Say It Ain’t So, Joan: A Response to the AAUP Journal of Academic Freedom, Volume 4

By Joshua A. Fogel

As a student of Chinese history for the past 43 years, I have read extensively in the scholarship substantiating the tens of millions of people murdered or starved to death by the Communist regime, primarily during the years of Mao Zedong’s leadership. These are not the ravings of some firebrand, right-wing, anti-Communist blogger or radio talk-show host, but the results of surveys in the People’s Republic itself as well as overseas. During the Cultural Revolution covering the last ten years of the Chairman’s life, 1966-1976, upwards of 1,000,000 men and women were tortured and murdered, including legions of academics. All of us witnessed the massacres of several thousand Chinese students and workers in June 1989 by the People’s Liberation Army, and China still leads the world in the number of state-administered executions—in fact, it executes more than all reporting nations combined each year. These facts, as well as the crushing of the Falungong demonstrators only a few years back, are stark facts, not up for grabs among scholars everywhere. Oh, and did I mention the recent assessment, reported in the Atlantic Monthly, that China is now home to some three million slaves—meaning one out of every 450 Chinese performs forced, unremunerated labor? Yet, for all of these man-made human calamities, no one to my knowledge has ever suggested that North American academics boycott Chinese institutions of higher learning—and I agree that such a stance would be intellectually untenable.

Most recently, as widely reported in the press, Professor Xia Yeliang of Peking University’s Department of Economics was fired from his job for criticizing the single-party stranglehold on politics and policy in his native land. Is China still the human rights exception? Where was the AAUP? Perhaps things are happening behind the scenes, but kudos to the Wellesley College faculty for very publicly coming to Professor Xia’s defense. 

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