• Sat
  • Dec 20, 2014
  • Updated: 9:42am
Mr. Shangkong
PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 February, 2014, 4:27am
UPDATED : Monday, 24 February, 2014, 8:26am

We need to hear more, not less, from our intellectuals

A balance is needed between real-life situations we deal with on a daily basis and the inspiring ideas within the domain of academic research


George Chen is the Financial Editor and Mr. Shangkong Columnist at the South China Morning Post. George has covered China's political and economic changes since 2002. George is the author of two books -- This is Hong Kong I Know (2014) and Foreign Banks in China (2011). George has been named a 2014 Yale World Fellow. More about George: www.mrshangkong.com

Many of my colleagues and friends know I have two real-life identities - by day I am an editor and journalist with the South China Morning Post, and at weekends I am a student at the University of Hong Kong who hopes to survive a four-year doctoral programme and someday be called Dr. Chen.

How do I feel about the dual identity? It's difficult. Not just because I need to do an excellent job of time management but also because my mind is often divided between two very different worlds - on the one hand, the real-life situations in society that we have to deal with on a daily basis and, on the other hand, inspiring and challenging ideas that must remain within the domain of academic research.

So when I read Nicholas Kristof's recent column in The New York Times - "Professors, We Need You!" - in which he urged university professors and academic researchers to be more actively involved in politics and economic policy, I couldn't have agreed more.

Intellectual has become a label that many knowledgeable people ... try to avoid

In his column, Kristof said one of the reasons academics shun public affairs was the pervasive anti-intellectualism in America. Does this sound familiar?

In today's China, gong zhi, or "public intellectual", has also become a label that many knowledgeable people, including professors, try to avoid being applied to them.

Whenever someone with a fair amount of work or research experience comes out to comment on something related to his or her profession and expertise, especially when it is related to a current event or a societal topic of public interest, the responses often end up being very rude or disrespectful.

I am not sure if this is related to Chinese history and culture, which has reversed from according intellectuals a high degree of respect to treating them with contempt.

Those - many are only in their 20s - who condemn whatever "public intellectuals" say often call them "hypocrites" and describe their comments and behaviour as a "pretence".

They say the intellectuals are not part of us; they are people who closet themselves in offices or classrooms, so how can they know anything about our pain or happiness?

I once asked a friend who, while studying for his doctoral degree at a US university, was active online in sharing his views on current events with the general public: "How do you deal with those rude responses?"

He said he had come to feel there was too much basic knowledge his interlocutors were lacking that would have been required as the foundation for a debate with them. Since he did not have time to educate them in these basics, he gave up and closed his Weibo account.

My friend's case reflects how difficult it can be for intellectuals to engage with the public, especially the younger generation, in a sensible and meaningful way.

The ultimate purpose of all types of study, I believe, is to make our life and society better. If we confine ourselves to our studies only on an academic level, the public will naturally feel we are "different", or "indifferent".

But if academics are to hear and say more, the public needs to show patience and respect.


George Chen is the Post's financial services editor. Mr. Shangkong appears every Monday in print and online. Follow @george_chen on Twitter or visit facebook.com/mrshangkong


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This article is now closed to comments

