The firing of a professor at Xiamen University’s Tan Kah Kee College in southeastern China after students reported him to the school administration for allegedly making political incorrect remarks in class has sparked an online backlash.
You Shengdong, a 71-year-old professor teaching international trade and world economics, confirmed that he was fired for making what university officials described as "radical" remarks, but he said the officials did not disclose what exactly they meant by "radical."
He believes his class was behind his termination.
Hundreds of students have endorsed an online campaign supporting You, hoping to reverse the professor’s fate.
Many lamented You’s unfair treatment on Sina Weibo, a Twitter-like microblogging platform.
One student described him as “an admirable scholar, who had to quit as a result of students’ malicious slander. This is a big loss to the school.”
Another wrote: “I’d like to pay tribute to Mr. You’s boldness and outspokenness,” while another said “although Mr. You has been outspoken, his words are very true. It’s rude [of students] to have informed on You.”
Still, the professor’s teaching career in Xiamen has come to an abrupt end.
You says this is the first time he got into trouble after having taught at many universities across the country including the Communist Party-run school since the 1980s.
Speaking the truth
In a telephone interview with Voice of America, You said he remains committed to speaking the truth.
“I take teaching very seriously because these students, coming from all over the country, have dedicated their youth to learning with their parents’ hard-earned money,” he said.
“Like a doctor who won’t prescribe counterfeit medicine, I won’t propagate doctrines that are yet tested or proved to be wrong. I consider it a sin to act against my will or speak words against my consciousness,” added the professor, who had previously said “I would rather die at the podium than in a sick bed.”
Since late 2014, Xiamen University has implemented measures to cope with what it calls “teaching incidents,” prohibiting its faculty from making comments that are deemed unconstitutional and in violation of party policies and socialist values. The accused faculty is allowed to appeal their cases.
Tan Kah Kee College hasn’t responded to VOA’s inquiries of You’s case and if any investigation has been launched.
A chilling effect
You said he’s not aware of such measures, but noticed that his case has sent a chilling effect.
“Some students told me privately that, after learning of my case, some teachers have been intimidated and [prudent] to make comments… I’ve been speaking my mind my entire life, why would I start telling lies at an old age,” he said.
The professor said that he would find teaching opportunities elsewhere.
He claims to be a popular teacher, whose critical views are inspiring among students. One of his students responded on Weibo “every time I finish You’s class, I long to emigrate.”
Such views may sound dangerous to the authorities.
The Party’s ideology battle
The Global Times reported that “You is the latest example in recent months of teachers being reported by their students for suspected politically inappropriate statements…that violate China’s regulations on teacher ethics.”
Prior to him, Xu Chuangqing, a math professor at the Beijing University of Civil Engineering and Architecture, was given an administrative penalty after students accused her of praising Japanese as a more superior race than the Chinese.
Students at the Zhongnan University of Economics and Law also informed on another professor, who was expelled from the party for remarks that violated party policies.
Citing words of Chen Baosheng, China’s Minister of Education, the report said “the education system is the frontline of the Party’s ideology work.”
You is one of a growing number of examples of how China’s communist leadership increasingly exerts efforts to push ideology on university campuses, prevent foreign infiltration and control freedom of speech, observers said.
An Orwellian age
The practice is ushering China into what rights activist Albert Ho characterized as an “Orwellian age.”
“This is horrible. It’s now becoming an Orwellian age, where everybody is keeping a watch on you. The Big Brother is keeping a watch on you through all the other small brothers. And all the other small brothers are keeping a watch on one and another,” said Ho, chairman of the Hong Kong-based China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group.
“So, this is an age of threat and white terror [in China],” he added.
Ho referred to British author George Orwell, whose novel 1984 depicts a society in which a centralized, totalitarian state exercises complete control of people through secret surveillance.