China: Nobel Dream

This month, the Chinese press and online forums are saturated with coverage of Charles Kao’s winning of the Nobel Prize in Physics. Yet another overseas Chinese scientist has snatched the prestigious prize, this temporary moment of shared glory is quickly turned into a more profound question: when would China produce its first indigenous Nobel Prize winner?


A commentary on Xinhua describes this psychology:


Every year, when the Nobel Prize winners are announced, the Chinese will become very sentimental. If a winner is of Chinese descendant, they will be very excited. But after a few days, this excitement will gradually cool down or even turn into indifference. When next year comes, this cycle will repeat.

詹晟 posted a question on an ifeng blog piece:


Some people said it is a kind of discrimination against Chinese– the Nobel Prize will not be given to Chinese, it will only be given to people with a certain citizenship. Therefore, a pre-requisite for Chinese to be awarded is to become an American citizen. But why are Chinese able to get the prize once they change citizenship?

This echoes with an article on 青青草香’s sina blog:


When we talk of an “American Chinese”, the keyword is not “American” but “Chinese”. After the fervent media reporting, we have the illusion that all Chinese are sharing the Nobel pride as well. Our fragile hearts are self-comforted.


Charles Kao is the eighth Chinese Nobel Prize winner. While we are feeling proud, should we ask the embarrassing question: why could Chinese win Nobel Prizes when they are in a foreign but not our own country?

A commentary by 丁果 on the Southern Metropolitan Weekend outlined a few structural problems of the Chinese academic environment:

中国仍然缺乏宽松自由的学术环境,这样就难以出现    的创意人才;中国缺乏进行高端研究的基础设施,或者说实验室,这使优秀的科学家,尤其是从事理论研究的华裔科学家,难以下决心回来报效祖国;中国缺乏培养创新头脑的人文环境,缺乏适合全球最优秀科学人才长期居住的社区条件,这就决定了不少优秀人才难以带领全家回来,怕耽搁了下一代的成长。

China still lacks a free academic environment, which makes it difficult to nurture innovative talents; China lacks high-end basic research facilities, which makes it hard to attract Chinese to return to their own country; China lacks the social atmosphere to nurture groundbreaking ideas and a suitable community for leading scientists to settle down for long periods.

詹晟 and 青青草香 also discussed some other disturbing realities.

詹晟 said:


Look at the corrupted academic environment in China. There are so-called book publication amount of PhD mentors, each ranging from a few to dozens per year. Local governments like to employ foreign consultants for advice as it is a “stylish” act.


If a rigorous academic environment and an effective reward mechanism do not exist, even with the glory of being the “People’s Teacher”, most academics will leave the circle and join the commercial world.


We can blame a transforming China or the waves of materialism as being the causes of all the irregularities. But isn't it also related to our cultures or attitudes?

青青草香 remarked:


China is keen to use number. The number of published research papers is used to determine someone's academic quality, or to decide if a research student can proceed to the stage of thesis defense. Under this system, teachers and students alike have to publish a large amount of papers, with the accompanying result of widespread plagiarism. While China becomes the number one producer of academic dissertations, it may also be the number one producer of academic garbage.


Under the current education and research system, it is difficult for China to nurture liberal, independent and innovative scientists. Producing the first indigenous Chinese Nobel Prize winner will take some time.

In the collective English blog, the Fool's Mountain, there is also a hot discussion on “What Lies between Chinese Writers and the Nobel Prize”.

[Photo taken from]


  • hanyu choi

    Some of the commentators are too hard on China. I am a Korean living in America. Between 1901-1925 there were only 2 American Nobel Prize winners in sciences and none in medicine. At the same time period there was not even one world-class college in America. In the 19th century America was the counterfeit capital of the world. Americans were only good at coping European inventions.But by the 1930s America achieved supremacy in science and technology. The rest is history. Intellctual dishonesty is not unique only to China but also to Anerica too. China was the most creative and innovative country in the world from 4th century bc to the late 18th century. I think China will be the number 1 country again in sceience and technology by the middle of this century.

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