News / Asia

US-China College Partnership Strained By Treatment of Outspoken

The Great Reset Higher Education two instructors, left, teach a literature and law class, while another class of first-year students, right, attend a geology lesson in the classroom in Chongqing, China, (File photo).
The Great Reset Higher Education two instructors, left, teach a literature and law class, while another class of first-year students, right, attend a geology lesson in the classroom in Chongqing, China, (File photo).
Shannon Van Sant
U.S. colleges and universities are expanding into China, setting up satellite campuses with Chinese counterparts to reach new students. In June, Wellesley College, a women’s college in Massachusetts, signed a partnership with Peking University in Beijing. Now Wellesley professors are expressing concern over what they say is a political crackdown at their Chinese sister school.
 
Xia Yeliang is a senior professor of economics at China’s Peking University. Through his classroom lectures and online blogs he has become one of China’s most outspoken advocates of political change.  “I can’t bear it any more.  I think the regression is so shameless," Xia said. "China should have fundamental institutional change to establish constitutional democracy and rule of law.  And I believe in the future, all citizens should have independent rights and should have individual freedom.”
 
His views may cost him his job. In the coming weeks, Peking University, the most prestigious institution of higher learning in China, will hold a vote on whether to fire him.
 
The university is not responding to inquiries about why the professor’s job is in jeopardy. China’s state-run Global Times newspaper published an editorial questioning his job performance, labeling the professor an “extremist liberal.”
 
Xia said his troubles are part of a broader crackdown on freedom of speech under China’s new president, Xi Jinping.  “There are much more severe measures towards intellectuals, even businessmen, for anyone who speaks out.  They have conducted a concentrated campaign over the last few months; they have arrested so many people,” stated Xia.
 
The debate over Xia’s future comes just months after Wellesley College announced an academic partnership with Peking University during a conference in Beijing, where celebrated alumnae such as former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright spoke.
 
Now that partnership is under fire from nearly 40 percent of the college’s faculty.  130 Wellesley professors signed a letter urging the college to rethink its partnership with Peking University if Xia is fired.
 
William Joseph is a Professor of Political Science with a focus on Chinese politics and ideology at Wellesley and one of the authors of the letter.  “I have been engaging with this regime [Chinese government] for more than 40 years, and I am willing to live within limits generally," he said. "But when it becomes so specific as in David’s case, where I believe it is so blatantly a violation of academic freedom rather than just self-censorship, that is the major tool of the dictatorship in China, I felt I had no choice other than to take a stand.”
 
Wellesley College President H. Kim Bottomly responded to the standoff by releasing a statement saying the university faculty would reassess the school’s relationship with Peking University if Professor Xia is fired.
 
Wellesley has heralded the Peking partnership as an opportunity for faculty and student exchanges and joint research. Other U.S. schools have struck similar deals. Duke University broke ground for its China campus in Kunshan in 2010, and classes have begun at New York University’s new “portal” campus in Shanghai.  The universities’ expansion into the world’s fastest growing economy brings new students and dollars to American university campuses at a time of financial strain.
 
But the academic partnerships are coming at a time of China’s heightened scrutiny of individuals who have built a reputation for their outspoken views.
 
Earlier this year authorities unveiled harsh new penalties for internet users who post information online considered “defamatory.” Human Rights Watch reports that more than 55 activists have been arbitrarily detained in China since February of this year.  Wellesley’s William Joseph sees Xia’s situation as part of this trend.
 
“There has obviously been a crackdown in some ways, particularly among intellectuals and universities, faculty, dissidents in general, over the last couple of months, and I think that was a reality check for people who thought that Xi Jinping might be different,” said Joseph.
 
Xia Yeliang’s political activism began more than a decade ago when he wrote what he calls “anti-corruption articles” for newspapers, magazines and academic journals focusing on China’s leadership. He gained prominence in 2008 when he was an early signer of Charter 08, a citizens’ manifesto calling for political change and an end to one-Party rule.
 
Xia said the fallout from his political views began soon after. Once a regular television commentator, state-backed broadcaster CCTV stopped asking him to appear on their shows. He also says Peking University took away two of his professional titles.  Undercover police began to follow and question him, sometimes waiting all night in a car outside of his home.
 
By 2011 Xia said he was so frustrated by the surveillance that he accepted teaching opportunities abroad, first at UCLA and then Stanford.  But he continued to call for greater civic freedoms and eventually was ordered to return home or face dismissal from his job.
 
Now, he faces expulsion from that position from a peer review committee. Wellesley’s William Joseph is skeptical that the review is actually about assessing Xia’s job performance.  “Why someone of that rank and stature should be dismissed, by peer review?  It just doesn’t make sense in a lot of ways,” he stated.
 
Xia is the second college professor this year who said he is being punished for his political beliefs.  Zhang Xuezhong, a lecturer at East China University of Political Science and Law in Shanghai, says he was suspended from his teaching responsibilities after he wrote an article urging members of the Communist Party to operate within China’s constitution.  Zhang says university officials told him the article was “unconstitutional” and in violation of university rules.  
 
Xia worries that his outspokenness will lead to jail time and says his wife has implored him to stop his activism.  
 
“I said if there is no one to be on the first line, then there is no one to follow other people.  I’d like to be on the first line.  There should always be someone to stand up and to call on other people.  Of course everyone has a wife, has a family," Xia said.  "Everybody has.  So what is the excuse?  If we want to change the institution, there must be someone who would like to make the sacrifice and give some contribution to that.”
 
