University in China's Guizhou Cancels Outspoken Economics Professor's Classes

china-yang2-111417.jpg Suspended university professor Yang Shaozheng is shown in an undated photo.
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Authorities in the southwestern Chinese region of Guangxi have suspended a university professor over "politically sensitive" writings, amid an ongoing crackdown on academic freedom by the ruling Chinese Communist Party.

Yang Shaozheng of the Institute of Economics at Guizhou University told RFA on Tuesday he had received notification from the university that his classes are being canceled.

"I received notification from Li Benguang, deputy head of the undergraduate program at the Institute of Economics, telling me that my undergraduate classes have been canceled," Yang told RFA.

"I asked them why, but they wouldn't give a reason."

Yang said he had made further enquiries among the Institute's management team, and been told that it was "something he said," and that the order to terminate his classes had come from "higher up."

Yang said the suspension is likely linked to his questioning on two occasions last month by Guizhou city police regarding his submission of "sensitive material" to a publishing house in the southwestern megacity of Chongqing.

"I sent some of my articles to a retired publishing editor in Chongqing, and they told me that they are now investigating him," Yang said. "They told me ... that I had better keep my mouth shut and not make any kind of political statements."

"But I told them that my speech is protected under the constitution."

Yang said it is still unclear exactly what he wrote or said to offend the powers that be.

An employee who answered the phone at the teaching department at Guizhou University declined to give further details.

"The cancellation was at the request of the university, but we in the lower-ranks don't know the details. You'll have to ask our leaders," the employee said. "All they said was that we should cancel his classes."

"We ... don't know why they made that decision."

Rushing to comply

The sanctions against Yang come as the Communist Party sets to work to bring the president's newly minted "Xi Jinping Thought" into every aspect of public life, including as a research topic in universities.

"Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era" was enshrined in the party constitution at the 19th party congress last month, and at least 20 universities responded by rapidly setting up research institutes for the study of the president's ideology.

Local officials are now scrambling to find public ways to demonstrate their loyalty to Xi in the wake of the party congress, analysts say.

Members of the Communist Party have also been warned in clear terms to stay away from "wrong words" online, which it defines as anything that departs from the official line.

Retired Shandong University professor Sun Wenguang said everyone working in higher education in China is currently under huge political pressure.

"It makes no difference if you are a full professor or just a lecturer. Once they stop you working, then you have no way to earn a living," Sun said. "There's no way you can go to a different university to teach."

"All universities in China are run by the Communist Party, and they all have Communist Party committees [in charge of them]," he said.

Censorship overseas

There are also signs that Beijing is extending its academic censorship overseas.

Publishers Allen & Unwin have withdrawn a book exposing the Chinese Communist Party's activities in Australia from publication at the 11th hour after last-minute "legal advice," the book's author said in media interviews.

Charles Sturt University author and ethicist Professor Clive Hamilton said his book details the low-key and sometimes clandestine efforts of Chinese Communist Party agents within Australia's borders to influence public opinion.

Earlier this month, Springer Nature, which publishes Nature and the Scientific American, blocked access to some 1,000 journal articles to Chinese internet users because they contained banned keywords relating to political topics such as Tibet, Taiwan, or the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).

The company said it had blocked the articles, all of which appeared in the Journal of Chinese Political Science and International Politics, in keeping with "local rules and regulations."

n August, the Cambridge University Press (CUP) said it had censored more than 300 articles from the China Quarterly academic journal's China website at the request of media regulators in Beijing, citing similar reasons.

However, CUP later reversed the decision, and refused a later request from the State Administration of Press and Publications, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT) to block around 100 articles published by the Journal of Asian Studies.

Reported by Wong Siu-san, Hai Nan and Lam Kwok-lap for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Yang Fan for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.


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