Sunday, June 28, 2020

"These Days … It Is Safest to Be Circumspect and Cautious"

By Eugene Volokh - June 28, 2020 at 01:04PM

That's in China, of course; see this article in today's L.A. Times (Alice Su) (seemingly unpaywalled, or only light paywalled, here). An excerpt:

The professor [Sun Piedong of Fudan University] was under surveillance. Cameras taped her every lecture…. She knew she had to be careful when she taught on one of China's most sensitive and dangerous topics: the Cultural Revolution….

Then the students turned her in….

Tsinghua University sociologist Guo Yuhua …, 64, was one of the only Tsinghua scholars who spoke in [defense of law professor Xu Zhangrun, who had been suspended for essays critical of President Xi]. She has also been reprimanded by the university's party officials and blocked from social media….

"I am afraid," she said. Colleagues and friends had told her to stop speaking. You'll only hurt yourself, they said. But she didn't want to give in….

"All people face risk," Guo said. "If we think, 'I'll just give up one step,' then everyone gives up a step, then another—and in the end we have no space at all. The ceiling presses straight to the floor."

Deep-rooted pragmatism runs through Chinese society, Guo said, the product of enduring thousands of years of authoritarianism….. "Chinese commoners … suffer, they bear with it, they endure," Guo said. "They put life above dignity…." …

"If you won't even let us tell the truth and we just follow you, singing songs and speaking lies, then we are not scholars, we are not academics, this is not sociology," she said. "What's the point?" …

"[W]hat the party wants," Sun said[, is] either praise or silence.

When I face the occasional blowback for some of the things I've said or written, and feel the impulse towards stepping back in the name of pragmatism, I think about what Profs. Guo and Sun and the other dissenters I've learned about all my life (including from the Soviet Union, where I'm from) have had to face. It puts things in proper perspective.


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