Tuesday, January 02, 2007

15 seconds of fame: the story of Yingying Wu and Pseudo HumanEvents

Towards the end of 2005, a young undergraduate woman was known to the Chinese as an intellectual star. Her name is Yingying Wu, an undergraduate student of Beijing Normal University. In a press conference given by the University, she was described as a beautiful young women, who has more than 100 inventions and 3 patens, who was hired as VP of Topcpder, who with lots of titles. Just 2 days after the conference, a daily newspaper of Beijing carried an article question about Miss Wu's resume, especially her inventions and the claimed chair member at ACM. Many people followed the question. Then, pretty soon, Beijing Normal University said that the resume of Miss Wu has some information that they are not so sure. Meanwhile, on the Internet, more people found out that the young lady didn't tell truth about her resume.
The main doubts are:
A. What are the 100 inventions about? Miss Wu just merely says "they are dependent on our daily lives". She never shows any evidence about the inventions. 100 inventions, even Tomas Edison didn't reach such a number at the age of 21.
B. Only 2 patents were found under the name of Yingying Wu. And even more, the 2 are close to each other.
C. According to ACM website, she was not a chair member, she was only an assistant to programming contest committee.
In Miss Wu's words:
"November 15, 2005, I was elected ACM Asia assistant chair, became the first Chinese to enter the ACM board of chairs, then invited to attend the 30th International Collegiate Programming Contest World Finals and the highest summit RCDS. "(From Ying-Ying Wu's words in the conference)
Investigation report:
The report was not found Ying-Ying Wu's name on the official website of the ACM. In ACM (ICPC) Executive Director William Boucher wrote a letter in English to prove Ying-Ying Wu, Ying-Ying Wu specify the duties of "Asia - China Reporter and Asia Director Assistant" (April 12, 2006). Yesterday afternoon, the deputy party secretary of Beijing Normal University psychology college Qiaozhihong said Ying Wu is not a member of the ACM board of chairs, but ACM programming contest organizing committee's assistant. It might be a translation mistake.
D. She claimed that she was a student of Stanford leading to a Ph.D, which appears that she was only a short term student of a summer school.
E. The famous Topcoder is a small American company with 75 employees around the world. And Miss Wu is the only employee in it Asian office.

Then the bubble of Miss Yingying Wu went out within a week! Even China Central Television Station mentioned Miss Wu in one of its news program in a negative tone. This is not the end of the event. Topcoder said undergraduate VP attracts eyeballs. Miss Wu said making her a role model is "a political task". She still claims that she has 100 inventions and considering continue visiting study in Stanford and working for a Ph.D.

The young woman testified that with the media power, everyone has 15 seconds of fame. Her event is what Boorstin calles: pseudo event.

According to Boorstin, a pseudo event is ...
A. not spontaneous. It comes about because someone has planted it or incited it. In her case, was planned by Beijing Normal University.
B. planted primarily, but not always exclusively, for the purpose of being reported or reproduced, and its occurrence is arranged for the convenience of the reporting or reproducing media.
C. ambiguous in terms of its relation to the underlying reality of the situation. Whether it is "real" or not is less important than its newsworthiness and ability to gain favorable attention.
usually intended to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

However, in this media staged event, Yingying Wu, the Beijing Normal Univerisity and Todpcoder under estimated the power of the Internet media. With traditional media, the planned party can easily control media messages surrounded the stage event. However, with the new media, everyone can express their suspicious and search for the truth. Each individual can contact related people for information. For example, someone wrote e-mail to ACM chairperson to clarify Miss Wu's actual role at the organization.

Miss Wu also wanted to use the new media to communicate with other. I don't know how many blogs she had. I found an English version, two at blogcn, one at sohu. But after her bubble went out only the English one has several articles left. All the others are closed, deleted all the articles. (Possibly she is afraid that those articles become evidence proving that she was lying).
Chinese media are familiar with building role models, from communist member Lei Feng, to athletes such as Xu Haifeng, from party leaders to ordinary workers or farmers. In the history of CCP, building role models is really a political task. Those role models are political symbols, encourage ordinary people to work their way, to identify with them. They moved people generation after generation.

However, time is changing. One day, the Chinese found they can hardly be moved by role models created by the government and only a few want to work their way and to identify with them. The Chinese people created their own heroes and role models, mainly through mass media or the internet. The new role models are stars, no matter entertainment stars or sports stars or stars in entrepreneurship. Yao Ming, the Chinese born NBA player is the first people-made role model in China. Young people like his and want to be like him. So far, he hasn't been made a government-subsided role model.

Miss Yingying Wu and the Beijing Normal University should learn more about the mass culture, corporate culture and media culture of modern China, or maybe the whole world. In the scandal, Topcoder won't lose too much. The small company gained eyeballs and free publicity. People remember its name in both countries. The press conference was not called by them, later they can appear as a victim of the scandal.

Beijing Normal University lost its reputation over 100 years! Its graduates encountered credibility crisis. There is one Wu Yingying from the University, there could be more.
For the young woman herself, she has been question by many. She looks good right now. But if she wants to change jobs one day, will other companies trust her? Will companies and universities put a big question mark on her name?

The staged event took place in a wrong time to a wrong group of audience. This age is an age having no interests in fairytales. The audiences they choose are too much intelligent to fool. They are well equipped with the internet, blogs, search engines, etc. The same audience can tolerant a not so beautiful "Sister Fu Rong" to picture herself in various unimaginable ways, mostly in "S" shape. They feel entertained and release their own tensions. But another not so beautiful girl get to a position they can't through a series of lies, they feel being fooled and furious. So they express their suspicious in various ways.
Timing and skills are really important for staged events.