J’accuse, Tsinghua

Source: China Heritage (3/27/19)
J’accuse, Tsinghua University!

On 21 March, the same day on which President Bacow of Harvard delivered a powerful lecture at Peking University in which he extolled the virtues of academic inquiry, independence of thought and the pursuit of excellence, ‘next door’ on the campus of Tsinghua University, Professor Xu Zhangrun 許章潤, a noted scholar of law with an international reputation, was formally notified that henceforth he was banned from all teaching activities. Xu was also told that, on Monday 25 March, the university would launch formal disciplinary action against him for his recent writings, some of which have been translated and published by China Heritage (for a list of these, see below). Xu was to be taken task for exemplifying the very qualities that President Bacow advocated when addressing his audience at Peking University.

On hearing of Xu’s suspension, the celebrated independent writer Zhang Yihe (章詒和, 1942-) published a short note in which she expressed outrage and demanded answers from Tsinghua University. In her comments Zhang listed eight major essays that Xu Zhangrun had published in recent years, unique in that they publicly question the country’s rulers and the political direction of the nation. Meanwhile, Geng Xiaonan 耿瀟男, a film critic and publisher, declared in an online post that Xu’s essays were:

直擊七寸, 劍指廟堂。
Blows directed at their Achille’s Heel;
A sword pointed at their Sacred Heart.

On 25 March, Xu Zhangrun was informed that, apart from the suspension of his teaching duties and research work, he would be subjected to an investigation by a ‘Special Case Investigation Group’ 專案組 zhuān’àn (short for 專案審查小組 zhuān’àn shěnchá xiǎozǔ), set up to establish the basis for further disciplinary or legal action. Henceforth, he would be required to make himself available to assist the ‘task force’ in its inquiries. (Special Case or Investigation Groups — thuggish mechanisms working at the behest of the Party and its security organs — have a notorious history. In the past, they were used with devastating effect to amass material on, interrogate and persecute prominent individuals. To quote Mao Zedong writing in a different context, there is nothing about these groups that is ‘temperate, kind, courteous, restrained and magnanimous.’ 溫良恭儉讓). For an account of these developments, see Chris Buckley, ‘A Chinese Law Professor Criticized Xi. Now He’s Been Suspended.’New York Times, 26 March 2019.

On 26 March, the Chinese-language edition of the Financial Times published the following essay by Guo Yuhua (郭於華, 1956-), herself a prominent scholar in the Sociology Department of Tsinghua University. Guo’s title — ‘When Do Scholars Not Have Something to Say?’ 哪有學者不表達? — is a reference to Xu Zhangrun’s earlier essay 哪有先生不說話 ?!, published in an annotated bilingual version by China Heritage as ‘And Teachers, Then? They Just Do Their Thing!’ (China Heritage, 10 November 2018).

On 27 March, Hu Xijin 胡錫進, editor of The Global Times 環球時報, China’s version of Der Stürmer, offered an observation that was as ridiculous as it was disingenuous:

Radical scholars like Xu will find it difficult to keep their professor position at top university in any country. Imagine a professor in Harvard or Yale openly attacks US democratic system and advocates communist thoughts, can he continue teaching?

— Geremie R. Barmé
Editor, China Heritage
27 March 2019

Note: The text of Guo Yuhua’s essay is reproduced as it first appeared, despite our distaste for the ‘Crippled Characters’ 殘體字 of the People’s Republic. This bilingual translation is archived in The Best China section of China Heritage.

Xu Zhangrun in China Heritage:

On the New Patriotic Indoctrination of Intellectuals:

Further Reading:


Tsinghua Has Got Some Explaining to Do
哪有学者不表达?
Guo Yuhua 郭于华
translated by Geremie R. Barmé

Tsinghua University’s administrators have worked out how they are going to handle Professor Xu Zhangrun — my friend, my colleague, my paragon and a man rightly regarded as the pride of this university. It is now known that they will delay decisive action against him until there’s been a formal investigation. In the meantime, Zhangrun is suspended from all teaching duties, forbidden from pursuing any research work or writing, prevented from taking on new research students and relieved of all other duties (whatever that is supposed to mean).

