by Jennifer Ruth and Yu Xiao
It is a tricky time for faculty in the United States who work on China. The American president initiated a trade war with the People’s Republic of China that, whatever its merits, creates a fertile climate for China-bashing. Many of us hesitate to appear to contribute to this climate or to seem to side with a president hostile to values most faculty hold paramount, such as the rule of law or the importance of independent science. The enemy of my enemy is only occasionally my friend, though. We cannot lose sight of those trends, unrelated to trade, that point to the increasingly repressive impact of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) on both its institutions of higher education and our own. This article sketches some of the major issues involving China and academic freedom.
Restrictions under Xi Jinping
Pundits point out that the current attitude toward China’s ascendancy among many in the United States resembles the attitude held in the 1980s toward Japan and that, as with Japan, we are beginning to scapegoat China for a myriad of problems. For scholars and teachers, one crucial difference stands out between Japan and China: Japan is a democratic country and China is not. Real doubts exist about whether academic freedom, as understood by many intellectuals throughout the world, is possible in a one-party state. Certainly, the February 2018 change in the Chinese constitution allowing unlimited presidential terms resulted in a tightening of restrictions on academic freedom at all universities and colleges in China, including overseas campuses of American universities. Stability (both of the country and of its ruling regime) remains the Communist Party’s first concern, and ideas or movements that might jeopardize party authority are subject to crackdown. Xi Jinping has consolidated and centralized power and reasserted the party’s control over information, education, and the media.
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