Jerome A. Cohen (right), a law professor at New York University, is the sponsor of the blind barefoot lawyer Chen Guangcheng and one of the few China scholars in the West “willing to stick their neck out for Chinese dissidents, democrats, and other ‘troublemakers,’” writes Jay Nordlinger.
Obviously, some number of scholars are simply sympathetic to the Chinese regime. But a greater number are wary of crossing that regime, because they need or wish to go to China, and must have visas. Also, there is a great deal of Chinese money in China studies — and biting the hand that feeds you is problematic. The Chinese Communists are much more subtle about visas than were the Soviet Communists. The Soviets denied visas left and right, and they kicked foreigners out “by the shovelful,” as Jonathan Mirsky says. ….
The Chinese, on the other hand, ban relatively few — although they seem to be banning more and more, says Perry Link, another experienced China scholar. Also, they tend not to tell you why they’re banning you. They’ll say, “You know. You know the reason. You have chosen this outcome yourself.” And when one scholar is banned, all the others wonder, “What did Smith do? How can I avoid the same fate?” ….As Link says, the Chinese are much better at “psychological engineering” than the Soviets ever managed to be.
There are certain topics about which Beijing is especially sensitive. Sarah Cook, an East Asia specialist with Freedom House, mentions “the three ‘T’s”: Tibet, Taiwan, and Tiananmen. This last, as you know, refers to Tiananmen Square, main site of the 1989 student protests, which ended in a massacre by the government. Cook also notes that Beijing is somewhat more relaxed about Taiwan than about the other two “T”s. Then there are the Uighurs and Falun Gong…
Yang Jianli has observed this phenomenon for years. He is a Chinese democracy leader, a former political prisoner, and a scholar: the holder of two Ph.D.s from American universities, one in math from Berkeley, and the other in political economy from Harvard.
In 2007, Yang gave a speech at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government entitled “Overcome Fear.”
After Tiananmen Square, says Yang, the Chinese government made the decision to co-opt intellectuals — intellectuals both at home and abroad. This is something the Soviets never really bothered to do. The Chinese provide money, programs, and perks, in exchange for . . . cooperation? Goodwill? Non-hostility? Western scholars who visit China are often treated like royalty, says Yang. …
Arthur Waldron, a China scholar at the University of Pennsylvania, is very familiar with all this. “Once you have a project in China,” he says, “you become its hostage.” And “there’s tremendous pressure on China specialists to stay current” — to drop names and prove, or flaunt, insider knowledge.
“If you’re like Perry Link and open to dissidents, people can say, ‘Well, Perry — great scholar and all, but he hasn’t been to China for more than a decade, and no matter how good he is, he’s bound to be out of touch. After all, China changes all the time.’” This has a sinister effect, says Waldron. There are many ways of “undermining” a person’s “academic authority.”
From my experience, Link is modest, but others are immodest in his behalf. A professor at the University of California, Riverside, and a professor emeritus at Princeton, he has stuck his neck out a long way. At the time of Tiananmen Square, he took Fang Lizhi and his wife, Li Shuxian, to the U.S. embassy. Fang was a famed dissident scientist, and No. 1 on the regime’s Most Wanted list. Years later, Link edited The Tiananmen Papers, a trove of (formerly) secret Chinese-government documents about the protests and massacre. His co-editor was Andrew Nathan, a scholar at Columbia — who is also on the blacklist.
“Andy and I are sort of old standbys on the list,” says Link, “the ones held up as examples of going too far. We inadvertently have become tools of the regime: They use Andy and me to frighten the younger scholars.”
Andrew Nathan, the Columbia scholar, has had the honor of being banned, or blocked, on three separate occasions. The latest followed his work on The Tiananmen Papers. Audacious, he is affiliated with various human-rights organizations: Freedom House, Human Rights Watch, Human Rights in China, the National Endowment for Democracy…..
Western scholars who keep their head down, says Nathan, are not all “lily-livered liars and knaves.” He suggests that there are three groups. There are scholars who hold “the perfectly respectable view” that the U.S.-China relationship is too important to be disturbed in any way. We must have a dialogue with the Chinese Communists, find out what makes them tick, and get along with them. Then there are young scholars who have careers to make and simply cannot do without access to China. And the third group? Well, “the lily-livered liars and knaves.”
Yang says that he and other dissidents are not entirely comfortable at American universities. Link says that another prominent dissident recently told him the same thing. If you’re a dissident, says Yang, people may regard you as radioactive, a bit untouchable — as though they might catch a disease from you. You are too “political.” You could put a professor or a program or a university in an awkward spot. Dissidents sometimes hear, “Sorry, but this conference is for scholars, not dissidents.” Yet, as Yang says, some of the dissidents are top-notch scholars. …..
I have a memory from the mid-1980s. Harvard invited Armando Valladares to give a talk. He had just emerged from 22 years in the Cuban gulag, and had written a memoir called Against All Hope. Some people called him “the Cuban Solzhenitsyn.” The university would not let him speak on his own. They paired him with a professor, whose job was to give the pro-Castro point of view. Every other day of the year, of course, the professor had the students to himself. Valladares, who knew something, was not allowed to appear for an hour by himself.