China’s Peking University fires professor who criticized government

 

McClatchy Foreign Staff

One of China’s top universities has notified an economics professor known for his outspoken criticism of the Chinese government that his colleagues have voted to expel him from the institution.

The move against Xia Yeliang, who teaches at Peking University in Beijing, appears to reflect a crackdown on liberal academics that’s become more severe since President Xi Jinping came to power in March.

Several well-known universities – including the London School of Economics and Yale and Cornell in the United States – have partnerships with Peking, though few have taken up Xia’s cause. Other institutions, including New York University and Duke University, have opened campuses in China recently or are about to amid worries that they’ll sacrifice academic freedom for the sometimes lucrative opportunity to partner with Chinese institutions.

Xia said Friday that administrators at Peking University’s School of Economics had told him that his contract would be terminated at the end of January after the 30-3 vote last week approving his dismissal.

Xia, who’s been a visiting scholar at Stanford University, was among the first people to sign Charter 08, a petition that called for democratic freedoms and human rights in China. He’s publicly criticized the Chinese Communist Party for censorship, particularly among academics. He said he had been monitored by police for years, faced detention and house arrest, and had been encouraged by Peking University to practice restraint with his political views.

Xia said Peking administrators had encouraged him not to publicly link his dismissal to politics. “I can’t say that it is a political issue,” he said. “I can only say it is an academic issue.”

Peking administrators couldn’t be reached for comment.

Xia said he’d continue to teach this term but would start looking for employment elsewhere, perhaps at American universities.

Other faculty members at Peking who’d been speaking to foreign news media about Xia’s circumstance said they also were encouraged to withhold public comment. Peking administrators “called me and told me about this and then told me not to make comments,” said Zhang Qianfan, a law professor at the university, adding that administrators had said Xia’s dismissal was for “academic reasons.”

“I think it is bad news,” Zhang said. “I told the university it might be better if this happened during some other time or to some other person who is not so politically high profile, so people won’t link the two together.”

Chinese academics have long faced repression, but China’s leaders have renewed efforts to toughen ideological control on campuses in recent months after younger academics, particularly those who’ve studied in the West, began discussing taboo topics in the classroom, including the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, in which Chinese troops opened fired on pro-democracy demonstrators.

The state-run Xinhua news agency reported in May that the Education Ministry had ordered universities to enhance “young teachers’ political education” and boost “ideological guidance.” The same month, officials ordered universities to ban the discussion of seven topics in classrooms, including human rights and free speech.

“The pressure on the freedom of speech is unprecedented recently,” said Zhang Ming, a prominent political science professor at People’s University in Beijing. “It is severely hurting academic freedom.”

So far, there’s been little outcry from Western universities over Xia’s situation, with the exception of Wellesley College in Massachusetts, which announced a formal partnership with Peking in June. In September, more than 100 Wellesley faculty members wrote a letter to Peking administrators, criticizing them for targeting Xia.

“If he is dismissed, we will encourage Wellesley College to reconsider our institutional partnership,” the letter said.

Freedom of speech and freedom of thought are cornerstones of American concepts of academic freedom, and administrators for New York University, which opened a campus in Shanghai this fall, and Duke University, which is building a campus in Kunshan, outside Shanghai, say they’ve been promised academic freedom.

Zhang, the People’s University professor, is skeptical. “I don’t think they will enjoy complete academic freedom,” he said. “I believe there will be invisible restraints on them.”

Other scholars take a more tempered view. Many Chinese young people, and even professors, care little about politics and thus are unlikely to be affected by government efforts to clamp down on liberal ideology. Some say that while there’s a chilling effect at universities, it probably will be only short-term.

“I certainly feel there is more pressure, but I don’t want to over-exaggerate,” said Zhang Qianfan, the Peking law professor. “China is very different from its past. Nowadays, leaders can say one thing but society will go the other way.”

Farrar is a McClatchy special correspondent.

Read more World Wires stories from the Miami Herald

  •  
Malaysia Airlines flight MH192 bound for Bangalore turned back towards and parked at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang, Malaysia, Monday, April 21, 2014, after its right landing gear malfunctioned upon takeoff. The airline says Flight 192 carrying 166 people landed safely at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport early Monday, four hours after it departed.

    Sub search for missing jet two-thirds complete

    As the search continued off the coast of Australia for the missing Malaysia Airlines jet on Monday, the airline announced another plane bound for India was forced to make an emergency landing after one of its tires burst on takeoff.

  •  
FILE - In this Nov. 30, 2004 file photo,  Pope John Paul II gives his blessing to late father Marcial Maciel, founder of Christ's Legionaries, during a special audience the pontiff granted to about four thousand participants of the Regnum Christi movement, at the Vatican. Pope John Paul II is rightly credited with having helped bring down communism, of inspiring a new generation of Catholics with a globe-trotting papacy and of explaining church teaching on a range of hot-button issues as Christianity entered its third millennium. But the sexual abuse scandal that festered under his watch remains a stain on his legacy. John Paul and his top advisers failed to grasp the severity of the abuse problem until very late in his 26-year papacy, even though U.S. bishops had been petitioning the Holy See since the late-1980s for a faster way to defrock pedophile priests.

    John Paul's legacy stained by sex abuse scandal

    Pope John Paul II is rightly credited with having helped bring down communism, of inspiring a new generation of Catholics with a globe-trotting papacy and of explaining church teaching on a range of hot-button issues as Christianity entered its third millennium.

  •  
South Korean rescue team members on a boat sail to rescue missing passengers believed to have been trapped in the sunken ferry Sewol near the buoys which were installed to mark the vessel in the water off the southern coast near Jindo, south of Seoul, South Korea, Sunday, April 20, 2014. After more than three days of frustration and failure, divers on Sunday finally found a way into the submerged ferry off South Korea's southern shore, discovering more than a dozen bodies inside the ship and pushing the confirmed death toll to over four dozen, officials said.

    SKorean president: Ferry crew actions 'murderous'

    South Korean President Park Geun-hye said Monday that the captain and some crew members of the sunken ferry committed "unforgivable, murderous behavior" in the disaster, which left more than 300 people dead or missing.

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category