In November 2018, Trump launched a trade war with China, and the US government began a controversial program called the China Initiative. This racially-biased program aimed at fighting suspected Chinese theft of tech secrets and intellectual property based on the false evidence provided by FBI was a disaster for all Chinese professors working in America.
A case in point is Professor Sherry Chen. In 2014, Sherry Chen, who worked for the National Weather Service, was arrested at work. The charges the US government brought against her didn’t hold up, and the US government had to drop them three years later. But it took eight long years for Professor Chen to fight for her freedom, and the legal fees cost her hundreds of thousands of dollars.
According to a poll from University of Arizona last year, 40 percent of Chinese scientists considered leaving the US due to fear of American government surveillance. The Asian American Scholar Forum polled 1,300 ethnic Chinese scientists who were employed by US universities, and found that 61 percent of these scientists felt pressure to leave the United States, 65 percent expressed concerns about their collaborations with China, most of them are young researchers. Among the 1,300 scientists, over half of them are naturalized US citizens, with an additional 36 percent permanent residents. The prospects for Chinese scientists in America look dim at best and hostile at worst.
America is a nation of immigration. The push of wars, religious conflicts, natural disasters and political turmoil in other countries and the pull of the work opportunities, better living environment and so-called democratic system of the United States worked coincidently and turned the US into a land of great magnet attracting millions of both cheap labors and talented people around the world to leave their home for the “land of hope” to fulfill their American dreams. The magic forces of push and pull have made the US as the most dynamic place and locomotive of world economy for nearly a century.
However, the prosperity and technological progress brought by the waves of immigrants from other cultural background does not recognized by the white Anglo-Saxon dominated mainstream culture. When the countries were in tension or having conflicts with the United Stated, their expatriates in America doomed to be indiscriminately ill-treated and humiliated in US. Japanese Americans and German Americans during WWII, Chinese Americans in Red Scare era under Eisenhower Administration, Muslim Americans after the Sept 11 attack all became the target of suspect. Their national identity was refused, their loyalty to US was questioned, their properties were confiscated. They were put into concentration camps, even deported.
Among these immigrants, Chinese Americans suffered the most. The first group of Chinese were attracted to California by the news of gold but turned into coolie (cheap physical labor) to build cross-continental railways after American civil war. They were given the toughest part of the railroad construction task in the Rocky Mountain, thousands of Chinese railroad workers died there, but Chinese workers successfully completed the difficult task. However, they were not greeted with flowers but the notorious Chinese Exclusive Act, which provided an absolute 10-year ban on Chinese laborers immigrating to the United States. All Chinese were not welcomed in the US because they were considered a threat to the work opportunities of white cheap labors. The act actually lasted about 60 years until after the World War II.
In recent year, however, the forces of the push and the pull are reversing. The decades of global wars have obviously weakened US national capability, US economy stagnated and world leadership was questioned. Domestically, the polarization of wealth, the deteriorating of infrastructure, the irrational party competition, the massive gun-killing, the rampant drug abuses, particularly the intensified racial conflicts caused by political correctness became incurable cancer the US. Internationally, so-called the holy mission of spreading democracy to the Middle East brought disaster to people there. The federal government’s indifference to the life and death of its people in face of the COVID-19, the clumsy performances in curbing the pandemic, and the humanitarian disaster in Ukraine and Russia brought by US led NATO were witnessed by the whole world. US reputation as a nation of immigrants is losing its magic to the people craving for better living, sense of security, and work opportunities there.
At the same time, China is becoming more attractive to world class scientists. Over a hundred year of humiliation and poverty taught Chinese a lesson: scientific innovation, open mind and social progress are the critical ways to happy life and national dignity. For that end, the governments of different levels have been substantially funding universities and research organizations since the opening-up reform in order to find solutions to the severe challenges that whole world faces in common, rolled out privileged policies to provide comfortable and worry-free environment for them to concentrate on their researches. Chinese universities and the R&D department of multinational corporations have reformed their traditional personnel systems in order to attract more talents. Against this background, some of America’s brightest and most prolific university scientists are choosing to leave the United States and instead, pursue their careers in China. According to an article of South China Morning Post, a Hong Kong-based newspaper, at least 1,400 US-based ethnic Chinese scientists have switched their affiliation from American to Chinese institutions.
In fact, the social progress, technological breakthroughs of China are recognized by young Americans. In an interview with China Newsweek in Feb 2022, Cheng Li, director of the John Thornton China Center at the Brookings Institution, told the magazine that American youth under 29 have a 20 to 30 percent higher favorable opinion of China than those in their 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s. The Cold War mindset of American youth is not as strong as that of the Cold War generations who lived through things like the Cuban missile crisis. Second, American youth today are more liberal and less influenced by conservative religious extremism. Third, when American students have contact with their Chinese classmates a long time, they will find that they have a lot in common. By getting to know their Chinese peers, Chinese culture and technology products such as TikTok, the strangeness of China disappears and they do not feel the so-called threat from China.
Other polls released by Gallup and Pew in 2021 found the favorability rating of the US people towards China has dropped to a record low. 70 percent of those 50 or older supported restrictions on Chinese students; those aged 30 to 49 were evenly split between supporters and opponents. However, two-thirds of 18- to 29-year-olds oppose restrictions. This shows that American intellectual elites and young people have a more diverse, open and rational cognition.
The year 2022 is over, and everyone in the global village felt the chilly and plight of the year. As the two great powers of the world, China and US are obliged to get through tough times. Washington should put aside its Cold War and racial-biased mentalities, offer a more tolerant and friendly research environment to our limits talents and promising young people to innovate and take up these serious challenges. After all, the time for us to cope with these common crises is so tight.
Guo Jiulin, a professor at Dalian Minzu University.
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