Professors in China warned against liberal discoursing

Xia Yeliang, an outspoken government critic was dismissed from his teaching job at China's top university last month. (Photo courtesy/AP)
Xia Yeliang, an outspoken government critic was dismissed from his teaching job at China’s top university last month. (Photo courtesy/AP)

(, Nov25, 2014) – Criticizing China’s top leaders – living or dead – or the party itself and praising liberal democratic values prevailing in the West are crimes and a state-owned Chinese newspaper has said such crimes are rampant in universities in the country, reported the AP Nov 22.

The report said that over a period of two weeks, the state-owned Liaoning Daily newspaper had sent reporters to sit in on dozens of university lectures to look for what the paper said were professors “being scornful of China.”

The regional paper was reported to have written the week before that visits to more than 20 schools revealed exactly what it was looking for: that some professors compared Chinese Communist Party co-founder Mao Zedong to ancient emperors, a blasphemy to party ideology upholding Mao as a break from the country’s feudal past. Other scholars were caught pointing out the party’s failures after taking power in 1949. Some repeatedly praised “Western” ideas such as separation of powers in government, the report said.

The report said the Liaoning Daily article has since been widely distributed on social media throughout China. “Dear teachers, because your profession demands something higher of you, and because of the solemnity and particularity of the university classroom, please do not speak this way about China!” the article is reported to implore.

Zhang Wen, a journalism professor at the University of Science and Technology, Beijing, has said that while Chinese professors have long endured monitoring and some political interference, this public shaming is unprecedented in recent history. For some, it is said to evoke memories of the bloody political purges of the Cultural Revolution 40 years ago.

But the Liaoning Daily’s criticism is in keeping President Xi Jinping’s shrill denunciation of Western ideas and values about democracy and rule of law. Just months after he took power last year, Chinese authorities outlined seven topics that professors shouldn’t talk about in their classes, including judicial independence, civil society and the wealth of government officials, Xia Yeliang, a former Peking University economics professor who was fired last year for supporting democratic reforms in China, has noted.

Zhang has pointed out that in addition to Xia, at least two Beijing-based professors had been disciplined for their teachings about sensitive topics such as the Arab Spring uprisings and constitutionalism in China.

The AP report said the Liaoning Daily article had sparked furious debate on social media in China about the need for intellectual autonomy versus patriotism in academia.

Xia, now a visiting fellow at the Cato Institute, a libertarian US think tank, has said the article shows the government is no longer hiding what had always been private or unspoken pressure on academics.


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