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By Fengsuo Zhou, Yaxue Cao, published: November 4, 2014
We did not foresee writing this letter. We didn’t think it was necessary. All we need to do, we thought, is to present facts to the public, including the Wellesleyans. And we thought that truth is the only thing that matters, and that, before racism and McCarthyism become issues, the first order should be to find out what happened.
Let us introduce ourselves first. Fengsuo was a senior and physics major at Tsinghua University in Beijing in 1989. During the Tiananmen democracy movement, Fengsuo told the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on May 30, 2014, “I was responsible for setting up a student network that directed the protesters on Tiananmen Square, provided medical services to thousands of students on a hunger strike as hundreds and thousands more poured in from all corners of Beijing to rally in support. Through this network, ambulances were able to pass every 5 minutes through the crowds. Through this network [which included a radio station], many Chinese were able to express freely and publicly, for the first and only time in their life, their love for freedom and democracy and their hope for a better China” (watch hearing here). After the movement was suppressed with machine guns and tanks on June 4th, 1989, Fengsuo was No. 5 on the Chinese government’s most-wanted list of 21 student leaders. He was jailed for one year in Qincheng Prison in Beijing. He came to the United States in 1995, studied finance at Chicago University, and he is a financial analyst, father of two, living in California. Fengsuo was one of the tweeps who took part in google-searching “步起跃” (Professor Charles Bu) and exchanging thoughts on our findings on November 23, 2013.
Yaxue attended Peking University from 1980-1984. She came to the United States to pursue graduate study in English and American literature in 1991. She is a writer, translator, mother of two living in Washington, DC. In June, 2013, she launched ChinaChange.org, a website “devoted to news and commentary related to civil society, rule of law, and rights activities in China. It works with China’s democracy advocates to bring their voices into English and to help the rest of the world understand what people are thinking and doing to effect change in China.” Reports and translations on China Change have been cited or hyperlinked by the New York Times, Time magazine, the Guardian, the Telegraph, the Washington Post, the Economist, the New Republic magazine, the Atlantic (to name a few) and Congressional reports.
Last fall, Professor Charles Bu wrote three articles, as far as our search results show, in connection to the Xia Yeliang incident. On October 22, 2013, he published the first of the three in Chinese in Xinhua News under his Chinese name Bu Qiyue (步起跃). In it, he defended Peking University’s decision to fire Xia Yeliang as a pure professional decision that has nothing to do with Professor Xia being a dissident intellectual, and he chided his Wellesley colleagues for writing an open letter calling on the college to reconsider its partnership with PKU. “What makes them think they can point fingers at the internal affairs of a university on the other side of the planet?” (Wellesley has a full translation). Professor Bu wrote again on October 29, in the Wellesley News: Why the PKU partnership is good for Wellesley and, then again on November 3, in the Chronicle of Higher Education: Journalists Should Ask Peking U. Students About Yeliang Xia.
While Yaxue explained, clearly and meticulously, how her article Why Is a Math Professor at Wellesley So Hard Hitting against an Economics Professor Fired by Peking University in China came about in her Letter to the Editor on October 27, 2014, professor Bu has so far made no mention of his article on the Xinhua News website. Instead, Professor Bu hurled insults at Yaxue in his Letter to the Editor on October 30, accusing her of [making] false and defamatory statements, [feeding] a bogus story, and calling her a “complete joke.”
But to us, Prof. Bu’s Xinhua article is at the heart of the matter in terms of Professor Bu’s involvement, and the role he played, in the Xia Yeliang incident.
Professor Bu is entitled to his opinion about Xia, about his Wellesley colleagues, and about PKU’s decision. That’s not the problem. Yaxue’s report stated that in the very first paragraph.
Professor Bu might, or might not, have known his article was going to be used by all of CCP’s major “mouthpieces” in what appears to us, to other China watchers, and to veteran Chinese journalists Yaxue talked to, a state engineered, all-out smear campaign against Mr. Xia, but this much is certain: Whether Professor Bu was approached to write this article, or he wrote it voluntarily and submitted it to Xinhua (highly unlikely by our assessment), when he wrote it “in Boston on October 21, 2013,” he knew perfectly that:
- Xinhua is not an impartial and independent news organization, and as a CCP mouthpiece, it would never allow Mr. Xia to defend himself on Xinhua website;
- if Bu himself, or anyone else for that matter, happened to be a supporter of Mr. Xia, he or she would not be able to voice their support on Xinhua either;
- Professor Bu’s article could be published in Xinhua News precisely because it meets the need of official propaganda.