To the best of my knowledge I believe that the reason for this decision is that Xu Zhangrun has published a series of articles in the last few years, the most profoundly thoughtful being essays such as:

我的朋友、我的同事、我的榜样,也是清华大学的骄傲——许章润教授收到了校方如下处理决定:对其问题启动调查程序,等待调查结果;在此期间,停课、停止科研活动、停止招生,免除一切职务(不知何指)。原因我想大概是他近年来的一系列文章,其中令人印象深刻的有《我们当下的恐惧与期待》,《保卫“改革开放”》,《低头致意,天地无边》《重申共和国这一伟大理念》等。

Now, I’d like to know just what article in the Chinese Constitution Professor Xu is in contravention of? I certainly don’t know the legal basis of the university’s treatment of him. Where’s the evidence? In my opinion, as a professor of law it is nothing less than a professional responsibility for Xu Zhangrun to advocate constitutional democracy and stress the need for the rule of law. Where’s the crime in that? Just how is he at fault? 

For many years Xu Zhangrun has worked on these issues with an unrelenting focus. Why? For the sake of this country, its people, our society: advocating constitutionalism, supporting the rule of law, striving for freedom, criticising the shortcomings of contemporary society and politics. It can be said of him with unflinching candor that his is a heart of absolute honesty and courage; his untainted spirit of concern is a testament to integrity. In Xu Zhangrun’s own words: ‘And Teachers, Then? They Just Do Their Thing!’, — that is, they speak out and express themselves. How can you justify condemning a person for expressing their views? Even if those opinions are erroneous or ill-conceived, they have a right to give voice to them. This is a commonplace, a kind of general knowledge in contemporary society. How can one be ‘dealt with’ simply for exercising one’s justifiable rights? In an era that respects and advocates the rule of law, no individual or organisation can place itself above the constitution or the law.

不知许教授的哪一项表达违背了哪一条法律法规?也不知学校对许教授的处理依据为何?具体证明何在?我认为,作为一位法学教授,倡导宪政民主、强调依法治国,原是本职工作、本分之责,何罪之有?何错之有?许老师多年来念兹在兹,努力不辍;为国,为民,为社会,倡宪政,兴法治,争自由,批弊端;实可谓拳拳之心,赤子情怀,立于天地,日月可鉴。“哪有先生不说话”(许章润语)?哪有学者不表达?因表达观点而获罪,却是何道理?即使是不正确、不完备的观点,也有表达的权利,这已是现代社会的基本常识。岂可因行使正当权利而被“处理”?在一个法治昌明的时代,任何个人、机构都不可置身于宪法法律之上。

In the modern world humanity as a whole recognises the fundamental importance of such things as constitutional government, basic freedoms and the rule of law; these concepts are also central to the Chinese government’s Socialist Values System. Constitutional government is a path that ensures dignity and true advancement. In China, however, in the much-troubled and frequently frustrated process of bringing about Constitutional Rule, the very concept is willfully distorted, cynically misused and so sullied that all too often people have only the most vague appreciation of its true significance and import. In his work, Professor Xu Zhangrun has made a factually clear, intellectually compelling case for Constitutional Rule, be it in terms of legal and theoretical abstraction or in regard to practical implementation. His is a powerful and clarion voice; his is an undeniable contribution. Are you really telling me that he is at fault?

在现代世界中,宪政民主自由法治已经成为人类的基本共识,这些内容也都写进了社会主义核心价值观。宪政之路,本是光明之路,光荣之路。而在中国宪政进程屡遭挫折的过程中,宪政的理念也在种种曲解、诡辩甚至污名化中变得暧昧不清。许章润教授对于宪政从理念到现实的论述事实清楚,道理明白,可谓掷地有声,功莫大焉。这难道错了吗?

The mission of any university worthy of the name is, within an environment of scientific inquiry and humanistic affirmation, to train and cultivate citizens, that is men and women who are independent individuals possessed of free will, critical awareness and a sense of moral responsibility. A university community is not merely a collection of specialists in various fields, much less is it a place for sclerotic minds and handicapped souls, let alone is it suitable for those with tireless ambition to train wannabe bureaucrats and the pusillanimous.

Teaching and research are creative forms of labour, they comprise an enterprise that values the pursuit of excellence. Above all they require ‘A Spirit Independent, a Mind Unfettered’. They call for an open mind and a generous spirit. Those with personalities distorted and corrupted by slavish compliance with The Powers That Be, those with petty, mean souls, those mean-spirited and short-sighted individuals — how can they possibly be adequate educators?

Outstanding teachers are essential for the pursuit of the estimable mission of the university. To force an outstanding teacher like Xu Zhangrun to ‘suspend teaching’ and ‘cease all research work’ (in other words, to stop thinking!) — these demands flagrantly betray the essential mission of this institution.