Peking University had been expected to vote by the end of September on Xia’s fate. The professor says he has not been notified as to when the vote will occur and it may have been postponed until later this fall.

You May Like

Video In Ukraine's Nikishino, No House Untouched by Fighting

Ninety percent of homes in one small village were damaged or destroyed as government forces failed to stop a rebel advance More

Pakistan’s 'Last Self-Declared Jew' Attacked, Detained

Argument about the rights of non-Muslims in Pakistan allegedly results in mob beating well-known Jewish Pakistani More

Turkey Cracks Down on Political Dissent, Again

People daring to engage in political dissent ahead of upcoming general elections could find themselves in jail More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
In Their Own Words: Citizens of Kobanii
X
Mahmoud Bali
March 06, 2015 8:43 PM
Civilians are slowly returning to Kobani, after Kurdish fighters backed by coalition airstrikes fought off a four-month siege of the northern Syrian town by Islamic State militants. VOA Kurdish Service reporter Mahmoud Bali talked to some of those who have returned. We hear about the devastation of Kobani through their own words.
Video

Video In Their Own Words: Citizens of Kobani

Civilians are slowly returning to Kobani, after Kurdish fighters backed by coalition airstrikes fought off a four-month siege of the northern Syrian town by Islamic State militants. VOA Kurdish Service reporter Mahmoud Bali talked to some of those who have returned. We hear about the devastation of Kobani through their own words.
Video

Video In Ukraine's Nikishino, No House Untouched by Fighting

In the village of Nikishino, in eastern Ukraine, recent fighting has brought utter devastation. Ninety percent of the houses are damaged or destroyed after government forces tried and failed to stop rebels advancing on the strategically important town of Debaltseve nearby. Patrick Wells reports for VOA from Nikishino.
Video

Video Crime Scenes Re-Created in 3-D Visualization

Police and prosecutors sometimes resort to re-creations of crime scenes in order to better understand the interaction of all participants in complicated cases. A Swiss institute says advanced virtual reality technology can be used for quality re-creations of events at the moment of the crime. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Sierra Leone Ebola Orphans Face Another Crisis

There's growing concern about the future of an orphanage run by a British charity in Sierra Leone, after a staff member and his wife died this week from Ebola. The Saint George Foundation Orphanage in Freetown is now in quarantine, with more than 20 children and seven staff in lock-down. The BBC has agreed to share Ebola-related material with Voice of America because of the difficulties faced by media organizations reporting the crisis. Clive Myrie reports from Sierra Leone.
Video

Video Growing Concerns Over Whether Myanmar’s Next Elections Will Be Fair

Myanmar has scheduled national elections for November that are also expected to include a landmark referendum on the country's constitution. But there are growing concerns over whether the government is taking the necessary steps to prepare for a free and fair vote. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman was recently in Myanmar and files this report from our Southeast Asia bureau in Bangkok.
Video

Video Nigeria’s Ogonis Divided Over Resuming Oil Production

More than two decades ago, Nigeria’s Ogoni people forced Shell oil company to cease drilling on their land, saying it was polluting the environment. Now, some Ogonis say it’s time for the oil to flow once again. Chris Stein reports from Kegbara Dere, Nigeria.
Video

Video Fuel Shortages in Nigeria Threaten Election Campaigns

Nigeria is suffering a gas shortage as the falling oil price has affected the country’s ability to import and distribute refined fuels. Coming just weeks before scheduled March 28 elections, the shortage could have a big impact on the campaign, as Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA.
Video

Video Report: Human Rights in Annexed Crimea Deteriorating

A new report by Freedom House and the Atlantic Council of the United States says the human rights situation in Crimea has deteriorated since the peninsula was annexed by Russia in March of last year. The report says the new authorities in Crimea are discriminating against minorities, suppressing freedom of expression, and forcing residents to assume Russian citizenship or leave. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video 50 Years Later African-Americans See New Voting Rights Battles Ahead

Thousands of people will gather to mark the 50th anniversary of a historic civil rights march on March 7th in Selma, Alabama. In 1965, dozens of people were seriously injured during the event known as “Bloody Sunday,” after police attacked African-American demonstrators demanding voting rights. VOA’s Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights pioneers who are still fighting for voting rights in Alabama more than 50 years later.
Video

Video Craft Brewers Taking Hold in US Beer Market

Since the 1950’s, the U.S. beer industry has been dominated by a handful of huge breweries. But in recent years, the rapid rise of small craft breweries has changed the American market and, arguably, the way people drink beer. VOA’s Jeff Custer reports.
Video

Video Video Claims to Show Shia Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boy

A graphic mobile phone video is spreading on the Internet, claiming to show Iraqi forces or Shia militia executing a handcuffed Sunni boy. Experts have yet to verify the video, but already Islamic State followers are publicizing it across social media, playing on deep-rooted sectarian fears. VOA’s Jeff Seldin reports.
Video

Video Ukrainian Authorities Struggle to Secure a Divided Mariupol

Since last month's cease-fire went into effect, shelling around the port city of Mariupol has decreased, but it is thought pro-Russian separatists remain poised to attack. For the city’s authorities, a major challenge is gaining the trust of residents, while at the same time rooting out informants who are passing sensitive information to the rebels. Patrick Wells reports for VOA.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More