Let no one tell you that Xinhua News Agency is just like AP, Reuters, AFP or any other free and independent international wire service. China is an authoritarian state without press freedom where the Communist Party has a monopoly over the news organizations. According to Xinhua’s own description, “The work of the Xinhua News Agency has always been under the direct leadership of the Central Committee of the Communist Party.” “The Xinhua News Agency performs the duties assigned by the Central Committee: to be the mouthpiece, the ears and eyes, the think tank, and the information confluence.” “Xinhua News Agency follows the requirement of the Central Committee, upholds correct political direction, and directs the public opinion.”
In China, reporters and newspaper commentators have been regularly expelled, jailed, or beaten for dissenting from the Party line or for cutting-edge investigative reports. It is increasingly difficult for foreign journalists to obtain visas. Those whose reporting is deemed “critical” are denied visas altogether.
We believe that professor Bu’s engagement with Xinhua over the Xia Yeliang incident was highly problematic. At the very least, it shows his poor judgment as an American academic about what is, and what it is not, appropriate to do. If Professor Bu really wants to defend his honor and integrity, he can begin by telling us how his article for Xinhua came about, instead of hurling mud at people in a hysterical, unsightly manner.
From our search, we concluded that Professor Bu has close ties to the Chinese government. We believe anyone who has found what we have found will come to the same conclusion. He had been, until at least May, 2014, and may still be, an “overseas commissioner” of the Federation of Overseas Chinese of Changzhou; he was received by the deputy director of the CCP’s department of United Front Work (see my report for further explanation of this party organ) in Changzhou; he and his family were guests at a banquet at Diaoyutai, China’s state guesthouse in Beijing. All of the above information was found on official websites of these government/Party entities. We welcome Professor Bu to explain his connections with the Chinese government and the CCP. He can begin by telling everyone what title and position an “overseas commissioner” is.
After Yaxue’s Letter to the Editor was posted on The Wellesley News, two reports, titled similarly “The Municipal Federation of Overseas Chinese Received [its] Overseas Commissioner Bu Qiyue,” one dated October 16, 2013, and the other May 26, 2014, were taken down from the official website of the Federation of Overseas Chinese of Changzhou. Professor Bu owes the Wellesleyans an explanation.
According to both reports, Professor Bu thanked the Federation for “taking care” of his aging father. Professor Bu probably can also explain what “taking care” entails. We believe there is an issue of conflict of interest here.
In his agitated state, Professor Bu had trouble keeping his narrative together. In his article I Am Not a Communist Spy, he alleged that Professor Cushman worked with us against him. “Mr. Cushman and so-called ‘freedom fighters’ resorted to a McCarthy-style witch hunt. They couldn’t find anything, so they went after my hometown connection (Changzhou, a city most Americans have never heard of) and wrote a bogus story about me. In particular, it fabricated a ‘Communist Commissioner’ position for me, which I don’t even qualify.” (Again, nowhere in our report did we describe Bu Qiyue as a “Communist Commissioner.”) When this accusation fell apart, a week later in his Letter to the Editor, Professor Bu made Yaxue the main villain who “mislead Professor Thomas Cushman,” damaging not only Professor Bu’s reputation, the reputation of Professor Cushman, but also the reputation of Wellesley College. We are very amused by this remarkable show of mental gymnastics.
We are aware of the controversy over Professor Xia, Professor Cushman, and Professor Bu on the Wellesley campus. We are aware of the ongoing student petition and the issues raised by 20+ faculty members in their Letter to the Editor on October 22. We want to remind Wellesleyans that Yaxue’s report, which sums up the findings about Professor Bu by a group of Chinese Twitter users, is a key part of the whole picture, and should be considered carefully. In answering Professor Bu’s accusation that Professor Cushman worked with us to produce this report, Yaxue wrote to The Wellesley News and explained how our report came about. In this letter, we ask Professor Bu a few key questions and lay out some larger issues.