大学之使命,在于以科学精神、人文情怀培养具有独立人格、自由意志、批判意识和道德担当的公民,而不仅仅是各类专业性人才,更不能是头脑僵化、心智残缺、蝇营狗苟的官迷和小人。教书和做学问是创造性的劳动,是追求卓越的事业,最需要“独立之精神,自由之思想”,需要开放的头脑和舒展的心灵,而服膺于权力的人格是扭曲分裂的、灵魂是萎顿猥琐的、心胸和眼光是狭小的,又如何能够完成教育的使命?大学使命的实现需要良师,让许章润这样的良师“下课”,还“停止科研”(即停止分析思考),岂非与大学精神背道而驰?

If you are clear about the basic mission of a university then you certainly should be able to tell the difference between education and propaganda. But let me remind you: Education is about studying and transmitting the achievements of humanity in regard to various fields of knowledge, technical knowhow and with respect to social awareness. By doing so it enables the social maturation of the individual while also contributing to the evolution of a society of individuals. Moreover, university education is a formal process aimed at inculcating rationality, banishing ignorance, enriching the individual’s emotional and spiritual life while inducting them into modern civilisation while also contributing to the process of self-actualization.

And propaganda? That’s about government machinations or the workings of various politically affiliated organisations, somewhat akin to the PR or advertising efforts of a particular industry or business. The aim of propaganda is to garner people’s support for or opposition to identified targets; it has no truck with objective reality. Its role is to use whatever means it has at its disposal to influence opinion.

Therefore, it is incumbent upon responsible university administrators to make a crucial distinction: what is Education about? And what is Propaganda for? It is an absolute taboo to impose propagandistic methods when pursuing the tasks of teaching and research.

明了大学的使命,就应知晓教育和宣传的区别:教育旨在传播和学习人类文明成果,包括各种知识、技能和社会生活经验,以促进个体社会化和社会个性化的实践活动。学校教育更是制度化教育,其目标在于启迪人类理性,免除无知,充实精神生活,传递文明及成就人的自我实现。而宣传则是政府或政治团体的运作,类似于企业或公司的公关或广告。宣传的目的在于赢得支持或反对特定事物的立场,而非呈现客观事实,其功用主要是以不同手段影响舆论。作为大学领导分清教育和宣传是至关重要的,以宣传方式对待教学和研究是教育之大忌。

So, in light of the above, let me now pose some questions to those in charge of Tsinghua University:

  • What is the legal basis for the determinations you have come to regarding Professor Xu Zhangrun?
  • Are you really aware of the historical precedent your actions set for Tsinghua University?
  • Do you remember, or are you aware of President Mei Yi-chi [president of Tsinghua from 1931 to 1948]?
  • Don’t you know about the Four Great Teachers of this institution and the tradition that they represent [that is, the thinker and reformer Liang Qichao 梁啓超; the scholar Wang Guowei 王國維; the historian Chen Yinque 陳寅恪; and, the linguist Yuan-jen Chao 趙元任]?

Okay then, you can be as mediocre as you want, you can even be guilty of mistakes: but you cannot and should not do evil! I appeal to you to be respectful of basic morality and ‘aim your gun one inch higher’. [A reference to a popular belief in China that during the trial of border guards following the fall of the Berlin Wall a lawyer remarked to a soldier who said he had just been carrying out orders when he shot people trying to climb the wall into West Berlin: ‘Couldn’t you simply have aimed one inch higher?’]

鉴于上述思考,我要向清华校方提出一些疑问:你们对许章润教授做出的决定有何法律依据?你们意识到此举开了清华历史上怎样的先河吗?你们可还记得梅贻琦校长和四大导师等前辈吗?你们可以平庸,可以犯错,但是不可作恶!请谨守“枪口抬高一寸”的德行。

In conclusion, let me suggest that you join me [and visit the stele on the Tsinghua campus that records] Chen Yinque’s epitaph for Wang Guowei [a noted scholar who committed suicide in 1927 and was commemorated in 1930 with a stele inscribed with Chen’s eulogy]:

The future cannot be known; indeed there may come a time when this Gentleman’s work no longer enjoys preeminence, just as there are aspects of his scholarship that invite disputation. Yet his was an Independent Spirit and his a Mind Unfettered — these will survive the millennia to share the longevity of Heaven and Earth, shining for eternity as do the Sun, the Moon and the very Stars themselves.

最后,我愿与你们共同重温本校陈寅恪先生所题王观堂先生纪念碑铭:来世不可知也,先生之著述,或有时而不彰。先生之学说,或有时而可商。惟此独立之精神,自由之思想,历千万祀,与天壤而同久,共三光而永光。


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