Misread Chinese Character Prompts Calls For Resignation of Peking University Chief

Share on WhatsApp
Share on WhatsApp
beida-president-05072018.jpg A file photo of Peking University president Lin Jianhua, who has come under pressure to resign after he misread a Chinese character during an official ceremony.
Public Domain

Alumni of China's prestigious Peking University have called on its president to resign after he misread a Chinese character during an official ceremony.

The moves are likely linked to the university's suppression of Yue Xin, a final-year undergraduate student recently sent home and threatened for calling attention to a decades-old rape allegation against a former Peking University professor.

At least two open letters have been circulating on social media calling for Peking University president Lin Jianhua to step down. One said he lacks the "level of education and moral courage" required for the role.

Yang Ningyuan, now a postdoctoral researcher in psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, said he had authored one of the letters because of serious doubts about Lin's suitability for the unelected role.

"We don't endorse him, because we didn't choose him, and we don't endorse his actions, either," Yang told RFA. "The president of Peking University is an official appointed by the government, and Peking University and Tsinghua University have at least the ranking of a province [in the government hierarchy]."

"They have been saying for years that the leader of such a major university should be elected by the other professors," he said. "But there is no sign of this ever happening."

Yang also appeared concerned about the growing role of government in all areas of life, even overseas.

"Now, we are even seeing [ruling] Chinese Communist Party cells in foreign enterprises, and among overseas students, even here in the United States," Yang said.

"The party controls everything; that's the way things are going," he said.

A Peking University alumnus surnamed Chen said that the reaction from students and former students to Lin's blooper was likely the result of recent tensions between the student body and the authorities over the spread of the #MeToo campaign to China, and to university campuses in particular.

Rape led to suicide in 1998

Yue, a student of Peking University's Foreign Languages Institute, was among eight students who submitted a freedom-of-information request to the school on Apr. 9 asking for information on its handling of an allegation made 20 years ago against former lecturer Shen Yang, that he raped a student who later committed suicide.

She has since been sent home and threatened with expulsion, but has continued to post detailed accounts of her treatment at the hands of authorities online, in defiance of orders from the top.

Peking University student Gao Yan committed suicide in 1998 after making allegations of rape against former lecturer Shen Yang, now at Nanjing University.

The case came to light as the #MeToo sexual harassment and assault began to go viral in China, leading to a number of high-profile allegations, many leveled against university lecturers in positions of power over their students.

Peking University has said it has "insufficient records" from Shen Yang's tenure there to make public, and that it didn't have details of the police investigation that took place at the time. It said transcripts of interviews with Shen carried out by the university had been "lost."

Yue said she was "very disappointed" by the response, and has called on the university to make a full, written and public explanation of its treatment of her and her family, and formally apologize, as well as to ensure that the incident doesn't affect her graduation or future employment prospects.

Chen said Yue's lone protest is remarkable, given the long years of training in elitism, self-centeredness and compliant behavior that she and her cohort have undergone.

"In such an atmosphere, it is remarkable that here we have a young student standing up and promoting this awareness of social responsibility," Chen said. "Everyone feels that, and they see in this incident a ray of hope for Peking University. Our alumni believe that this is a matter of conscience."

"But a great many Peking University alumni will have trouble accepting ... the extreme suppression of [Yue Xin] by the university, which escalated this to a high political level and designated [student anger] as being caused by hostile forces," he said.

Official Chinese media on Monday published a letter posted to a Peking University internal online forum from Lin apologizing for the misread Chinese character, and saying that his education had suffered during the school closures of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).

"I'm really unfamiliar with the word's pronunciation, now I learned, but in a way with high cost," the official China.org website quoted the letter as saying. "Your president is not a perfect person. He has disadvantages and deficiencies; he can also make mistakes."

But Lin also appeared to hit out in a sideswipe at his critics: "Anxiety and questioning aren’t of any value; instead they will prevent us from stepping into the future," the letter said, prompting a number of social media commentators to respond that questioning should be an inherent value of academic life.

Repeated calls to the Peking University party committee propaganda department and organization department rang unanswered on Sunday.

Reported by Wong Siu-san and Lau Siu-fung for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Jia Ao for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.