore, might be a Western emotional construct that evolved with large societies. Religions that evolved with it know the power of guilt. Yet does that mean we should leave shame behind? Jacquet argues against it. </p><p>She writes that the key is finding shame's "sweet spot." There are no clear "shame this, but don't shame that" guidelines, though Jacquet notes seven habits of effective shaming.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"The transgression should (1) concern the audience, (2) deviate wildly from desired behavior, and (3) not be expected to be formally punished. The transgressor should (4) be sensitive to the group doing the shaming. And the shaming should (5) come from a respected source, (6) be directed where possible benefits are highest, and (7) be implemented conscientiously." </p>
People wait in line outside of a Costco in Brooklyn on May 14, 2020 in New York City.
Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images<p>Wearing a mask certainly concerns the audience, which is everyone. Refusing to mask deviates from <a href="https://www.ucsf.edu/news/2020/06/417906/still-confused-about-masks-heres-science-behind-how-face-masks-prevent" target="_blank">desired behavior</a> and is not formally punishable (though some cities are <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2020/07/03/us/california-mask-requirement-fine-trnd/index.html" target="_blank">changing that</a> due to non-compliance). Since masks have been <a href="https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/06/dudes-who-wont-wear-masks/613375/" target="_blank">politicized</a>, number four is mostly off the table. Plenty of respected sources argue for masks, though that too is lost in the <a href="https://www.kcrw.com/news/shows/to-the-point/pandemic-masks-individualism-sunbelt-republicans" target="_blank">weaponization</a> of masks (which also effects the last two habits).</p><p>Jacquet writes that acceptable shaming often focuses on "the powerful over the marginalized." Yet no society has ever endured the reactive scrutiny of social media during a global pandemic. In a QAnon-fueled conspiracy theory-crazed culture, the powerful never look out for the marginalized, except in the deepest trenches where Trump is considered a savior bringing forth a new age. </p><p>(This sounds insane, and it is, but it's having <a href="https://theconversation.com/qanon-conspiracy-theory-followers-step-out-of-the-shadows-and-may-be-headed-to-congress-141581" target="_blank">real-world impact</a>. I spend considerable time <a href="https://conspirituality.net/" target="_blank">investigating conspiracy theories in the wellness community</a>, and this theory is spreading on the Left and Right.) </p><p>Jacquet and Wilkinson-Ryan intersect in their desire to see our better angels emerge. As Jacquet concludes, there have been plenty of effective shaming campaigns, such as shaming fisherman for killing dolphins and manufacturers for poor working conditions. In each instance, a marginalized group (or animal) received better treatment. </p><p>Wilkinson-Ryan's political assessment is spot-on, as marginalized communities need better leadership: the <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/immunocompromised.html" target="_blank">immunocompromised</a>, the <a href="https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2020/07/us-repeating-deadliest-pandemic-mistake-nursing-home-deaths/613855/" target="_blank">elderly</a>, the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/16/us/coronavirus-inmates-prisons-jails.html" target="_blank">imprisoned</a>, <a href="https://www.wired.com/story/why-meatpacking-plants-have-become-covid-19-hot-spots/" target="_blank">workers in the meatpacking industry</a>. At the moment, however, our better angels are absent. That means shaming is one of the few tools in our arsenal that might provoke compliance. Or, as with anti-vaxxers, it might only make anti-maskers more committed to their lunacy. Tough call. </p><p>As Jacquet writes, "Shame's service is to the group, and when it is used well and at the right time, it can make a society better off." Since America can't do any worse, some well-intentioned and thoughtful shaming might make an impact, in inches if not in miles.</p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
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