Learning a Lesson from the Chinese

March 22, 2005

Freedom of expression in China (account needed for access) made headlines in the Chronicle of Higher Education yesterday. Apparently, last Wednesday, China’s Ministry of Education ordered that messages posted on a popular bulletin board website to be restricted to current students only (booting out alumni and off-campus folks) and required that all students use their real names when registering to use the site. On Friday, students organized a protest and demanded that these restrictions be rescinded. The government’s action also prompted opposition on other websites, including the following quotes that are highly (and disturbingly) relevant to the issue of free speech and academic freedom in the U.S.:

One participant, who used the screen name Meander, called the restrictions “depressing.” “It’s already quite difficult to find a place to engage in high-level academic exchanges in China,” the writer said. “Is it the wish of Ministry of Education that we all go abroad?”

“Everyone should decide what’s right and wrong for oneself,” said a student with the user name No War. “There’s no need for someone else to decide this for me.”

The article went on to report that in China, “scholars frequently [are] being punished for what they say and write.”

In light of all of the cases we receive about censorship and repression on campus in the U.S., one can see how hauntingly similar the situations can be here and abroad. It’s a real shame that if the Chinese students came here to seek academic freedom, they could instead find similar paternalistic controls on their expression and on their consciences.