Dong Zhe intervened. “What Professor Ke is saying, it is a Chinese cultural attribute that you want to show your politeness; but on the other hand, you don’t state your terms. Sometimes it doesn’t matter. But when you are going to harvest your fruits, then the problem comes up. Everyone want to claim they are contributor.”
This is an aspect of Chinese culture that is thousands of years old, I said. Both murmured agreement. Ke said, “People respect scientific thinking. But they don’t really understand it – most of them, in our culture. I noticed, because I was exposed to Western culture, I noticed in our school – this is a famous medical school – most teachers are teaching the students just according to the book.”
Dong Zhe: “She is saying that the Chinese culture doesn’t encourage you to have questions in your mind but asks you to follow what the master mind says.”
Yang Ke: “Mm-hm. But that starts changing. Because some Chinese understand, what is really – how they can do the science. But still, if you must change the whole country’s thinking, it takes a long time.” She turned to Dong again, with a burst of rapid Chinese.
He considered for a moment, then said, “The Chinese culture has a long history. So it must have some truth and excellency. However, if we are facing the development of new scientists, it seems that we have to break away from the tradition a little bit. Learn to be sharp and frank.”
How? “It will take time.” Ke said. “It is globalization which will make the advantages of Chinese and Western culture integrated. Our well-educated, very promising young people must learn from outside also. If they want to be a scientist.” So they go abroad and then come back? “Right.” But when they come back, what protects them from the elders? “If we have more and more people coming back. For example, my students go out and come back, they shouldn’t have any problem to deal with me.”
Dong explained, “I think what Professor Ke is saying, that because of this globalization there is interchange of cultures. So many key research people have been trained abroad.” What do they come back to? “If it is one single person, you can’t change the situation, but if when they are coming back in a group they become a force.” Ke nodded, “Mm-hm.” Dong went on, “And they bring in the new ideas. And then they practice all the behaviors of the scientist, beginning a change.” Beginning to form a scientific cadre, I said – because the ethos must spread to students and technicians, too.
“Right, right,” she said. “So that needs generations. That needs generations. I don’t think one generation – “
“Maybe a few generations,” Dong Zhe said.