A recent push by the FBI for US universities to monitor Chinese students is alarming – but this siren rings with a different tonality depending on your listening equipment. To Senator Mark Warner, it’s about national security. But to me, it sounds a whole lot like government-sanctioned censorship.
Following the publication of his more recent Imminent Fears piece, Xu was allegedly ordered by university officials to stop “all teaching and research” and take a pay cut. A university “work team” would also be investigating him and the essays he has been writing.
Even since 1997, that tradition of free speech has endured. An entire cottage industry of publishing content banned throughout Mainland China emerged to a point of (semi-)national notoriety in Hong Kong, if not actual pride.
Pro tip number one: Pick a word any word – except maybe the hash tag #MeToo. The Me Too Movement, founded by a Black American woman named Tarana Burke to encourage empathy and empowerment for sexual assault survivors, became ubiquitous online and off-line in 2017. In China, women have been using the coded phrase “rice bunny” (米兔), pronounced as “mi tu” to get around would-be censors who would shut down conversations online about sexual harassment.
No easy solution exists precisely because defining the borders between intellectual freedom and intellectual dishonesty is so hard. Where does intent factor in to drawing “the line?” What about faith? In the South, we say “you can’t fix stupid,” but intellectual freedom includes the freedom to go down many paths, right?
For those familiar with censorship in China, the Chinese government’s banning of books on the politics and history of its leaders (both past and present) is not a new phenomenon.