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On the long list of speakers attending the US Republican convention this week, a name unfamiliar to most Americans stood out. Chen Guangcheng, a blind Chinese human rights activist who fled to the US in 2012, used his spot on Wednesday to praise president Donald Trump for leading the fight against China’s aggression.
“Standing up to fight unfairness is not easy, I know. So does president Trump,” said Chen, who also criticized the Obama administration’s negotiations over his departure from China.
Supporting Trump, and other conservative figures, can appear at odds with the human rights beliefs that Chinese dissidents defend back in China. There, Chen was persecuted for speaking against the one-child policy and, as a self-taught lawyer, represented women facing forced abortions and sterilization. Trump, who once famously called the 1989 Tiananmen student protests a “riot,” has backed a fervently anti-immigration agenda and refused to condemn white supremacists.
Yet he has also put enormous pressure on China, by placing tariffs on most of its goods, putting sanctions on Chinese and Hong Kong officials for violating the territory’s autonomy, and threatening China’s tech companies. That has led many exiles to pin their hopes on him to further counter the Chinese Communist Party, when few governments seem willing to.
“For many Chinese dissidents, their highest or even only goal in life is to fight with the [Party],” says Teng Biao, a US-based Chinese human rights lawyer.
In some cases, dissidents aren’t able to empathize with movements like Black Lives Matter because they feel the US has free expression, so protesters don’t need to voice their discontent in the streets. Many older Chinese dissidents also still use WeChat and Chinese media as their main source of information, which shapes their views on US movements. Comparisons between US social justice activism and the political extremism in China’s own history are common on Chinese-language social media.
At times dissidents are also drawn to conservative beliefs through causes that appear familiar—such as opposing abortion—but that have quite different politics in the US and China. “Eventually, if Trump loses this election then some of his dissident supporters might become quiet,” Teng says. “But their conservative views won’t be able to be reversed overnight.” —Mary Hui
Five things on Quartz we especially liked
Taiwan’s search for national identity through passport design. Bears, butterflies, and bubble tea are just some of the ideas that have been put forward for a nationwide passport design contest in Taiwan. As Anne Quito explains, the winning design won’t necessarily be officially adopted, but it’s an important part of a broader strategy to kindle public dialog about how best to represent Taiwanese national identity vis-à-vis China—and humor and irreverence are key to that strategy. —Isabella Steger, deputy Asia bureau chief
The king is dead, long live the king. The sports news this week has been dominated by soccer star Lionel Messi, the greatest player in the world, demanding a trade. But soon, his career will be over. Yomi Kazeem would like to introduce you to Alphonso Davies, a teenager from Canada who was born in a refugee camp in Ghana and has just won one of the sport’s biggest prizes. There’s always another. —Hasit Shah, deputy editor, global finance and economics
The sin of choosing bosses who look like white Jesus. A fascinating study links visual portrayals of God as a white, bearded man to the mortals we promote as CEOs and business leaders. This tendency colors the judgment of both Christians and non-Christians and “has helped to build and protect the rigid racial hierarchy that exists in organizations,” as Lila MacLellan writes. How to banish this bias? Researchers say that exposing kids early to edgy religious paintings by iconoclastic artists might help. —Anne Quito, design reporter
Activism on the court. Viewers tuning in to the National Basketball Association playoff games on Wednesday were instead compelled to confront continued racial injustice in the US, as players in that league (as well as those in the WNBA, MLB, MLS, and tennis) went on strike to protest the shooting of Jacob Blake by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin. As Max Lockie explains, NBA players were particularly well-positioned to draw attention to the issue and take awareness one step further, even amid a growing wave of athlete activism. —Alex Ossola, special projects editor
India’s high-stakes soap opera. Massive Indian tech conglomerate Reliance Jio is a familiar name to anyone paying attention to the world of global technology, but Niharika Sharma’s breakdown of the on-again, off-again relationship of the Ambani brothers behind the company was as eye-opening as it was riveting. The piece should be required reading for anyone interested in knowing more about the second largest brand in the world—or just anyone interested in a good drama. —Susan Howson, news editor
Fun fact about supermarkets
We hoard because of science. Whether it’s an inclement weather forecast, export ban, or pandemic, crises tend to push shoppers into hoarding mode. As therapist Bruce Conn told radio station WMAZ, grabbing that extra roll of paper towels or bottle of hand sanitizer is our way of “trying to control the uncontrollable.” It’s actually a normal behavior that can be traced back to an animalistic drive to feel safer.
