A good place for my book

November 7, 2011 • 5:57 am

This photo was taken by my friend Florian Maderspacher, Senior Reviews Editor of Current Biology, on a visit to China.  Florian notes:  “Chinese edition of WEIT filed between fossils of feathered dinosaurs, seen in the office of Zhou Zhonghe during a recent visit to IVPP [Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology] in Beijing.”

Florian explains:

[Zhou is] the current director of the institute of vertebrate paelaeontology and palaeoanthropology in Beijing where he and his colleagues described several of the unique ancient birds and feathered dinosaurs unique to China. He’s also a very fun guy to talk to.

I visited the institute recently. It’s a phenomenal place, most likely the most impressive place in all of China in terms of scientific output, yet with a very modest feel (and looks) to it, far from the flashiness of the biomedical places. They also have a small associated museum where originals of some of the most amazing fossils (four winged dinosaurs etc) are sitting in poorly lit cabinets.

Here’s a picture of Florian taken when he visited the Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences on October 10 of this year, giving a presentation on “how to get a paper published.”  Florian’s a big dude, towering over his hosts:

15 thoughts on “A good place for my book

  1. I remember seeing a Chinese spokesperson for their government being interviewed where they were asked if Chinese people dispute evolution, he replied that they generally accept it because they have no religion telling them it is untrue.

    Sums it up perfectly. I wish I could remember where I saw it.

  2. The Chinese title says “Why believe in Darwin”, with the transliteration of Darwin being the three large characters. Can any native speakers explain why they might have translated it this way?

    1. Hi Ralph, though not a native speaker, I asked my host the same question and he responded along the lines of the name ‘Darwin’ exerting a strong pull in China, as evolution is a widely acknowledged and positively viewed concept in China. I think the regime also likes to stress parallels between evolution as a natural process and the historical evolution in the Marxist sense (however contrived that link may be…)

      1. Thanks. I wonder then if the word for biological evolution (jin hua) is also used in a political/historical context? That might explain why a Chinese publisher would prefer to use Darwin’s name to identify it as a biology book, rather than a political treatise (fascinating as the latter might be…).

      2. I think the regime also likes to stress parallels between evolution as a natural process and the historical evolution in the Marxist sense

        Which wouldn’t be hurt at all, in the eyes of a propaganda-writer, by the close temporal and physical association between Darwin and Marx at the times of completion of Das Kapital and OTOoS (though was Engels still in Manchester during this period?).
        As both an evolutionist (geologist by profession) and a left-winger, by British and European standards (therefore a “screaming communist-pinko and probably a faggot too”, by American standards. I’ve had Septics screaming the insults at my face ; not some of America’s more delightful exports, gladly returned to sender.), I’ve always seen a clear parallel in thinking between Darwin and Marx/Engels. Though I must also admit to having read far more Darwin than I have Marx/Engels (because I have a fairly low opinion of people’s ability to think beyond short-term gain).

        1. “I have a fairly low opinion of people’s ability to think beyond short-term gain” – spot on – sadly.

  3. The problem with China lies in the fact that everybody knows that the received ideological narrative to which the Communist Party refers to retain its monopoly of power is just bogus. Mao, thanks to his Great Leap and the equally “Great” Proletarian Cultural Revolution, made it impossible to believe in the claimed mission of the Communist Party. The number of casualties and the magnitude of the social, economic and cultural catastrophes were too great to be explained away.

    The real mission of the CP – since 1979 – has been quick “modernization”, increasing the power and prestige of Chinese state and rapid rise of economic prosperity. If one sets aside the resulting huge social inequalities between the “new rich” and the poor peasants and workers, severe environmental problems etc., one needs to say that they have been very successful. Incredibly successful, in fact.

    Alas, “get rich” and “get ahead your neighbors” are poor substitutes for genuine social ethics. Hence the spread of Christianity, various cults and sects etc. Yet China has been, as far as its mainstream thinking goes, largely secular. To the extent of providing a shocking example to seventeenth century European Christians and a delicious object of comparison for defenders of Enlightenment.

    If only the Chinese leaders would recognize that they need to reform the country now – towards greater freedom and social justice – instead of trying to reform when it will be too late, to ease the rumble of discontent that is constantly and gradually rising. China could become a huge force for secular rationality and reasonableness. Now it is that only potentially.

    1. Wow, you really know a lot about China. I bet even if the Communist Party does not reform, it still stands a good chance to overtake the US if Michele Bachmann becomes the president here.

      As a Chinese, I am baffled as well by the indirect translation, “why believe in Darwin.” I am not sure, though, if it’s just a publisher choice or it actually has something to do with the country’s awful political system.

