Saturday, October 22, 2011

China banning US scholars

The cases of US China scholars who are banned from traveling to China should receive more attention than it does receive.  Here is a Bloomberg story from August that discusses the best-known cases.  It is very depressing and disturbing.  I view this as a case of two steps forward and one step back; China is in general much more open than in the past, but this banning of professors is, well, outrageous. And depressing.  These are not people who are activists or law breakers, certainly not in China, and not even in the US. Their difficulties are especially disturbing because they are not officially banned--they just have their visa requests denied. This then leads others to suggest that there must be more to it, or that it is better to wait and see. But what has clearly happened is that they get on some security blacklist, and then no one in China wants to take responsibility for taking them off the list.

Another interesting aspect of the story is that the Xinjiang scholars' problems started because the editor of the book sent a copy of the book to the security people who had shown interest in their book, and that led them to translate it. Instead of this being a sign of good faith and open scholarly exchange (and that they had nothing to hide), it got them into trouble. You are better off avoiding security in China, the exact opposite of the approach in the West, where keeping your activities open is a sign of good faith. Most Chinese I know avoid dealing with "gongan" as much as possible, and treat them like the plague.

More pressure needs to be put on China to stop barring scholars from visiting China. Or, if they continue to do so, there has to be a cost. It is actually an embarrassment to many Chinese that this is happening, so it is important to seek allies to continue opening up China and letting security authorities understand that this is not acceptable internationally. And if other China scholars do not speak out, they are complicit, and give credence to claims that I hear every now and then that scholars self-censor. And universities need to speak out too, collectively.

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