Chen, China, and New York University

June 17, 2013

FRC has advocated for the blind Chinese attorney Chen Guangcheng for several years. Chen, a self-taught lawyer, received brutal treatment from the Chinese government because he refused to be silent about the forced abortions and inhuman treatment of women intrinsic to China’s notorious “one-child” policy.

Allowed to leave China with his immediate family last year, New York University gave him a fellowship and an apartment. Now, NYU is demanding that Chen leave. According to Chen:

… as early as August and September, the Chinese Communists had already begun to apply great, unrelenting pressure on New York University, so much so that after we had been in the United States just three to four months, NYU was already starting to discuss our departure with us. The work of the Chinese Communists within academic circles in the United States is far greater than what people imagine, and some scholars have no option but to hold themselves back. Academic independence and academic freedom in the United States are being greatly threatened by a totalitarian regime.

The university denies that pressure from Beijinghas driven its decision. University spokesman John Beckman “insists that Mr. Chen’s law school fellowship was always meant to be for one year … The fellowship’s end, Mr. Beckman said, ‘had nothing to do with the Chinese government — all fellowships come to an end’.”

Chen’s departure from NYU comes in the wake of NYU’s newly developed campus in Shanghai, which plans to start offering classes this fall. At the same time, other reports indicate that Chen always knew his fellowship would draw to an end and is currently deciding between two professional offers.

Let’s hope this is a case of a brave man overreacting to the previously agreed upon conclusion of his one-year opportunity. But speculation as to NYU’s motivation is understandable. As noted in today’s The New York Times:

In the United States, many colleges have grown increasingly reliant on the tuition from the 194,000 Chinese students who enrolled at American universities last year, a 23 percent increase over the previous year.

FRC’s friend Bob Fu of China Aid, who only recently lectured at our D.C. headquarters on China’s human rights violations, had this response on his organization’s website:

American universities are out chasing the China dollar and are very reluctant to work with dissidents who have a strong voice in China. It does not always have to be direct pressure from Beijing, there is also self-censorship, particularly if a college president believes their China campus or the future enrollment of Chinese students will be sabotaged.

Even if this incident is as benign as NYU claims it is, the fact that it would receive so much attention shows the extent to which China’s “get tough with America” policies has gained genuine, if unwelcome, credibility in the U.S. For example,China’s recent “cyber attacks” have “hit key U.S. weapons systems.” The damage these attacks have done is not public, but they have been targeted, coordinated, and extensive.

One thing is without dispute: Chen is right to refer to “Chinese Communists.” Free enterprise has become an increasing part of China’s urban life, but true liberty is repressed daily as Chinese Christians are persecuted and anyone perceived to be a threat to the post-Maoist government is monitored or, as in the case of Chen, brutalized. Educational content is scripted; political freedom is non-existent, and media censorship of all types widespread.

If eventually it comes out that NYU has ended its relationship with Chen due to Communist Chinese bullying, it will be another telling reminder that moral courage – the bravery to do what’s right, even in the face of financial or some other kind of loss – is never out of season.