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Chinese scientists’ ‘returning home’ gets mixed reception

Since a state media broke the news that world-famous scientists Chen-Ning Yang and Chi-Chih Yao had given up their US nationalities to become Chinese citizens, the country’s social media is abuzz with discussion of the event.

A statement on February 21by the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), China’s top national scientific think tank, said that Chen-Ning Yang and Chi-Chih Yao gave up their foreign nationalities to become Chinese citizens in late 2016, and transitioned from being foreign members to the academy’s domestic members.

According to the statement, since the event is unprecedented, the CAS has specially rolled out a temporary rule to ‘legitimize’ all procedures. Almost all main state media platforms forwarded the news through their social media accounts, and within a few days, the seemingly insipid event in China’s science world caught the public attention and stirred discussion among Chinese netizens.

Initial comments were mostly satirical in nature. One of the most liked comments reads, “Ok, after all these years’ good life in the US, Yang is planning to return and spend his retirement here. He may be lucky to escape the ‘sky high’ inheritance tax in the US too.”Another netizen was even more critical, “Yang has done more good to the US than to China. He has been loyal to the US and served the US, and now he would live a privileged life in China.”

Immediately all taunts seem to target Chen-Ning Yang, a Nobel laureate who is known to be one of the greatest living scientists of the 20th century. Yang had previously aroused the ire of the public for marrying someone 54 years younger than him.

In order to quench the irrational criticism of the two scientists, some state media started to present the two scientists in a positive light. People’s Daily commented through its Weibo account that “there is no need to have the prejudice, (because) it’s never too late for the valuable treasures of our country to be back.”

However, the compliments by national media failed to prevent the wrathful netizens from voicing their indignation. Chen-Ning Yang’s marriage to a young woman and his decision to return when China has become wealthy seem to be main causes of resentment.

The small group that seems to sympathize with the two scientists comes from the science world.

“It is a good thing that the leading scholars have come back (to China). They would make contributions and set good examples,” a professor with the Tsinghua University told At present, Chen-Ning Yang and Chi-Chih Yao both teach classes and work as heads of separate schools of the top university in China.

A researcher with the CAS who refused to be named told there are other cases of scholars giving up their foreign nationality in order to be elected as members of the CAS. Although he believes few would give up the nationality to become members of China’s academy when they already are members of foreign academies.

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