But just because our brains have electrical signals that prompt the behavior doesn’t mean it’s good for us. “It’s a false sense of control,” psychiatry professor Stewart Shankman told Fortune, adding that these products are “things you really don’t need.” Read more about how supermarkets have become our pandemic paradise in the latest Quartz Weekly Obsession.
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The virtual halls of learning
History may look back on this year as the point when online education began its transition from a niche product to an essential element of the college experience. If you missed our field guide to higher ed going remote, now’s your chance to cram. And yes, this will be on the final exam.
- Coronavirus is pushing American universities to at last reckon with online education
- Universities teaching Chinese students remotely need to find ways to scale the Great Firewall
- Public universities are buying the for-profit schools their professors criticize
- Trump and Covid-19 have foreign students asking: Is it still worth it to study at a US university?
✦ Learning is a lifelong experience, and a Quartz membership will make sure you’re always up to date. Join us for 50% off your first year by using code “SUMMERSALE” (sale ends Sunday). We won’t even make you write a thesis.
Five things from elsewhere that made us smarter
A civic exercise in anti-racism gone wrong. This Atlantic piece by Conor Friedersdorf gives readers an inside view into a New York City education council meeting that went viral when several members asked another member to resign. The debate is illustrative of a broader problem facing America today: “meta-arguments about what ‘anti-racism’ demands” are not remedying racial inequality and, instead, are “tearing people apart.” —Annabelle Timsit, geopolitics reporter
When borders are good for business—and bad for everyone else. American companies in Mexico are profiting from booming demand for chemicals that have perfectly legal uses, but are also key raw materials in meth and heroin. Makers of these products are subject to tight international and US restrictions, but Avantor, Celanese, and others are benefiting from Mexico’s looser approach. A Bloomberg investigation by Cam Simpson, Michael Smith, and Nacha Cattan found that in Mexico anyone—including one of the story’s reporters—can easily buy acetic anhydride in handy jugs small enough to fit in a car trunk. —Ana Campoy, deputy economics editor
Time-travel to 1965. Les Payne was a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist who died in 2018, leaving his daughter, researcher Tamara Payne, to finish The Dead Are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X, a book he had been writing for three decades. The New Yorker published a gripping excerpt that recreates the last moments of Malcolm X’s life. More than a vivid deconstruction of that tragic day, the piece sketches his acrimonious split from the Nation of Islam and indirectly calls out media and police behavior that will feel familiar to a new generation of activists. —Lila MacLellan, senior reporter
Is social media inherently bad? “Tech oracle” Jaron Lanier has argued that for every good thing that comes out of internet communities (e.g. the Arab Spring), the inevitable backlash (e.g. the rise of Isis) is inevitably worse. However, in this GQ profile, Lanier is cautiously optimistic that the latest round of social media-assisted Black Lives Matter protests point to a more positive future—though there are still plenty of ways we can screw it up. —Liz Webber, senior news curator
Great expectations. As colleges struggle to reopen, Rainesford Stauffer in Teen Vogue explored something less discussed but equally important: What is the college experience? Beyond academics, college in the US is often marketed as four years of soul searching and creating lifelong memories, but in reality there is no one-size-fits-all experience, writes Stauffer. Perhaps the pandemic will overhaul how we think about going to college in the traditional way. —Michelle Cheng, reporter, Quartz at Work
Our best wishes for a relaxing but thought-filled weekend. Please send any news, comments, feuding billionaires, and hoarded acorns to firstname.lastname@example.org. Get the most out of Quartz by downloading our app and becoming a member. Today’s Weekend Brief was brought to you by Mary Hui and Susan Howson.