As of late I’ve graduated in semi-stealth with a PhD (or rather, “Doctor of Arts”) in communications (especially social media) from the Communication University of China. (It’s where, supposedly, people must have been taught how to communicate with one other — although I’ll lay off the “making-fun-of-my-alma-mater” for now…)
Seriously, I’ve kept the PhD thing very low key. That’s because there’s a lot of wild academics in China who are wild — because they’ve that PhD thingy themselves. There are cowards with the PhD who will attack up-and-coming authors, established Google executives, and holders of PhDs from diploma mills, but who will never think of muckraking the government — a perfect reason why they’re cowards, buck naked. There are Chinese on the mainland whom, forgetting that the folks “down south” in Hong Kong belong to the same old PRC, denigrate them as “dogs” and “canines” (well, actually, the two are much the same), earning them the ire the mainland madman insulter “deserves”. And then there are those in other lands, whom, they believe, are “armed” with an academic degree, thus “enabling” them to set themselves loose in criticizing society until they’re blue in the face. What I’m trying to get across here is that there are a lot of madmen out there with PhDs, so I wanted to isolate myself from them. I’m very different: I hate academia-ese, have been overseas (lots of local PhD candidates have been mainland-only), and actually have a better idea of how this world’s supposed to work.
For the last three years, I’ve been, instead, travelling by train as much as I can. I wanted to discover, outside classes, the real China. The poor bits. The rich bits. The bits and bobs that are ugly, cruel, crass, but also those that are cool, neat, advanced, “wow”-ish and most importantly, real. I know what these “leaders” so-called get when they visit a village: they get a mock show “insuring” them that all is well. All is not well! There must have been a farmer who lost a member of his or her family because they refused to move for a new übermodern mall to replace their former home in the hinterlands! And I’ve seen how big the government squares in this part of the world can get. The one in Jiaozhou, Shandong, was so big that I felt like I was living a freakin’ nightmare whilst even driving across the whole thing (on the way to the train station, of course).
After three years of the whole PhD show, I can say that not only have I come out with an original dissertation on how to tame social media better (whilst not losing out to either anarchy or authoritarianism), but that I’ve also seen the country — China — much better. I’ve finished a fair load of Habermas’s own works on the public sphere in both German and English, and I’ve come across a few pretty neat and insightful works from Douglas Kellner in the US. I’ve also been to the 2009 Chinese Blogger Conference, where things started on a whimper with a lost academic at the start, but “got noisier” in the end as major online figures came out with their own two pence on society today — even telling participants that “they needed to teach government a lesson”.
Of course. The Deng Xiaoping era was remarkable, and was remembered for one slogan: “To lead is to serve”. Jefferson and Co also were firm believers that if government stank, the people would come out with a remix in no time. So when that happens, nobody’s scared. There’s no insecurity. We’d be blunt and come out with the truth.
But the one big thing about China today is that there’s no real truth the higher you go. We have executives with fake PhD diplomas, bosses-to-be with missing this-and-thats when it comes to the question, “Do you have a Doctor’s degree?”, and academic cowards. Cowards who are full of insecurity, and who, whilst rooting for democracy and free speech, nix anyone online who tweets but the slightest bit of opposition or even asks them a question they don’t like. Cowards who have questionable academic track records; cowards who must obviously have numerous romantic affairs; and cowards who have amassed their own millions, billions even, through grey and shady practises. Chinese society is like a tofu mansion: we’re “waiting” for that Magnitude 9 earthquake when we’ll see a massive house cleaning. It’s time to send the corrupt (morally, economically, and whatever) into what’s known as /dev/null/ in UNIX-speak. It’s time to take a great, big, fat waste bag and clean house (like I said). It’s time to right the wrong (and to make sure no wrongs are righted). It’s time to give Western China 350 km/h HSR, not the crappy 250 km/h variant that’s out of date the moment the test machines roll onto ’em.
As David Feng (sans the “Dr” bit, please), I don’t feel the least insecure. I’ve done my bit, my PhD, the right way. I’ve been a little secretive about it, but that’s so as not to appear as an academic snob. In whatever I’m doing next, I’m sure about one thing: that I’ll use my all to make this planet a better place to live. Whether it means installing toilets closer to the coffee shops (as folks do have a tendency to over-indulge in all that liquid stuff!) or creating less corrupt people, whether it’s about preparing locals better for the wider world or giving students-to-be less crappier classrooms (with, of course, the ventilation working), or making students-to-be talkative by forcing them to the microphone, whatever I’m to do next, I’m gonna make sure that I’m not the winner at the end of the day, because that means nothing to me.
Instead, I’m going to make all of those that I teach, the winners at the end of the day. I’ll just be a guy telling them how to do this and that, or what not to say or touch, and stuff like that. I’m no edu god or any kind of god. I’m just human. I’ve an expiry date only heaven knows. The thing is to right as many wrongs and make the planet as cool and as friendly as possible before I hit that big, fat, ole expiry date.
And if there is indeed a Round Two in all of this, I’m pre-programming this to start in CONTINUE mode. Because the quest for a better world does not have an end, and there’s always a way to make something already cool, even cooler.