Wellesleyans know better than we do that identity politics at the expense of truth is poison. It can be easily manipulated to silence critics. For the sake of academic freedom, we ask Wellesleyans to carefully examine the facts first before letting loose these -isms. Wellesley students and faculty should not rush to sign a petition or take a side without knowing and understanding the facts of the case. Of all people, Wellesleyans should not be intellectually lazy.
Finally, we would like to share our thoughts on Wellesley’s partnership with Peking University. Professor Charles Bu has spoken glowingly of Wellesley’s partnership with Peking University and how great it is for Wellesley. Professor Cushman does not oppose such engagement but gives warnings about the limits and price of such exchanges. A reexamination of American universities’ partnerships with Chinese counterparts seems to be underway on some campuses, and we look forward to reading more studies from our scholars. Here we want to tell Wellesleyans a few stories you will not learn from your partnership with PKU.
Xu Zhiyong (许志永) was a PKU law student who went on to found Gongmeng, or the Open Constitution Initiative, in 2003, pioneering China’s rights defense movement over the last ten years. When Gongmeng was shut down by the government in 2009, he went on to launch the New Citizens Movement with a band of rights lawyers, journalists, liberal intellectuals, and pro-democracy netizens. Across China in over 30 cities, citizens met regularly to discuss current affairs, engage in activism, and to press for changes in social and legal arenas. When the crackdown on the New Citizens Movement came last year, scores were arrested and tried, and Dr. Xu Zhiyong himself was sentenced earlier this year to four and half years in jail for “disturbing order in a public place.” His court statement, which was translated by ChinaChange.org into English, was called “the China Manifesto” by the Telegraph. His close friend Teng Biao, also a PKU alumnus, is currently at Harvard, and perhaps Wellesley can have him over to discuss a few things you will never be talking about in your partnership with PKU.
Cao Shunli (曹顺利) was another PKU alumnus whose story you will never learn from your partnership with PKU. In September, 2013, Cao Shunli was detained in the Exit & Entry area of the Beijing Capital International Airport where she was en route to Geneva to attend human rights training. Her “crime” was to demand participation in China’s domestic plans to advance human rights, and report the progress to the UN Human Rights Council in advance of its Universal Periodic Reviews. For her work, she had been put in labor camp, and finally in jail. When her health deteriorated in prison last fall and this spring, the Chinese authorities denied her treatment. She died in custody in March, 2014. When NGO representatives around the world held up Cao Shunli’s photo on the floor of the UN Human Rights Council to protest her death, the Chinese delegates “went beyond diplomatic protocol….to block the moment of silence for Cao Shunli.”
Do you know Who Lin Zhao (林昭) is? She was another PKU woman you should know. She was executed during the Cultural Revolution for criticizing Mao Zedong and the Communist Party’s rule. You will not hear her name in your partnership with PKU but you can watch this documentary about her.
The list is long and this is not the place to enumerate it. As this letter is being posted, a 34-year-old PKU alumnus name Shen Yongping (沈勇平) is being tried in Beijing on November 4th for making a documentary about China’s failed one-hundred-year pursuit of constitutional democracy.
Although we are not Wellesleyans, based on our understanding of the Chinese Communist Party and our close knowledge of the Party’s practices, we are sure your partnership is sanitized and bleached to prevent you from any meaningful discussion with your PKU partners about some of the most important and riveting issues regarding China and the world.
And worse, since the university authorities, not independent but also directed by the Communist Party, have control over what you would be exposed to, and your activities would be monitored carefully, you would be led to believe the China they package and present to you is the real China if you are not thinking vigorously and seek out for yourself.
With spite and clenched teeth, Professor Charles Bu spoke of “freedom fighters.” We don’t know if we deserve to be call freedom fighters, but we are convinced that freedom is worth fighting for.
Fengsuo Zhou, California.
Yaxue Cao, Washington, DC.
