The last time I had an equally active autumn was in 2003. I hosted two English language contests, co-hosted the Christmas & New Year Gala for international students, sat on the panel as a judge in another language contest, and hosted an end-of-year China-US culture exchange meeting. Those were five events with me actively involved in them.
This year, I was actively involved in another five, being additionally involved in one other event — the 21 October 2015 event at Fyvie Street, Regent Street Campus (University of Westminster) — as part of the organising team. But in all the other five events, I had an active role to play and addressed the crowd, something I realised now that not only do I absolutely adore doing, but I’m increasingly sold I was totally born to do.
Of the Fabulous Five that had me deeply involved, here’s a summary of them all. ▶
I did something I haven’t been doing for a fair while today at 14:30: speaking in front of an audience of 100+ people. (Stage fright is a one-off thing, though; never mind my last speaking gig in front of close to 100+ was in spring 2014…)
My 30-minute “blah” was about a myriad of things — all related to media, journalism, and the like. Things such as framing the news, covert (and not so covert) agendas, and pigeon-holing people. Things such as really trying to make sense of anything from the refugee crisis in Europe to Corbyn leading Labour (what the media thought, and what the academics thought). Things such as how social media was such a big game-changer, and how the Chinese Great Firewall couldn’t 100% define what happened inside the People’s Republic. ▶
Academia is something truly interesting. (“Interesting” as they define it here in Britain, rather.) You don’t have any fixed hours, and nobody really goes after you unless you’ve lessons or meetings. In terms of “work / life balance”, there’s not too much stress once you’re really done with your PhD (which is true, academic hell; I’ve been through this — and I know people who went bald because of this). Yet even with your title now “Doctor” instead, you’ve new problems. The worst I find about academia come in the form of stuffiness, exclusivity, and general pessimism.
What I find hardest to accept about academia is this tendency to constantly criticise, to stay negative (at times paying no attention to real-life situations), and this tendency for polemic and for using complex language. Academics appear the most “learned” of the whole system, yet there is incredibly little they’re doing in the face of real-life situations. I wouldn’t have issues if, following scathing attacks, solutions to solve the situation were presented. I think much of us would also prefer more readable texts from academics. It’s not that they “intentionally use dumb-it-down language”, but rather, they use more approachable language, so it makes sense to more of us. ▶
I recently took part in the Bridging Minds Symposium as organised by the China Development Society of LSE (Student Union). My interview, which formed part of the “e-symposium” (this time, the event was more a series of online interviews and features), was about the recent Under the Dome documentary by former Chinese Central Television host Chai Jing.
In my interview, I noted that Chai used the kind of down-to-earth language not used by government (it more sense to the average commoner). But I also noted that the timing of the film meant that nobody (especially long-time observers of China) would be surprised if it ended up silenced — as it was trying to grab the microphone at a time when the meetings of China’s political advisory body and national parliament, were looming. ▶
I attended and presented a talk on Invisible Censorship in China at the London School of Economics and Political Science in the afternoon hours of 04 February 2015. I also was part of the panel which took questions about the debate.
My presentation wasn’t an easy one to give — it wasn’t as if I was ever a “problem” in China, but far more because in Chinese cyberspace, there are an alarming number of blocked “false positives”. As someone who had to scale the wall, I had to speak from experience without the emotions — and that I did, by presenting as objective a view of the matter as possible. The blocks in China, I argued, are certainly an irritant, but they form part of the Internet in China. I argued that the late 2014 term “internet sovereignty” was in fact a non-topic as it had existed de facto for much earlier.
I outlined three challenges and “ways out” for China in this day and age when most of the Anglophone media tend to equate it with outright censorship: government can either choose to tackle, tame, or harness what’s on the Web, where I was in favour of the final option — listening in and harnessing the views of the population.
