Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

US Scholar Sounds Alarm on Self-Censorship over China

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

US Scholar Sounds Alarm on Self-Censorship over China

Article excerpt

Fears Beijing's 'red zone of forbidden knowledge' spreading after tie-ups. David Matthews reports

Chinese censorship of academics over issues such as freedom of expression and human rights is creeping into the US academy as universities sign often lucrative partnerships with the country's institutions, an academic has warned.

Thomas Cushman, professor of sociology at Wellesley College, was behind a letter from staff that last year unsuccessfully implored its partner institution Peking University not to fire Xia Yeliang, an economist who has called for democracy in China and criticised the Communist Party.

His warning comes ahead of the release of an internal report into overseas partnerships at the London School of Economics, which, like Wellesley, has an exchange programme with Peking that has aroused concern from its ethics committee.

Professor Cushman was speaking on 11 June at the House of Commons at an event hosted by the Henry Jackson Society, a thinktank.

He referred to a directive from the Chinese government last year that reportedly banned classroom discussion of seven taboo subjects - literally called "speak-nots" - including civil society, wealth accumulated by top party officials and judicial independence.

As Western universities strike up academic partnerships with Chinese universities, Professor Cushman said he was concerned that this "red zone of forbidden knowledge" is spreading into the US as academics self-censor so as not to jeopardise links with China.

He said that he knew of one US-based historian of China who knows "exactly what's going on" in China politically but is "mute" on sensitive issues because he needs access to historical records in the country.

The letter protesting against Professor Xia's dismissal last year from Peking was signed by about half the staff at Wellesley, Professor Cushman said. Peking has always insisted that Professor Xia was dismissed for poor teaching. …

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