A timeline of the events from September 2013 to the present:
1) On September 3, 2013, 100+ Wellesley professors published a letter to Peking University regarding the possible dismissal of Professor Xia Yeiang;
2) On September 13, 2013, Professor Cushman published the article Conscience and Compromise: The Troubling Case of Yeliang Xia in the Chronicle of Higher Education;
3) On October 18, 2013, a Friday, Peking University formally announced the dismissal of Professor Xia Yeliang;
4) On October 22, 2013, Professor Charles Bu published in Xinhua News website the article In American Universities Faculties Also Have to Be Evaluated to Get Contract Renewal (Wellesley has a full translation);
5) On October 29, Prof. Bu published the article Why the PKU partnership is good for Wellesley in The Wellesley News;
6) On November 3, Prof. Bu published the article Journalists Should Ask Peking U. Students About Yeliang Xia in the Chronicle of Higher Education;
7) On November 25, 2013, Yaxue Cao posted Why Is a Math Professor at Wellesley So Hard Hitting against an Economics Professor Fired by Peking University in China on China Change website;
8) On February 27, 2014, Professor Cushman gave a presentation at Cato Institute: Chinese Intrusions into American Universities: Consequences for Freedom;
9) On Oct 5, 2014, New York Times published an article about Professor Cushman, Policing University Partnerships in Authoritarian Countries;
10) On October 22, 2014, Professor Bu published the article I am not a Communist spy in The Wellesley News;
11) On October 23, 2014, Professor Cushman published a rebuttal On Charles Bu’s Falsehoods in The Wellesley News;
12) On Oct 26, 2014, 20+ Wellesley faculty members voiced disapproval of Prof. Cushman in The Wellesley News;
13) On Oct 27, 2014, a faculty/student/alumni petition against Prof Cushman led by Sophia S. Chen, Class of 2013, was initiated. Unclear how many people have signed the petition;
14) On Oct 27, 2014, Yaxue Cao explained how her report from a year ago came about in a Letter to the Editor of The Wellesley News;
15) On Oct 30, 2014, Prof. Bu threatened to bring a lawsuit against Yaxue Cao in his Letter to the Editor of The Wellesley News;
16) On November 4, 2014, Fengsuo Zhou and Yaxue Cao posted Take a Considered Position through Disciplined Thinking – An Open Letter to Wellesley College on China Change website.
17) On November 6, 2014, Wellesley Student Tiffany Chan published the article Conflict between Professors Bu and Cushman Creates Unsafe Environment in The Wellesley News.
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
Why Is a Math Professor at Wellesley So Hard Hitting against an Economics Professor Fired by Peking University in China?
By Yaxue Cao, published: November 25, 2013
To be sure, there is nothing wrong about a math professor—or a marine biologist, an astronaut, an alchemist, for that matter–speaking out against Professor Xia Yeliang, defending Peking University’s decision to fire the professor of Economics who “happens to be” a dissident and a critic of the communist regime, and lashing out at his Wellesley colleagues for their support of professor Xia.
For those of you who have not been following news from China that closely, here is a quick review of the Professor Xia Yeliang Incident: Professor Xia is a professor of economics at Peking University. On October 18, the university notified him that a faculty committee voted not to renew his contract. Professor Xia’s firing made international news because it so happened that he has also been an outspoken critic of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regime in China, and one of the first signatories of Charter 08, a proposal for political change in China initiated by Liu Xiaobo that landed him in jail for “subverting the state power” (He now enjoys the rare distinction of being the only jailed Nobel Peace Prize winner in in the world). An ultra-anti-American, anti-West film titled Silent Contest, produced by the Chinese military that has been available recently, portrayed him as an enemy of the state along with other liberal intellectuals. The New York Times published an editorial to put the dismissal of Professor Xia Yeliang in the larger picture, an insidious pattern, of China’s effort to suppress academic freedom and political dissent.
Peking University, as well as state media, reacted promptly, declaring the decision to fire Professor Xia had nothing to do with politics and everything to do with how poor a teacher he had been and how poorly the students thought of him. A debate unfolded among many foreign journalists and China watchers. Mr. Eric Fish wrote in the Atlantic, on October 22, dismissing the outcries of American journalists and academics. He pointed out that no one had bothered to go to the university to talk to the students and find out what they had to say about Professor Xia. So he did. He didn’t explain how he found his samples (I wish he did and I actually asked him to do so on Twitter, given how diverse his samples were and how quickly he was able to identify, and talk to, them over a weekend), but he seemed to have found the near perfect sampling to reach his conclusion: Even in China, Dissidents Sometimes Get Fired Just for Being Bad at Their Jobs.
