New visa limitations for Chinese students only aid Beijing’s technocratic ambitions

A researcher disinfects a one-day-old panda cub in an incubator at the China Wolong Giant Panda Protection and Research Centre on August 8, 2006 Photo: China Photos/Getty Images

“As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.”

When then-President Barack Obama uttered these words from the steps of the U.S. Capitol during his first inaugural address, I was watching as a college senior in China, anxiously waiting for admission letters to Ph.D. programs in the United States. I didn’t know the context of the George W. Bush-era policies he spoke of, but I committed the words to memory: America represented an ideal of freedom and opportunity that was worth the risks of the journey.

Today, in my ninth year working…


It’s no accident that the Chinese government is leading the world in medical advances — and in dangerous ethical lapses

A lab worker in China displays the newly developed Inactivated Vaccine for Streptococcal Disease (Type 2) in Swine at Guangdong Winsun Bio Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd on July 31, 2005 in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, China. Photo: China Photos/Getty Images

This April, potential sperm donors at one of Beijing’s top hospitals found themselves facing a set of tough new standards. Listed as the first criteria, before any mention of infectious or hereditary diseases, was the requirement that potential donors have “a love for socialism and the motherland” and be “supportive of the leadership of the party.”

By itself, this would be just one more incident of political excess in a country where full-blown Chinese Communist Party ideology is making a fierce comeback. But unlike the demands that students dump “Western” textbooks or that singers parrot their love for President Xi…


The “Nuclear Energy” sculpture by Henry Moore, marking the site of the first controlled nuclear chain reaction.

“If Enrico Fermi was not married to a Jewish woman, could he have conceivably worked on the nuclear program for Nazi Germany?”

It was 2017, the last day of November. I was back at my alma mater, the University of Chicago, where I received my PhD in physics in 2015. The first controlled, self-sustained nuclear chain reaction was achieved on this campus by a group of scientists led by Enrico Fermi 75 years ago on December 2, 1942. …


One bureaucratic process. Three times over twenty years. Two continents and two political systems. One quest for freedom.

My three Chinese passports. Issued in 1998, 2007, 2017.

It was raining cats and dogs that Friday morning when I arrived at the Chinese Consulate in New York City. “Look at that line!” My Uber driver said as I jumped off into the unforgiving downpour to claim my spot at the end of what seemed like an endless stretch of pressed raincoats and umbrellas.

I was there to renew my Chinese passport. Despite the chilling rain, there was a strange mix of warmth in the crowd. Maybe we were just standing…


Photo credit: Reuters

Otto Warmbier died on June 19, 2017. The University of Virginia junior went on a New Year’s trip to North Korea, where he was arrested for allegedly trying to steal a propaganda poster from a hotel, and was sentenced to fifteen years of hard labor. After seventeen months in the Hermit Kingdom under conditions that remain a mystery, the 22-year-old young man returned to the United States, in a state of coma that he never woke up from.

Earlier in the day before the tragic announcement from Otto’s family, The Atlantic published its July/August issue cover story, “How to Deal…


On April 22nd, I will be marching for science.

Photo c/o marchforscience.com

As a particle physicist, I wish I was able to say this earlier, or with much ease. Instead, since the idea of a march for science was first suggested in late January, the feedback has been mixed as it’s been wide, including much thoughtful criticism from the scientific community that weighed on my decision of whether or not I should participate in the march.

One side of the argument discourages the march by cautioning against potential politicizing of science. As the geologist Robert Young wrote in the New York Times, and…


“Why are there so few scientists in Congress?”

It was at a workshop dinner. Between bites of delicious Chinese food, I posed this question to a senior colleague of mine, seated next to me at the table.

He put down his chopsticks, stared at me for a second, and said, “Are you seriously asking me this question?”

“Yes?”

“I think it takes a very different kind of person to become a scientist, as opposed to those who become politicians.”

The workshop was held at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab), in Batavia, Illinois just outside of the city of Chicago. Its…


The American flag made of balloons, at the end of the Election Night Watch Party hosted by The University of Chicago Institute of Politics. The vibrancy and the fragility in the idea of America.

“How lucky are you Yangyang? You are going to America! In America, parents cannot beat their kids.”

It was late summer of 1998, in a medium-sized city in southeastern China where I was born and raised. One of my mother’s best friends dropped by for a visit. My mother was not at home. Her mother, my grandmother, was looking after me that day, and we all sat down on the living room couch and chatted my imminent prospects: I was going to America.

My father, a young professor in material science and engineering, had just started a position as a…


It was a brief chance encounter during alumni weekend. He’s an alum of this Ivy League school. I’m a current employee. We ran into each other on the street and exchanged phone numbers.

He texted me saying he’s in town this weekend and asked if we’d like to meet. We decided on 10pm at a cafe near campus.

Me: Hi! Sorry but I have to ask, what is your name again?

He told me his name, and led me to a corner table, “Mom is also here.”

Mom was voicing some concerns about her knee.

Mom: I went to this…


“The University of Chicago is the first place I’ve ever lived at that made me feel safe.”

I arrived at the Gothic campus seven years ago, as a fresh college graduate from China to pursue my PhD in physics. I graduated last December and now work as a postdoctoral researcher on an Ivy League campus. As conversation starters usually go, I get asked a lot “How do/did you like Chicago? How do/did you like the University?”

My answer always starts with the statement at the beginning.

Earlier this week, a letter to the incoming class of 2020 from the Dean…

Yangyang Cheng

Postdoc. Particle detector builder & dark matter hunter. Political junkie. Chicagoan at heart.

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