The event was hosted by the China Development Society of LSE, an influential body in the university, and featured Professor Charlie Beckett, director of Polis, as chair, and Professor Hugo de Burgh, director of the China Media Centre at the University of Westminster, as the other speaker. Around 80 turned up and it was a memorable afternoon of debate and learning. ▶
I know you. I was you. Please don’t think of this course as “yet another boring course by a mad professor”; it is much more about helping you.
These words struck a chord with an audience of over 50 in a lecture hall with people from around a dozen different nationalities. Academics from Europe. Students from Asia. It was like going back to school in Switzerland, where from Day One I was surrounded by fellow pupils from nearly all continents.
Except for this time, the teacher was me. I had just become a Visiting Lecturer on top of a mere “Visiting Academic” or “Visiting Scholar”. My involvement was upgraded so that I’d not only contribute to the Study Skills module, but I’d lead it and lecture for up to two hours every Monday starting from later in the month. (However, I remain committed to dedicating 50% – 67% of the lesson to students for scholarly debate.) ▶
My wife Tracy and I join everyone in announcing that we will be based in the UK with effect from early August 2014. We have just received all documents needed to enter the UK and we will be in London, which in essence is the world inside the M25.
Beginning this autumn, I’ll be with the University of Westminster’s China Media Centre, and my position will be involved in research as a visiting fellow about media in China. This opportunity is unique and is one I greatly treasure. A mix of European and Asian upbringing from Grade 1 through to “Grade 22” (final year of my PhD studies) has made me a true World Citizen, with mileage over a million kilometres across 200+ cities in 20+ countries and territories. I will provide a unique view into China and its media world, especially when it comes to social media. Tracy will be with me in London whilst I’m there for at least a year doing research. ▶
Academia is a weird industry to be in. On the one hand, in particular here in China, you’re admired as a university professor. (My end I more than know that from the undocumented perks and extra clout that got me!) On the other hand, we’re in the same industry as the feared Mad Scientists and all-academese scholars. They can take you forever to explain what in the end would merely turn out to be a mighty simple concept.
Being part of Chinese academia as a non-Chinese citizen is odder still. The Chinese government is never hesitant to declare you a “Foreign Expert”, yet that licence alone won’t get you free upgrades to Business Class. You get to live in an apartment where all city calls are on them; yet it comes and goes with the job. You are given cool invitations to all kinds of fancy functions, yet they try to keep the microphone away from you, fearing you might “meddle with the internal matters of China” (unless you’re very active or have solid local connections). Your “expert ID” begets you status, yet to advance your career, you must head overseas. (Strange: Isn’t China supposed to be the place where everyone should be right now?)
Locals live in a scarier-still environment. It is said lecturers hardly lecture as the publish-or-perish bug has jaws of reinforced steel in China. Lecturers escape lessons and desert their fellow students just because of the random academic summit happening probably next door. There are horror stories of ghostwritten papers, sub-par PowerPoints, and the all-too-usual suspect: the Feared Teacher Posture. This is the absolute worst thing to do to students, yet it is precisely this position that has upgraded the academic statuses of many a lecturer. ▶
Yesterday saw me bring the world of China media knowledge to lesser-known parts of the country — outside the Tier 1 cities such as Beijing and ilk. And that, to me, was actually something I did with a lot of pride.
When I graduated, having gotten my PhD in summer 2012, my first priority was not to work up the ladder to an eventual professorship as quickly as possible, but to give back to the other 99%. In the same vein, although people would vie for a teaching position in big cities a la Beijing or Shanghai, the rest of the country is left virtually untouched. To me, teaching at Hebei University, in a part of China just 100 miles away from central Beijing, is probably the best thing I can do now in order to spread the knowledge like peanut butter. As a matter of fact, I actually love doing this, because I can clock up my rail miles in the process (even if they don’t have a rewards programme).
I started teaching a class of seven students from all over the world today — they included students from South Asia, Eastern Europe, Africa, and Latin America, amongst other places. I made sure the class was as lively as possible and shied away from a fixed system of handouts and “100% PowerPoint presentations”. ▶