One Leaf of Time 一叶时间 #1

After a ton of abandoned projects, I am almost afraid of jinxing this by talking about big plans upfront. So, here is a simple introduction: a week’s time, writing in a page or so.

Let’s start in China – there are a few seemingly unrelated controversies going on this week. This week was the anniversary of Tsinghua University – widely regarded as one of the two best universities in China – and a dance in the parade was widely criticized because “it has no artistic beauty, no youthful sexiness, no power of movement.”

It’s not like I can understand if the dance were any good. However, the idea that the dancing performance of Tsinghua students is a little flawed seems just fine to me. After all, they are probably just amateurs, or at best, professionals-in-training. This reminds me of a lot of “A Tsinghua student cannot find a job” style headlines produce by media – which I think fundamentally reflect some of our collective misconception about higher education – the institutions are often seen as a moving assembly line of “plug-in-and-use” geniuses that can woo the hoi polloi instantaneously, not a place for the youth (or elderly) to explore and develop themselves. I am sure Tsinghua can find professional-grade dancers among its students — they are that good — but ultimately, I would be much happier to see my classmates with some awkward moves to represent the university if I were a student.

In addition, the slut-shaming portion of this controversy is just plainly obvious – people try to paint the girls as “performing for the senior boys” in the tweet quoted earlier. There are also tweets comparing dances from Tsinghua and Waseda University — the subtext being Japenese students are more noble and elegant, where Tsinghua students have no tastes. I can’t help but feel that these comments are just male gazing – fantasizing a group of old-fashioned role-model housewives in training, to justify pointing fingers at Tsinghua students – “see, bad students”. Well, like it’s anybody’s business.

In other news, Chloe Zhao wins the Oscar, and Chinese media censors related posts. The censorship apparently boosted a few creative usages of the Chinese language. In fact, the whole Oscar got censored in China, partially because of a Hong Kong-made documentary nomination (Do Not Split), partially because Chloe Zhao has mentioned some unfavorable commentary about China in old interviews. Amusingly, there has been a huge discussion among Chinese Twitter users about whether Chloe Zhao’s allegedly lack of make-up in the ceremony “disrespects the award and audience.” There can be lots of things to unpack here – lack of tolerance and effect of consumerism being two of them. What I want to highlight here is how professionalism is often used as a tool to suppress personal choices, especially the choices of women and other minorities – “you’re on the job, why don’t you dress appropriately?” can be a very easy excuse to avoid being tolerant. Of course, a lot of these criticisms fall into common mansplaining patterns, or in Chinese explanations, 爹味 (self-appointed daddys).

Continuing this topic, New York Times published an article, detailing how “inciting mass confrontation” is used as an excuse to censor Chinese feminists. If you’re not familiar, that refers to how calls for movements like #metoo or women’s rights are inflammatory and should not be promoted. You also see some municipal courts claiming domestic violence victims should “handle emotion disputes properly” and “protect harmony and completeness”. What I often feel somewhat annoyed and powerless, though, is Chinese Internet trolls strawman arguments to paint a polarized picture of feminist arguments. “How dare you say Chole Zhao’s lack of mark up represents her power – femifights (女拳) will attack you because making up is women’s right”. Fundamentally, I think this reflects a conflict between the gender-specific and gender-blind languages in the feminist movement, but that’s for the next time.

Of course, the most important story of the world rolls forward without much mercy: COVID ravages through India, US reinstates J&J vaccine, and its domestic pandemic simmered down somehow. Almost expected at this point, there is not a lot of international or domestic resolution to actually combat this together. GOP introduced a bill to prioritize vaccines for US citizens, and we saw some British dramas. It’s sad that the nativism pitch is still on a high note globally.

In the Twitter world, the pause of the J&J vaccine in the United States has been controversial and criticized. Nate Silver, the famous data journalist, is among the most vocal opposition. Naturally, that caused a lot of people shouting, “why cannot a pollster stay in his lane.” It’s indeed a very interesting question to me – who is qualified to participate in such a public discussion, and who is not? While I see the point of respecting science and expertise instead of letting armchair epidemiologists and conspiracy theorists dominate the conversion, I can also see the this becomes a way to guard power – you don’t have a related degree or are not established, so you shouldn’t have a say. Is there a way to reconcile this? I don’t know.

There is also some drama in the Linux communities this week – from my point of view, the story is, some researcher from the University of Minnesota tried to submit a bogus patch (they pointed it out before actual merging) and their newest patch is not very high quality, so this agitated Kroah-Hartman and the university is banned, all previous patches by the entire university scheduled to be reverted, even the good ones, and “the Linux Foundation and the Linux Foundation’s Technical Advisory Board submitted a letter on Friday to your University outlining the specific actions which need to happen in order for your group, and your University, to be able to work to regain the trust of the Linux kernel community.” We can leave the detailed discussions for another day – but I am not sure throwing tantrums to the researchers of the same universities and reverting good patches solve the problem, especially when the open-source projects are supposed to be robust in the reviewing process and Linux is not that famous for being the most friendly upstream.

See you next week.

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