Another prompt response, largely unnoticed by English speakers, came from a “full professor of mathematics at Wellesley College” by the name Bu Qiyue (步起跃), and it was published almost simultaneously (within less than an hour) on the websites of Xinhua News Agency (Chinese), People’s Daily (Chinese) and CCTV website (Chinese) the essential mouthpieces of the Chinese Communist Party. I only read the article, written in Boston on October 21, this weekend.
From the start, it was clear that Professor Bu was deeply irritated by over a hundred of his Wellesley colleagues who, “without any factual bases, jointly wrote an open letter to accuse Peking University of obstructing Professor Xia’s academic freedom and declared that the cooperative relationship between Wellesley and Peking University shall be reconsidered.”
Most of these hundred Wellesley professors “have never even been to China, and have even less an idea about the School of Economics of Peking University,” Professor Bu continued. “What makes them think they can point fingers at the internal affairs of a university on the other side of the planet?”
“Americans are used to freedom, especially on a noble issue such as academic freedom. So they responded with eagerness, signed their names in haste without thinking. However, ‘listen to both sides and you will be enlightened; heed only one side and you will be benighted.’ It only shows that even professors at a top American private college like Wellesley can be prone to such low-grade mistake when they only listen to one side.”
I would imagine Professor Bu doesn’t know either what was going on at the School of Economics of Peking University from Boston. He didn’t seem to think he is making the same mistake of listening to one side only when he quoted the decision of the School’s Faculty Evaluation and Appointment Committee to make his counter argument. While the side that supported Professor Xia has a well-documented pattern of suppression from which to draw their conclusions, the fact remains that in Peking University, there are plenty of inept professors who comfortably keep their jobs even though they are hated by students. I know this because I was a student there.
And what Professor Bu has to say next is anything but apolitical despite the article’s apolitical title In American Universities Faculties Also Have to Be Evaluated to Get Contract Renewal:
“It is worth noting that American media has been lopsided in their accusation of Peking University. This is probably the work of the cold war thinking in ideology. The American media have always cared and loved Chinese dissidents the most. Impartialness has long been inexistent in their coverage of China. On Tibet and on the Olympics, examples abound. This is why the New York Times and other American media outlets have a bad reputation among Chinese intellectuals, especially among young Chinese.”
Really? Chinese intellectuals and young people hate the New York Times? That’s news to me. I do know that China’s Great Fire Wall blocks all the sites of foreign media and social media such as Twitter and Facebook, and has long been using tactics to obstruct the work of foreign journalists in China from denying visas to outright personal threats.
On October 29, Professor Bu opined again, this time in English in The Wellesley News. He applauded the partnership between Wellesley and Peking University at length, and then he again criticized the one-sided coverage of American news media. “It is worth noting that Professor Xia’s case has attracted disproportionate coverage from U.S. news media, mostly one-sided. The reason for the outcries perhaps is that Professor Xia happens to be an outspoken activist against the Chinese government. Anyone familiar with China’s history knows that PKU is the most liberal university in China. All of the student movements in Chinese history originated from that campus. PKU faculty members are known to be outspoken about their political views which cover the whole political spectrum. Nobody has ever been fired for political reasons.”
Now, I’m really scared to reach the end of Professor Bu’s paragraphs. What a stop.
Professor Bu is right about that there have been many outspoken faculty members in Peking University, but that’s a quality, and courage, of these faculty members and not by the sanction of the university authority, which, as all universities in China, is under the strict control of the CCP. The truth is, free thinking has always been monitored closely and insidiously trammeled through varying methods. One of which is student reporting. Some of Professor Xia Yeliang’s students “complained” to school officials about him talking about the political and economic disasters in the Mao Zedong era in the classroom. This spring, the CCP stepped up control over university teaching by issuing a gag order to universities, known as the “7 no-mentions” (七不讲), that bars discussion of Western constitutional democracy, universal values of human rights, media independence, civil society, pro-market neo-liberalism, and nihilist criticisms of the party’s traumatic past.
