Censorship Over Research in Chinese Academia Has Gone Global
Wang Dan, a former leader of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, recently published an article in The New York Times titled “Beijing Hinders Free Speech in America.” Wang, the founder of New School for Democracy, observes a mounting influence of the Chinese Communist Party to exercise censorship in Western academic communities through “a campaign of fear and intimidation.” To Wang, measures such as online harassment instigated by rampant sentiments of nationalism, political persuasions and exiles, and infiltration of Western educational institutions by Chinese money, should raise concerns about “Beijing’s increasing proclivity to commit rights abuses beyond its borders.”
The instance of the Springer Nature censorship, briefly mentioned in the article, is part of a broader current trend of journal censorship that prompted a storm of criticisms from academics. As a global academic publisher, Springer has blocked access to 1,000 journal articles in China that contain sensitive keywords such Tibet, Taiwan, and Cultural Revolution, reported The Financial Times. This act is, according to Springer’s published policy, “in compliance with” the terms of the policy and “not editorial censorship.” In contrast with the reversal of the decision to block content from its journal, The China Quarterly in China by Cambridge University Press (CUP), Springer commented that the block is “a local content access decision in China done to comply with specific local regulation,” reported The Bookseller.
According to The Washington Post, Springer’s submission to the will of Chinese censorship is, rather than an incidental event, “one of many the Communist government has taken in recent years to mold history and historians to serve the needs of the Chinese Communist Party.” Since the “rectification campaign” in late 2014 that consisted of accusations of “lacking ideological loyalty and being excessively negative about the country” in university lectures and the preaching of “Western value and concepts” in the classroom, political control in the Chinese education has intensified. As part of a campaign led by Xi against what he calls “historical nihilism,” China’s nascent civil code has been amended to “make defaming ‘heroes and martyrs’ of the ruling Communist Party a civil offense.” Those who would fall under this category include “academics who offer different interpretation of history which downplay the role of the Party and its heroes,” reported Reuters.
On the other hand, the question of whether and to what extent Chinese norms will start to impact the behaviors of Western educational institutions is raised by China Policy Institute Analysis, urging respect for rules within China’s territory and suggesting that “the west is not going to have much impact on the contours of Chinese norms.” On this subject, Christopher Balding, a professor at the HSBC Business School in Shenzhen and the author of petition aimed at CUP, called for a more robust resistance from Western universities when faced with “an actual test of their commitment to free speech.” At Foreign Policy, he suggested that “good intermediate steps can be taken in dealing with Communist Party demands to impose censorship on Chinese research abroad.” For Balding, by acquiescing to Chinese authorities, Western universities “make themselves complicit in promoting censorship and human rights violations” by selling principles of academic freedom that they promote.