A Bill Moyers Special - Becoming American: The Chinese Experience

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Physicist Sam Ting
Physicist Sam Ting

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Cultural Inheritance

"If you only think that old is good, then there's no advancement to the future."

By Samuel C.C. Ting

Nearly every American is descended from people who came to these shores from other countries. Often there is a conversation that happens between the generation that immigrated and the new American children about the role of the immigrant culture in the lives of the children. Below, Nobel Prize winning physicist Samuel Ting tells Bill Moyers of his own experience with his father.

BILL MOYERS: Is there something in your Chinese heritage that has influenced you as a scientist?

SAMUEL TING: No. If anything, it's just the opposite. I mentioned to you my conversation with my parents about scientists. I also have often disagreement with my father. He was brought up in a classical Chinese environment, so he believed things of the old is good, the ideas of Confucius is good.

Ever since I was young, I was somehow different. And I thought this philosophy perhaps was not entirely right because if you only think that old is good, then there's no advancement to the future. So in that sense, I have some sort of a conflict, particularly with my father.

BILL MOYERS: It's my unproven theory that one becomes an American at that moment which, for good or ill, one challenges authority, challenges tradition.

SAMUEL TING: Absolutely right. Another way for you to think you are American is at night, when you go to the laboratory, when you count the numbers, you don't count in Chinese, you count in English. (LAUGHTER)

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