I don’t know what time span the word “ever” covers when Professor Bu says “Nobody has ever been fired for political reasons.” It’s a ridiculous untruth if we go back to the 1950s, a terrible lie if we go back to the 1960 and 1970s, and a willful whitewash if we consider the faculties and students who were “disciplined,” fired, or put in jail in the wake of the Tian’anmen square democracy movement, from which Professor Bu might be a beneficiary.
(After the bloody crackdown, President H. W. Bush issued the Executive Order 12711 to defer deportation of Chinese nationals and their direct dependents who were in the US between 5 June 1989 and 11 April 1990, and gave them employment authorization. On May 21, 1992, the Senate passed The Chinese Student Protection Act of 1992 to grant green card—also known as the “Blood Card”—to all Chinese who were born in China and entered the US before April 11, 1990. An estimated 100,000 benefited from the Act, and Professor Bu, a Chinese student at the time, his family and friends were likely among them.)
I digressed. Readers interested in researching more examples of political persecution at Peking University in the 1990s can look up these names: Chen Po (陈波, Department of International Studies), Wang Tiancheng (王天成, Department of Law), and Yuan Hongbing (袁红冰, Department of Law).
A more recent case was Jiao Guobiao (焦国标), an associate professor of journalism at Peking University until he was fired for writing the article Crusade against the Propaganda Department in 2005. “The university announced that I left the job of my own initiative,” professor Jiao told the Voice of America (Chinese). “But I have been persecuted by the university since I published the article. First they barred me from teaching the undergraduate, then, the graduate. After that they tried to transfer me from the School of Journalism to the Center for Ancient Chinese Classics & Archives. I rejected it. The university was planning to fire me for rejecting the transfer. Right around that time, I was invited by the US National Endowment for Democracy for six-month academic research. The school opposed my trip to the US, but I came anyway. Now they punished me and announced that I had left my job at the university.”
I took pains to translate Professor Jiao’s explanation in order to show that, obstruction of academic freedom and punishment of political dissent come in different forms – often in more insidious forms than outright expulsion, such as secret monitoring and reporting by student party members, warning, non-promotion, teaching ban (Chinese), etc. This is particularly true today when Chinese universities are seeking more and more international alliances and trying to raise their profiles while benefiting from top-tier researchers around the world. They need to make their foreign counterparts believe they have academic freedoms, and they cannot afford to fire professors one after another for political reasons without losing their coveted “international cooperation.” For example, someone argued that, “Look, Peking University has not fired Professor He Weifang (贺卫方), and that goes to show Professor Xia Yeliang wasn’t fired for political reasons.” Well, no, the most obvious reason for keeping Professor He Weifang would be that Peking University will lose an arm or leg if they fire Professor He Weifang. Has He Weifang been pressured over the years? Google it for yourself, or better yet, talk to him.
On November 3rd, Professor Bu wrote again on the topic, this time in a letter to The Chronicle of Higher Education to bring its attention to the “only article from the U.S. that offered balanced view,” the Eric Fish piece in The Atlantic.
In all three articles, Professor Bu cited how important the Sino-US relationship is and what a success the partnership between Wellesley College and Peking University has been and must continue.
Well, Wellesley faculties have already voted to continue that partnership and no one in the world thinks the Sino-US relationship is unimportant. Professor Bu must have breathed a sigh of relief.
Now, has Professor Bu been writing as someone, anyone, who just happens to have an opinion about the matter, or is there more to it?
In April of this year, the website of Chinese Communist Party Changzhou Committee’s Department of United Front Work published a feature story (Chinese) about Professor Bu, titled Changzhou Bu Qiyue: Rewrite the History of a Famous American University. We learned that he was the first Chinese to become the Chair of the Board of Admissions at Wellesley; that among Wellesley’s many distinguished alumni are two Secretaries of the State, Albright and Hillary Clinton, as well as Soong May-ling, wife of Chiang Kai-shek, and Bing Xin, a prominent Chinese writer of the last generation; and that Professor Bu has been retained as an “overseas commissioner” of The Federation of Overseas Chinese of Changzhou since 2006.
