[Inquisitive Minds] What lures the Prominent Chinese American Professors Into the “Thousand Talents Program” Trap?

Author: MOS Medical Group – Wenfei

Simply type the word “Thousand Talents” and click ENTER on the web justice.gov. Don’t get freak out; 938 cases! Among those, many are Chinese-American prominent professors and leading experts, who devoted all their youth and endowments, eventually achieved the glorious triumph. Their achievements deserve worldwide respect, and of course, merits the pride of all Chinese. However, what leads these elite experts to stain their splendid feathers with permanent muddy staining by pleading guilty to the federal offense?

Back in the 1950s, many aspiring Chinese-American scientists rushed back to China, embracing the dream of “New communist China reconstruction.” Unfortunately, opposite to their Jewish colleagues who achieved success back in Israel, the Chinese scientist dream became a nightmare. Chairman Mao and his party welcomed them with the Culture Revolution and ironically earned the victory of “The People’s Democratic Dictatorship.”

One would imagine that the Chinese scientist should have learned the lesson. Well, apparently, not yet the case. The new generation who managed to stay in the US and succeed in their career got into a new snare of the “Thousand Talents Program.”

The picture originates from the Internet.

What is the “Thousand Talents Program?” According to the definition from the United States Department of Justice, China’s Thousand Talents Plan is “one of the most prominent Chinese talent recruitment plans designed to attract, recruit, and cultivate high-level scientific talent in furtherance of China’s scientific development, economic prosperity, and national security.” It doesn’t look that bad, isn’t it? Every country has open directorship positions attracting well-known scientists. What are the differences between the Chinese “Thousand Talents Program” and the advertisements from “Nature Careers” and other head-hunting companies? The secret under the table is a “part-time job with a good amount of RMB payment.” Doesn’t get it? Let me explain.

Let us start with the easy part: “RMB payment.” Imagine an American professor whose family connections are all within the US. Chinese university pays him 300k RMB for three-month work in China. He can spend RMB only in China. He needs to exchange the RMB into USD when he comes back to the US. In this case, he has to file the income from China for the upcoming year’s tax return.

On the other hand, if this professor is a Chinese-born American with parents and many friends in China. He can transfer the payment to his parents or invite his friends to luxury dinners. After returning to the US, he doesn’t need to file any tax return to the US government. 

Many Universities in the US cover only a 9-month salary if the professor involves teaching. Professors have to cover the rest of their wages with grants. In most private universities, if a professor is not with an endowment chair, he has to apply for grants and teach as much as possible to cover his salaries. Those prestigious universities like Yale or Harvard are immensely proud of their eliminate the system. No matter how famous he/she was, a tenure-track professor has to leave without a grant (tenured professor has to cut his salary minimal). No professor would like to risk losing his salary, especially professors with kids attending college. The average income of American professors is $200-250k per year. It is pretty tight to pay their kids’ private school or afford a luxury house in the top school district as a middle-class. Also, Chinese parents prefer not to let their kids carry students’ loans. Once their kids left home for college, the “Thousand Talents” becomes a fantastic deal that almost no Chinese professors would say NO.

Second, which is the more tricky part: “part-time job.” Although some American universities may cover only a 9-month salary, the professors are supposed to endower yearly (12-month) full-time effort to the lab inside the university, which is undoubtedly affirmed in their employment and grant contract. Unfortunately, many Chinese American professors are not fully aware of the importance of the agreement. They fly to China as an academic conference trip without report to their employers (universities and national funding institutes). With their 3-month part-time job in China, they can supervise many talented and diligent Chinses students with enormous research funds, of course, which leads to top-ranked publications and competitive American government reserves.

In some cases, the strict American research regulation added an extra force to push Chinese scientists into the “Thousand Talents” trap. In the western world, the public holds great concern with animal well fair and bio-safety. The institute hires independent experts to monitor the primate, clinic, and virology researches closely. Many researchers are eager to push their studies faster; hence, opening a lab in China for these forbidden areas is a good choice. In China, researchers can get easy access to pregnant mothers, juveniles, wild catch monkeys, not to mention conducting the viral “gain of function” studies.

Last but not least, the “career glass ceiling” cornered many academically successful Chinese American professors accept the “Thousand Talents” deal. Never got systematic training of western ideology and mostly still poisoned with communist dictatorship, those arrogant and successful professors are frustrated with their career developments. They can struggle into a tenured professor; however, they rarely made their way into an essential directorship in their institute. They blame the institute for biasedly promote their colleagues with leadership positions who may be academically weaker. They never introspect what leads them to lose in the job competition. They never get the training for nor understand leadership, which requires communication, patients, negotiation, responsibility. 

With incredible gratefulness, many of us woke up with Master Miles Guo’s yelling truth. We are eager to wash off our fusty opinions from CCP and willing to be proud Chinese.

Proofreader: Eglise Bell | Posted by Irene

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