Jiao Guobiao's Final Struggle

In May 2004, a Beijing University journalism professor by the name of Jiao Guobiao published an open letter titled Declaration of the Campaign against The Central Propaganda Department (討伐中宣部).  Although the letter was blunt and abrasive, there was no immediate reaction from the authorities (including the Central Propaganda Department), but the retaliation would come slowly and surely.  At the bottom page are some blog posts about Jiao's experiences.  There is a new development reported in Yazhou Zhoukan (via ChineseNewsNet, in Chinese; see also the interview with Radio Free Asia via NewCenturyNet, in Chinese).  Although this post is titled the 'final' struggle,' this is far from any imaginable ending.

In an interview with YZZK, Jiao Guobiao said:

I returned to Beijing after visiting the United States in December 2004.  Soon after, there was a problem before me.  The university wanted me to transfer from the Beijing University Journalism and Communication Studies School to Beijing University's Center for Ancient Chinese Classics and Archives to study classical Chinese texts.  If I refuse, I would either have to 'resign voluntarily' or else be dismissed by the school.  All of these options were against my wishes.  I don't want to leave Beijing University and I don't want to be like Shen Zhongwen after the 1950's (note: studying classical literature).

Last year, after Declaration of the Campaign against The Central Propaganda Department was circulated, the school cancelled my classes and stopped me from advising graduate students.  At that time, there was not much that I could do for they can do whatever they want.  But they were still trying to sanction me.  Back in the days of the anti-rightist campaign, you are classified as rightist; if you refuse to accept the designation, you must leave your job voluntarily.  I am not going to the Center for Ancient Chinese Classics and Archives and I won't resign.  But if they want to say that I 'left my post on my own,' then I don't know what I can do.  I want to be a scholar at a university, whether it is in mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan or Japan, and conduct research on China or Asia.  No matter how hard my future will be, I want to use what I went through to show that the intellectual policies of the past few decades are bankrupt.  And that will the case no matter how hard life will be.

On March 16, Jiao Guobiao left Beijing to spend six months in the United States at the invitation of the U.S. National Endowment for Democracy to research the subject of "The Chinese News Industry: Past and Present."  This visiting scholar invitation was offered in February.  The university asked Jiao not to accept because the subject was 'too sensitive' and both the chancellor and the school dean wanted Jiao to pass on this opportunity.  Even on the day of his departure, the dean and the human resources department called him to ask him not to go.  Jiao Guobiao said, "To be honest, I was quite grateful to them at the time."

On March 20, Jiao spoke to his family in Beijing and was told that Beijing University has informed them that Jiao has been delisted from the university on the basis of "voluntary departure."  Jiao said, "I have not received the official decision from the university.  I absolutely cannot accept this decision."

What happens next?  In early March before Jiao left for the United States, he published an open letter to the university leadership that counted up to ten thousand words (see ChineseNewsNet for the full text in Chinese).  The letter is meandering and not worth the trouble to translate in full, but I have translated what I considered to the most relevant excerpt below:

I have made up my mind.  If our Beijing university wants to 'kick' me out, I will not go to make a living in the United States.  I will not go to Europe, Australia, Korea or Japan.  I want to go to Taiwan.  I want to go to Taiwan National University.  First, Taiwan National University has the bloodline of Beijing University.  Second, there are many Chinese there.  Third, it is a place without restriction on speech.  The stern mainland Chinese ideology has created many problems for me, but I will pay them back.

If I should get 'kicked' out by Beijing University, I intend to ask for help from all the universities around the world, such as Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Yale and others.  Beijing University Secretary Min Weifang has a doctorate from Stanford University, so I will especially ask for help from the chancellor of Stanford University.  I am not trying to smear the name of our Beijing University.  I am only trying to help relieve the pressure on it.  What does that mean?  Beijing University should not treat the ideological pressure from above as an indomitable master.  Beijing University ought to treat its international image as a formidable source of power!  Hovering over Beijing University are the Department of Education, the Central Propaganda Department and the Central Politburo.  But Beijing University also has an international community and it has international university neighbors.  I am going to persuade those university chancellors that the universities in civilized countries cannot stand aside while freedom of thought and speech is being violated in oriental countries.  The universities of the world ought to set up a united association to promote freedom of thought, speech and academics in all the universities of the world.

Of course, I will also initiate a signature collection campaign among the 4,000 teachers and 20,000 students at Beijing University.  I will also petition the Central Government Disciplinary Committee and the National Political Consultative Committee.  Anyway, I am going to ignore my status as a university teacher and I will use 'below-the-belt' dirty tactics to change the decades-old custom of cutting off the livelihood of disobedient intellectuals.  As Mr. Lu Xun (魯迅) said, the weapons of Chen Duxiu (陳獨秀) are at the door while the weapons of Hu Shih (胡適) are inside the house.  I am the Chen Duxiu kind of person, and my weaponry and strategies are displayed in the open.  I know that my 'nuisance' tricks won't do shit, but I promise that I will resist with a Quixotic spirit until the end.  If I am not treated well by Beijing University, I will definitely not be treated well by the officials of the ideology.

Phew!  Here, I am not sure whether the chancellors of the universities around the world will be totally committed to Jiao Guobiao's cause.  Rather, Jiao has inadvertently made it sound like a personnel problem with the open letter.  Imagine that we are at Stanford University, Palo Alto, California.  The university would like an untenured professor to assume certain responsibilities (such as teaching a course or taking over some administrative duties).  Instead, the person declined and then unilaterally announced that he will be taking a six-month leave because he has a grant to study wind-surfers in Hawaii.  The university warns the professor that he will be dismissed for absence without leave, but he threatens a civil right lawsuit and a public campaign because the university is impinging on his inalienable right to pursue freedom of thought.  This is a mess, isn't it?  But that is what university chancellors face every day and they are understandably adverse to letting their employees make their own decisions on their personal priorities.  Like any corporation, the university could not function if every employee pursues his/her own personal agenda at will.  Who will administer the department's business?  Who will teach the courses?  And certainly no chancellor wants to see job negotiations appear as 10,000-word open letters published for the whole world to see.  It is an unfair and asymmetric situation, because the university cannot disclose personal information to the public for privacy reasons (such as personnel records related to job performance of the individual).

Jiao Guobiao would have been much better off without that open letter.  It just muddles things up.  The case should have been simple: there was not a reason in the world to assign a journalism professor to study ancient Chinese texts, unless it was for political expediency.