(The official website [Chinese] of the organization describes it as “a people’s organization under the leadership of Chinese Communist Party Changzhou Committee.” It is a unit in the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. “Upholding high the patriotic, socialist flag, focusing closely on the Party’s central tasks, the Federation for more than two decades……has carried out all items of works….and contributed to the building of socialist modernism and the unification of the fatherland.” According to its bylaw [Chinese], it is financed by taxpayer’s money.)
We also learned from the same article that Professor Bu and his family had once been received by a ministerial level Chinese official with a banquet at Diaoyutai State Guesthouse (钓鱼台国宾馆), the place where Chinese government receives foreign leaders and dignitaries.
That’s really impressive for a non-Nobel winner overseas Chinese. Has Professor Bu solved any crazy problem the like of Goldbach Conjecture? The common impression you get from reading Chinese newspapers is that Nobelists of Chinese descent and math supermen get that kind of treatment, but apparently Chinese leaders befriend other types too.
As recently as last month, Professor Bu was received by the deputy director and Chairman of CCP Changzhou’s Department of United Front Work and the chairman of The Federation of Overseas Chinese of Changzhou.
In any case, I wonder, what channels one must go through, and what kind of coordination it takes, for an article by someone outside the Chinese government’s propaganda system on its very top level, and even outside China, to be posted not only on the site of China’s three most prominent propaganda organs almost simultaneously, but almost all other major state-owned media outlets as well, including Global Times (环球时报), China News (中新社), China Radio International (中国国际广播电台), and even a military site and many more? When I posed this question on Twitter, a tweep pointed out that, while Xinhua, People’s Daily and CCTV are all mouthpieces, they administratively belong to the State Council, the CCP Central Committee, and the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television respectively, and the only authority that can get all media outlets to do something concertedly is the CCP’s Department of Propaganda.
As I researched for this article over the weekend, I learned that Wellesley’s Freedom Project is going to invite Professor Xia Yeliang to be a visiting fellow. I hope this materializes. It looks like Wellesley could be having more arguments over Mr. Xia where he has strong supporters and also at least one formidable detractor. Writing this post, my hope is that Professor Bu, in future discussions of Professor Xia, will be forthcoming about his close ties with CCP and the Chinese government. Nothing is wrong with having such ties, right? But many will agree that it is problematic to hold back such extraordinary ties from his Wellesley colleagues while criticizing their support for Mr. Xia, and Professor Bu owes his colleagues some perspective and balance.
(Thank tweeps @ZhouFengsuo, @fightcensorship, @HengHe and others for their help.)
The following is a response from Mr. Eric Fish. When I wrote this piece, I was not aware of what he had subsequently written about the topic since his Atlantic piece. The only reason I mentioned his article at all is because it has some relevance to my discussion of Professor Bu.
Ah how easy it is for misrepresentations to flow and outright falsehoods to be reported when you don’t bother seeking comment from someone before putting words in their mouth. Amazingly, literally every word said about me (Eric Fish) in this piece managed to be false.
First of all, I did explain how I found my sources on Sinica several weeks ago:http://popupchinese.com/lessons/sinica/in-the-news
Secondly, as I’ve repeated probably at least a hundred times since that piece came out, I never “dismissed the outcries of American journalists and academics.” I don’t at all rule out that politics played a factor. But things tend to be a bit more complicated than the simple “bad teaching OR political persecution” false contradiction that’s dominated the debate on this issue. In my piece, I just reported what students said and devoted about half my article to Xia’s side of the story.
Thirdly, I never said “no one bothered to go to the university.” I said very few did. I know Andrew Jacobs talked to some current students prior to my piece, but I wasn’t so interested in talking to current students. Xia has known since the beginning of summer that this vote was coming up. If it were me, I’d dramatically change my teaching methods, so I wanted to contact students going back several years. And as it turns out, journalists Valentina Luo, Helen Gao AND Andrew Jacobs have since also found students saying the same things I found.
Fourthly, I didn’t find my sources “in a weekend.” I started looking a few days before Xia was officially fired because that’s when a random conversation with a PKU student alerted me to this story. Altogether I think it took about 5 days.