I am perhaps being bias against the local academics since I didn’t attend university in Hong Kong. But judging from what I read penned by the local academics whose articles in the SCMP give me great doubt of their value to society. I wonder either they aren’t up to par as a scholar or they are in someone’s (mostly property developers) pocket like the politicians as depicted today in today’s My Take. Even if they are capable and independent, the local academics seem can’t escape from the bondage of local culture which is heavily enmeshed in property and school education. These two subjects are taboos for public comment without inviting either heated rebuttals or total ignore. It is only an easy academic life if staying within the ivory tower.
Nicholas Kristof' of NYTimes who is quite familiar with Asia may concur with my view.
I would have had more respect for you if you were an literati. Anyone can get a doctor's degree nowadays. If you're gonna aim for something worthwhile, aim for the higher planes.
What if some bookish adult tries to start learning a sport part time
something high, jump or dive?
I’d say, stay on the ground, down-to-earth
That‘s the purpose of the Dr Ma anecdote
doctorate and “intellectuality” are not necessarily connected
Mr Shangkong may not know what’s meant by “intellectual”
whether or not a part time PhD program may make him more "intellectual"
That’s why he counseled:
We need to hear MORE from our intellectuals”?
I won’t flatter him mentioning greenspan again for illustration
We need to hear LESS from pragmatists ?
What are the criteria to measure the more or less of such a need?
To psi....
I just about to ask anyone to define what is an inettectual. It is a foreign concept imported in Chinese culture during the 40s of last century by those who returned to China after studying in the west where such concept they had exposed too.
I would like you and anybody to assist me and define what an intellectual is -- past and present if there is a difference.
Not the least, i question about the appropriatness of cap throwing graduates as an illustration which means anything for this article. So disjunct for me as the cap and gown with grinning face that a celebration must to have. A degree to be an intellectual?
I'm with you about the funny cap
've never worn one
that to me rather resembles the yellow scalp
donned by rulers on qb in England
Is an intellectual a prisoner of ideas
capitalist ideas that are not too effectively profitable
and intelligentsia, socialist ideas applied for self gratification?
I don't know
In 1997 I wrote a paper ‘The Cause, Effect and Consequences of The Housing Models in Hong Kong’ a critique on the housing design model (the double-cross plan) which facilitates dense placement of towers in planning. The paper was instigated by a visit to Shanghai which unfortunately I saw two Hong Kong replicas planted next along a highway. I distributed the paper to officials in Beijing and Shanghai urging that such Hong Kong’s double-cross plan shouldn’t be adopted. I even sent a copy to Patrick Lau, the then Dean for the School of Architecture of Hong Kong University. I was happy to say mainland with its stringent requirement for sunlight in housing hasn’t seen Hong Kong’s double-cross plan viable to use.
Later in year 2000, the double-cross plan of which the Amoy Garden Estate was based on it was hit by SARS which quickly spread quickly within the tower and to neighboring ones as well. But I didn’t know the consequence of such land saving plan actually could spread disease at the gap where outdoor plumbing piping are located by the chimney effect hoisting SARS enbeded vapor into any kitchen and bathroom with open window.
To me, Hong Kong listens to one voice – voice of commerce.
Hong Kong lacks intellectualism among most of the people who are movers and shakers. They are predominately in commerce of which the government officials collude with in the past. It is this bunch who indulges in streetwise practices that perpetuates Hong Kong to be a cultureless desert. When they speak to us through the media you feel blushed for them of their shallow content. The frequent propaganda-like argument only sees single issue for self-serving as exemplify by writings from local chambers of commerce in SCMP.
Yes, we need to hear more that has intellectual content from anyone for us in Hong Kong. The jarring cultural void makes Hong Kong a backwater city.
wow - unbelievable, all my three comments are deleted this afternoon. talking about freedom of speech Mr. Shang kong
I happened to be reminded of reasons
for some people’s desire for the doctorate credential
when yesterday evening too exhausted to do anything
I turned on the tv and HOME which was playing a documentary
on successful Chiuchow businessmen happened to feature
Dr Ma am
a legendary character
popularly recognized in Kowloon
as minibus KING who used to run red mini like green
with him effectively franchising routes
Successful Dr Ma is respected for his lack of "intellectual" pretension
Mr Shangkong is too superficial
if he reads intellectual significance into the Dr title
he should find the program
and watch it as part of his PhD education
and ask his friends if they believe 4 years part time
may make him any more “intellectual”
“We need to hear more, not less, from our intellectuals”?
How about Randian Dr A Greenspan the maestro and intellectual?
Maybe because on the mainland too many "intellectuals" get outed for regularly committing plagiarism, are too busy trying to nurture their side business ventures and come from a system that is not rigorous enough and hands out PhD's like toilet paper?




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