Confessions of a researchaholic

April 12, 2020

Scaffolding knowledge

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 11:10 am
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Every information is a piece of an entire knowledge, so instead of treating what we learn as separate fragments, it is more effective to memorize and understand them as a whole.
This is possible because knowledge often repeats in different forms, such as through history or books.

In effect, Funes not only remembered every leaf on every tree of every wood, but even every one of the times he had perceived or imagined it.
To think is to forget a difference, to generalize, to abstract. In the overly replete world of Funes there were nothing but details, almost contiguous details.
– Funes the Memorious

June 27, 2014

Image from a 1930 Japanese magazine

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 11:41 am
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It is interesting to note that the Japanese (and the Korean) used more Chinese characters in the past than now, as they have been trying to rid of the Chinese influence. If you are a Chinese you could probably read this image fine, even if not modern Japanese or Korean writings.

August 7, 2013

Father’s day haiku

Filed under: Imaginary,Real — liyiwei @ 7:10 pm
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A Y-chromosome
passed from dad to son
unchanged across millenniums.

April 2, 2013


Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 11:25 pm
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According to my family history I am of northern Chinese descent. DNA analysis indicated that it might have to go a bit further north, across the Great Wall. Specifically, since my paternal haplogroup is C3*, it is closer to the Mongols than the Manchus (whose emperors carried C3c, a related but different thread). There is also a non-trivial chance that my Y-chromosome came from Genghis Khan, who has left a wide genetic footprint across the former Mongol empire.

To clarify, the paternal haplogroup only traces the Y-chromosome, not the entire ethnic composition. I am pretty sure it is not uncommon for northern Chinese to have some Mongolic blend.
Furthermore, my maternal haplogroup is D4e3 (likely coastal Chinese). So I am probably some combination of Mongolian and Han Chinese.

My grandfather once told me that our last name came from one of the seven warring states. Clearly, he thought we were (pure) Han Chinese. I am having fun imaging his reaction upon hearing his true ancestry.

I plan to use this to explain away my past and future behaviors.

February 9, 2013

Wedding photo of my grandparents

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 1:25 pm
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My father dug out this old photo of my (paternal) grandparents’ wedding, which took place near the end of WW2 in Jiangxi province, China.

I am not sure why, but such old photos tend convey a unique sense of beauty.

This particular one also carries some historical background.
My grandfather was a KMT air force officer, *lucky* enough to have spent the best part of his life in the most *interesting* segment of the Chinese history.
He has fought the warlords and the Asian theatre of WW2, which was almost done during his wedding. He probably thought the peace was finally coming without realizing that the commies were around the corner and a full scale civil war would break out just a year later. (As a further twist, Jiangxi province, where he stationed and married, was the origin of Chinese commies.)

It is just so romantic to get married in the middle of all these shit-storms. I can imagine the photo declaring to the whole world that “we know there is a lot of crap going on right now. But screw you all. We are getting married today. This is our world and nothing is going to stop us”.

Date: April 4, 1945
Place: Jiangxi Province, (likely) Jiujiang City (九江), China

June 23, 2012

Alan Turing centennial

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 10:11 am
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He would be glad to know that his intellectual offsprings have become so powerful that a smart brain operating from a single room can have the potential to conquer the entire world.

November 25, 2011

Voluntary genocide

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 11:54 am

During thanksgiving the subject of turkey was brought up, which lead to the subject about genocide of American Indians. This reminded me of an Economist article I read earlier, about the extinction of Manchu. And that lead to my thoughts about *voluntary genocide*.

To commit voluntary genocide, all one country/race needs to do is to be (1) audacious enough to invade China, (2) good enough to win the war, and (3) stubborn enough to stay for a sufficiently long period of time. After that, the invading race will be absorbed by the Chinese.

The Japanese were least successful (and most lucky) to reach only stage 1, thus they are still a country. I am not sure exactly what they were thinking before the war, but mathematically, even if they had stationed every Japanese man in China there simply were not enough of them to be in control.

The Mongols were slightly more successful (and less lucky) to reach stage 2; they would have been a Chinese province if the Russians hadn’t intervened.

The Manchus were the most successful (and the least lucky) to reach stage 3. So within just one century after ruling the world’s largest empire, they are now on the brink of extinction.

Probably only the (Asian) Indians have sufficiently large population and strong enough culture to get to China without being completely absorbed. The geography (Himalaya) has prevented any large scale war between these 2 countries throughout the human history. The technology might have finally made this feasible now, though. My calculation is that if China were to engage in any future war with a neighboring country, India would be the most likely one. And I would be curious to see how they will fare.

