Lack of Nobel Laureates due to China's traditional Culture

By Zezhirunzhi
0 CommentsPrint E-mail, October 20, 2009
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The failure, once again, of Chinese scholars to win a single Nobel Prize has embarrassed the country's academics and become a topic of heated discussion in the Chinese media and blogs.

That Chinese scholars remain bystanders when the top academic prizes are dished out is partly down to their lack of creativity and, perhaps, conscious or unconscious bias against China on Nobel Committee. Whatever the reason, the fact remains that China consistently fails to produce world-class research, whether in the natural sciences or the humanities. We need to get to the root of the problem. I believe it is the Chinese preoccupation with "saving face" that is keeping Chinese scholars off the Nobel list.

Fancy university gates – a microcosm of China's academic vanity

Recently Chinese universities have been queuing up to deny the rumours about the cost of their fancy school gates. They cost no more than a few million yuan they say. But is spending even "a few million yuan" on a gate reasonable? Some netizens have posted pictures of Harvard University's simple red brick and iron gate, together with a note saying "I can't believe this is the gate to Harvard."

There's little doubt that the Chinese universities are familiar with former Harvard President James Bryant Conant's saying that, "Every vital organization owes its birth and life to an exciting and daring idea."

But Chinese university managers in practice ignore Conant's motto and are motivated mainly by the desire to "save face."

The competition to build ever fancier school gates is a microcosm of the vanity pervasive in Chinese society. It is both a result of our cultural heritage but is exacerbated by pervasive bureaucracy at all levels.

Dashing for quick results

Jointly affected by the culture heritage and social reality, vanity, or the pursuit of "face-saving" has become a major impediment to Chinese people's creativity. What lies underneath the vanity is a strong desire to "show off."

For universities to achieve recognition requires generations of unseen, painstaking effort, which is much harder than attracting public attention with a flashy set of gates.

Another example of this sort of "face-saving behaviour" was a well-known Chinese TV documentary about a mysterious wild animal in Hubei Province. The documentary lasted more than 200 minutes, but didn't show a single image of the animal. The documentary makers admitted the camera crew spent less than a day in the area. By contrast a British photographer stayed on the African savannah for six months filming a single leopard.

Every great achievement is the result of painstaking effort. But short-sighted eagerness for quick success is killing China's pursuit of originality, and this is one of the main reasons China lacks Nobel Laureates.

(This blog was first published in Chinese on October 12 and translated into English by Maverick Chen)


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