      1. Yi, thanks for your kind and generous words.

        I do have some first-hand knowledge of China as I have been in contact with Chinese educators (educational reformers in particular) over the years.

        There is no doubt in my mind that China will overtake the US as the largest economy within this decade. Nor is there any doubt on (the reformed) Chinese educational system producing millions of well-trained scientists, scholars, engineers etc. of which some will reach the most Olympian heights of academic achievement.

        Alas, this will not solve the problems I referred to, but aggravate them. The very idea of handing out to the majority of Chinese the
        most modern technology of communication and increasingly modern education and then superimposing on that a thoroughly authoritarian system of social censorship and control is something so surreal that even Gogol, Kafka and Orwell would have hard time in imagining it.

        As long as the Chinese middle classes can count on their increasing prosperity and increasing opportunities for individual life-choices, this system will be accepted by those whose consent means most in China. But the problem lies in the fact that by carrying repressive policies the Communist Party is thereby accepting that it just cannot permit an open test of its legitimacy, no matter how high the de facto acceptance of its rule actually is. Indeed,in some ways it is now less tolerant than in 80s.

        Unfortunately for them and for the whole world, sunny economic season cannot be sustained forever, given the present conditions of global economy. When a serious economic disruption hits China, all bets will be off as the Communist Party has systematically suppressed the emergence of any genuine civic society capable carrying the message of 21st century Enlightenment.

        The event of 1989 were of relatively peripheral importance for the global scene. But now the small and frail dragon has grown into huge beast: when it begins to suffer violent convulsions, everybody will feel the heat and share the traumas. I am seriously worried about the future of China, precisely because of its incredible potential and its ever-increasing global importance.

        1. Dear Juha, I am really appreciative of your concerns about my country, which extremely resonate with me. In fact, because of the grave problems in China’s rapid transformation, something I’ve got a better grip after coming to the states (three years now), I have decided to plunge myself into studying it. I am now applying for PhD programs in this regard.

          I used to be a student in environmental studies, a decision also triggered by my concern of China’s environment, but little did I know this country is plagued with far more issues than just environmental degradation. My country keeps giving me surprises!

          I think you have a really good understanding of China. I wonder if you know any scholars or programs that you may want to share with me: I am still looking for schools to apply for and have only got a few. Let me just comment on a couple of points where I hold a slightly different view from yours.

          Regarding China’s economy; I was actually making a joke by saying “overtake” and citing “Michele Bechmann.” (One thing I learned about US this year is that it can actually produce governors worse than many of Chinese officials.) Apparently the joke failed. I guess I am more pessimistic than you are on the future of China’s economy. I don’t think it can overtake US, in terms of GPD, in any foreseen future. Even it does, it is still not a good comparison given the two countries’ different populations. Anyhow, the point is that the problems in China’s economy are usually papered over by the government by “guiding” the media or are masked by its acclaimed GDP growth (which unfortunately has a lot of water in it). But when they explode, they are going to be destructive.

          China’s educational system is as deeply problematic (I went all the way to college in China; and the higher levels I got, the more disgusted I felt.) Granted, this system cultivates students with a strong scientific and engineering background. But in its brutal ways of feeding students with endless dull lectures and pointless exams, what it really does it whittle away creativity, criticality, and vitality with which students should have grown. Not to mention the foisting of political ideologies like Maoism and Marxism upon students. (After putting down these two sentences, I found that these two are somehow related to each other).

          It’s saddening that Nobel Price hasn’t landed in the Mainland China (except the Nobel Piece) considering its population size. (The Jewish are really making us Chinese ashamed!) But this fact is hardly surprising and, I suspect, will remain unchanged for a while. It appears that some schools are realizing how horrible our education is and are taking some actions now. But without removing the government claws, I could hardly see a fundamental change.


  4. Apparently evolution was a popular concept in China long before the communists took over. In a World Lit class I took a few years ago, it was remarked upon in a footnote for an early 20th Century story.

  5. The Chinese already have Confucianism, a philosophy of life without much reference to gods. I don’t know how the communists feel about Confucius, but since he was all about duty and obligation I would have thought he was not likely to be unacceptable to them.

  6. Lysenko’s bad ideas helped cause a terrible famine in China, didn’t they? I wonder whether there was a major confusion about what ‘evolution’ means, so that it’s necessary to say ‘Darwin’ when speaking of the TOE.

    (Just a guess on my part — the only Chinese culture I know is martial arts.)

  7. “Why Believe in Darwin” is not necessarily an equivalent phrase to “Why Evolution is True”. Publishers often choose a completely different title for the same book in different markets, sometimes to the dismay of the author (the British and US markets being the most commonly noticed ones in this connection).

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