By Yaxue Cao, published: October 26, 2014
Almost a year ago, I posted a report titled “Why Is a Math Professor at Wellesley So Hard Hitting against an Economics Professor Fired by Peking University in China” on this website. This week, on October 22, the story entered a second season when the math professor in question – Professor Charles Bu – posted the article I Am Not a Communist Spy in The Wellesley News. On October 23, Thomas Cushman, Professor of Sociology and Director of Wellesley’s Freedom Project, posted in the same paper a rebuttal, On Charles Bu’s Falsehoods, in response to Professor Bu’s accusations against Cushman. I am also among the people accused by Professor Bu of participating in a “McCarthy-style witch hunt.” The following is my response, and it is also available in The Wellesley News.
Dear Professors, Administrators, and Students at Wellesley,
I am Yaxue Cao, founder and editor of ChinaChange.org and the author of Why Is a Math Professor at Wellesley So Hard Hitting against an Economics Professor Fired by Peking University in China. I’m here to explain how this article about Professor Charles Bu came about.
On November 23, 2013, Professor Xia Yeliang, who had not been active on Twitter for a long time, and who was probably still riled up about being fired by Peking University, which made news headlines a month earlier, dropped the following tweet: “Charles Bu, a math prof at Wellesley College, tends to be extremely active to accuse and smear me. What’s benefits behind?”
I met Professor Xia once at a friend’s dinner party in the summer of 2012 when I was vacationing in California, where we exchanged pleasantries. That was the extent of my acquaintance with Prof. Xia, but I am one of his 54.7k Twitter followers. And as the editor of ChinaChange.org, I took a keen interest in Prof. Xia’s case.
I myself actually didn’t catch this tweet of his (I follow 1,400+ people and don’t read every tweet on my Timeline). Other tweeps did and got curious, while Prof. Xia seemed to have disappeared again from Twitter after sending that tweet.
If you are an active Twitter user, you will know that Twitter is a virtual teahouse where people congregate, post information, talk, and, occasionally, yes, look into things. Without Prof. Xia’s knowledge, several of us became curious about who Charles Bu was and why a math professor from Wellesley was so involved in the incident of Professor Xia. We quickly found his Chinese name is Bu Qiyue (步起跃) and in a matter of hours, we discovered that (search “步起跃” and “Charles Bu” on Twitter and you will see all the tweets):
1. In the evening of October 22, 2013, in less than two hours, an article by Professor Bu Qiyue (Wellesley has a translation) was published by the state-owned Xinhua News Agency and then reposted by at least a dozen or so “mouthpiece” media outlets controlled by the Chinese government, such as the People’s Daily, People’s Daily Overseas, China News, the CCTV website, China Radio International, Global Times, China Daily, and more. It struck me, and everyone else who took an interest in the matter, as something extraordinary: the essay and its across-the-broad reposting in such a short time span had the appearance of a state-engineered and coordinated smear campaign.
2. Prof. Bu has very close ties with the Chinese government: According to a report (google webcache available if original link is broken) on the official website of “the Federation of Overseas Chinese of Changzhou,” he was an “overseas commissioner,” and was received on October 14, 2013, by the deputy director of the local Chinese Communist Party’s United Front Work Department and the director of the Federation of Overseas Chinese of Changzhou. The Federation of Overseas Chinese, as my report pointed out, is a unit in the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, which is an arm of the Chinese government on both central and local levels. The official website of the Federation describes it as “a people’s organization under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party Changzhou Committee.”
In fact, as recently as May, 2014 (google webcache available if original link is broken), Professor Bu was still an “overseas commissioner” of the Federation of Overseas Chinese of Changzhou, and was again received by the Federation in that capacity.
Please note, nowhere in my report did I describe Professor Bu as a “communist commissioner,” and for a mathematician, such gross inaccuracy is deplorable.
3. A feature story (webpage freeze available if original link is broken) about Professor Bu on the official website of the Chinese Communist Party Changzhou Committee’s United Front Work Department mentioned that, among other things, Professor Bu and his family had once been received by a ministerial level Chinese official with a banquet at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse, the place where Chinese government receives foreign leaders and dignitaries.
As a fellow Chinese who has also lived in the U. S. for over twenty years and whose journey to the U.S. was similar to that of Professor Bu, I want to offer readers some perspectives: for someone like Professor Bu, who apparently was the pride of his hometown Changzhou, it is not uncommon to be invited by local Chinese officials for a meeting or a dinner while visiting family in China. Once or twice I myself was approached as well. But to be retained as an “overseas commissioner” by local government, to be received by officials from the Communist Party’s United Front Work Department, and to be invited to Diaoyutai in Beijing is anything but common.
Tweeps found more about Professor Bu on November 23, 2013, and one of them, who described himself as a mathematician too, even offered a professional evaluation of Prof. Bu.
I wrote the report and posted it on November 25, 2013. I summed up the collaboration of several tweeps (acknowledged at the end of my article). As far as I was concerned, I was interested in the fact that 1) Professor Bu’s article seemed to me (and to veteran Chinese journalists I talked to – read the comment section – after the article was posted) part of a concerted effort to discredit not only Professor Xia but his Wellesley colleagues as well, and 2) that Professor Bu had maintained close ties with the Chinese government.
Tweeps (I only know the identity of one of them) and I were not professional investigators on a mission. We were curious, we googled, and we found what we found on public sources available to everyone. While I documented our findings meticulously in my report, I made no accusation against Professor Bu. Instead, I closed my report with a very modest request for him: “…it is problematic to hold back such extraordinary ties from his Wellesley colleagues while criticizing their support for Mr. Xia [on Chinese state media], and Professor Bu owes his colleagues some perspective and balance.”
When Professor Bu wrote, “Mr. Cushman and so-called ‘freedom fighters’ resorted to a McCarthy-style witch hunt,” I suppose by “freedom fighters” he meant us: me and the tweeps. Let me just say that I didn’t know Professor Cushman at all; I had run into his name once when I did my research for the report, but I doubt the other tweeps knew anything about him. In any case, Professor Cushman, or Professor Xia for that matter, were completely irrelevant to our interest in Professor Bu and our subsequent research on him, and my report had nothing to do with either man. Neither man was aware of my report before it was posted.
I urge readers to search “步起跃” as well as “Charles Bu” on Twitter to find all the tweets (mostly in Chinese) tweeps tweeted on November 23, 2013, with their findings and thoughts, and you will have it all as I did. It’s as simple as that.
A Letter to the Newton (Massachusetts) Community, by Fengsuo Zhou and Yaxue Cao