“Next to knowing when to seize an opportunity, the most important thing in life is to know when to forego an advantage.” – Benjamin Disraeli

September 11, 2011

A year of no significance

Filed under: Imaginary,Real — liyiwei @ 6:13 pm
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1587, a Year of No Significance (Chinese: 萬曆十五年) is a book by historian Ray Huang (Chinese: 黃仁宇) which described how a sequence of seemingly insignificant events precipitated the eventual downfall of the Ming dynasty, as well as China itself. I remember getting totally fascinated by this book as a high school kid. The book is not flawless, but it is fascinating in highlighting how significant long term trends, which usually happen slowly, are often preceded by very small signs.

It is like the famous Chinese proverb, 一葉知秋: from a falling tree leaf one can know that the autumn is coming.

If future historians are going to write a similar book about the eventual downfall of the America (dynasty) as well as the entire West, the analogous year will be 2001, or probably even a specific day, September 11. Contrast to 1587, this is a year of *major* significance. But THE event is no less precipitating than those in 1587.

I am looking forward to read this book, and I hope it will be as enthralling as the one by Ray Huang.

August 25, 2010

The man who loved China

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 9:13 pm
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I am not interested in biography, but I approached this book due to the Needham question: why China was taken over by the west in science and technology around 1500 AD after the amazing advances in earlier times? I was hoping that this book will provide answers, even though I never realistically expected that since this is a question about history, and thus can never be verified scientifically.

Well, I was right about that, as obviously nobody has ever managed to answer the Needham question. But that does not really bother me for several reasons.

First, I, like many others who have been through both Chinese and American style educations, know the main reasons more or less, even though none of us can rigorously prove anything. But answering a historical question is not really the point. The point is to find remedies and solutions. That, fortunately, I, just like many others, already know how to do practically, as evident from our achievements in modern scientific and technological activities.

Second, as pointed out in the book, the Needham question might be moot anyway, as China seems to have regained its rigor and creativity. But I cannot fully agree with this point; I agree that China has been improving, but it still has work to do to catch up with the American level creativity. Even from the young Chinese students I am collaborating today I can still see a lot of old problems that probably have been accumulated through hundreds if not thousands years of bad cultural impacts. But this is obviously fixable at least in an individual level; the million dollar question is whether it is also possible in a large national or even ethnic wise scale.

The funny thing is that the Needham question was not formally addressed until at the epilogue of the book. So the book is really testing my patience. Fortunately, the main part of the book, essentially the biography of Joseph Needham, turns out to be a fascinating read.

I recommend this book to anyone, especially (ethnic) Chinese working in the field of science and technology.

October 29, 2009


Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 6:27 pm
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I watched this movie a few nights ago. It is about Genghis Khan’s early life, between his childhood and his unification of the Mongolian tribes. I guess people might expect or want to see his more (in)famous later life for conquering the entire world, but that belongs to a (rumored) sequel. I actually prefer to watch his early life as that part is less well known.

The movie is unique in several aspects. The dialogues are primarily in Mongolian with occasional Mandarin. Mongolian sounds interesting, kind of halfway between Mandarin and Korean, even though the Mongolian spoken by most actors in the movie are not very authentic. (I have probably heard more authentic ones from real Mongols in Beijing airport.) The scenery is gorgeous, and in fact so difficult to film that the director has been thinking about cutting short or even canceling the sequels. The plot is a bit loose and incoherent, but the style nicely (and maybe coincidentally) reflects the mythological nature of Genghis Khan’s early life and the nomadic Mongolian life style around that time.

The Mongols also possess certain historical fascination to me. The Chinese history books, authored primarily by the Han Chinese, naturally debased the Mongols (and any other ethnic minorities) as barbarians and describe their histories mainly as window dressings of the greatness of the Middle Kingdom. As far as I could recall I have never read a sufficiently accurate and non-biased recount of the Mongolian history. (The history text books authored by the Nationalist government in Taiwan around my time did not even recognize Mongol as an independent country.) This is sad, as the Mongols have made major impacts to world history and geography during their great conquering around the thirteenth century, however short living their empire was. As analyzed by certain historians (e.g. see False Economy: A Surprising Economic History of the World, by Alan Beattie), the Mongols could be responsible for the formation of dictatorship/authoritarian countries like Russia, Iran, and China, which were actually more liberal than the Europeans prior to the Mongolian invasion.

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