Can Chinese Journalists Still Push Boundaries?

ChinaFile What new regulations might mean for China's beleaguered reporters. 

On June 30, China's State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film, and Television posted a statement on its website warning Chinese journalists not to share information with their counterparts in the foreign press corps. Most major non-Chinese news organizations rely heavily on Chinese nationals to conduct research, identify sources, serve as interpreters, and, in some cases, interview sources who are reluctant to speak with foreigners over the telephone. The Chinese government doesn't consider these employees of foreign news organizations to be official journalists (and it forbids Chinese nationals from working as correspondents for foreign media organizations.)

It's unclear to what extent the new rules target them. But when overt censorship or self-censoring editors prevent Chinese journalists who work for the country's own media outlets from publishing their stories, they often pass them on to reporters at foreign news organizations, sometimes doing so through their Chinese news assistants. It is this information exchange that the new rules appear to want to block. Media watchers and journalists discuss how they read the new restrictions and gauge their likely impact.

David Schlesinger, founder of Tripod Advisors and former Chairman of Thomson Reuters China:

For much of the last two and a half decades, Chinese journalists have been pushing the boundaries -- many going into grey areas, others stepping boldly into danger zones, yet others going into forbidden areas and getting punished for it. Chinese journalism, both domestic and international, is much the better for this bravery.

International news bureaus, whose Chinese-national staff in the 1990s and before were limited to translating, making appointments, and the occasional nudge and wink about deeper stories, now have bureau "assistants" who are full correspondents in all but title and official recognition. Some get bylines, some go on to full journalistic careers outside of China's borders. But all this has been done outside of the regulations and with the tacit acceptance if not approval of the authorities.

Chinese domestic publications like Caijing, Caixin, Southern Weekly and others have pushed reporting far beyond what the state news agency Xinhua or the official People's Daily would ever do. What was once a monolithic press is now full of diversity, and full of bravery. But what is not in the regulations can always be stopped. "Assistants" have been called in for "chats". Reporters or editors have lost their positions. Others who allegedly violated China's vague but draconian secrecy laws have faced criminal sanctions.

So why the new regulations? Certainly many things in the last 18 months have become much tighter in China and the restrictions on reporting and expression much stronger. What these new announcements will do will make the sense of doom ever more present, and make self-censorship seem ever more necessary. Faced with the loss of profession, livelihood, or freedom, only the bravest journalists will continue to push the boundaries. Most will retreat. Most will wait to see how the regulations are actually used. Most will pull back from the reporting and the transparency that a modern society needs.

That Beijing felt this chill was necessary is testament to how brave and pioneering Chinese journalism has become. But it is also a sad reminder of the risks journalists have taken and will continue to take if they try to shed light on their society.

Orville Schell, the Arthur Ross Director of the Center on U.S.-China Relations at the Asia Society in New York:

The statement contains a new set of regulations warning members of the media against reporting outside of beats formally approved by their superiors or sharing "unauthorized" information with other-especially foreign-media outlets. Any such activities, it warned, might open an individual up to serious charges of revealing "state secrets." The regulations even call on media organizations to require employees to sign non-disclosure agreements promising not to transmit unapproved information to outside media outlets.

Such pronouncements cause Westerners to wonder whether China is actually still "opening up," whether more open markets are, in fact, leading to a more open society and a freer press. The Chinese Communist Party's fluxing attitude towards its Fourth Estate, one which sometimes has the aspect of a constantly changing tide, has added confusion about what the trend lines actually are. It has hardly helped that the Party and State continue to "tighten down," only to "loosen up," all according to its perceived need for more or less control over the flow of information.

This confusion has been exacerbated further by the fact that China has two competing conceptions of the press that are vying with each other and are constantly in a state of dynamic yin-yang tension. The first is the Western notion of the press not just as an independent, public watchdog arrayed against wrong-doing of all kinds, but as a check and balance against the over-reach of state, ecclesiastical, and corporate power. The second is the Leninist notion of the press -- indeed, of all art, culture and media-as the exclusive megaphones for the party and state. While a Western conception of the media's role in society has never been officially codified by the Party in China, it has gained much currency in schools of journalism and communication and in the newsrooms of more enlightened media outlets, particularly during times of more active political reform such as China experienced in the 1980s when a press law even came under formal discussion. But the Leninist notion of the role of the press has never been repudiated and has been the far stronger model.

First articulated by Mao Zedong in the 1940s, this idea that the primary -- indeed the only -- role of the press in society is to advance the interests of the Chinese Communist Party remains the pillar conception of China's press. The Party has sometimes tempered this rigid notion with a certain flexibility, or laxness, by exercising less onerous controls. But, whenever members of the press have pushed the boundaries of independence too far and strained the Party's indulgence, the Maoist notion of the press has been reasserted, sometimes with a vengeance. And, what we are evidently now seeing with these new regulations and warnings is just such a correction, a re-articulation of intention of the organs that manage the media to reign in the latitude that journalists have become accustomed to enjoying. Whether these new rules are immediately exercised or not is not as important as the role they play in warning journalists, even threatening them, that there are limits to how far they can stray from beyond the Party's field of political gravity.

When then leader Deng Xiaoping in effect cancelled Mao's economic revolution after taking power in the late 1970s, overthrowing his whole laboriously constructed system of state-run industrial factories, state-owned commercial enterprises, and people's agricultural communes, he dismantled neither the ideological principles which underlay the operating system for cultural and media organs, nor the elaborate systems and institutions set up to control and manage them, such as the Central Propaganda Department and the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television. Nonetheless, it was tempting to imagine that as tectonic economic reforms transformed China, similar changes would ineluctably also transform such organs of control. But this was naïve.

In explaining why, it is important to remember that both the ideology of control and the institutional system it spawned have very deep roots not only in Mao's revolution, but in the Bolshevik revolution as well. They both were exported to China in the mid-1920s when Sun Yat-sen, and later Chiang Kai-shek borrowed Leninist organization principles to create the Guomindang, and later when men like Chen Duxiu, Li Dazhao, and Mao Zedong set up the CCP. Simply put, Vladimir Lenin's notion was that all organs of media, art, and culture in a revolutionary society must become "cogs and screws" in the machine of socialist and political revolution.

Mao echoed this notion in his 1942 "Yanan Forums on Art and Literature," a series of evening talks during Japan's occupation of China in which he proclaimed that, like all literature and art, journalism is one of the "indispensable cogs and wheels in the whole machine, an indispensable part of the entire revolutionary cause." He went on the explain that "there is, in fact, no such thing as art for art's sake, art that stands above classes or art that is detached from or independent of politics." Thus, in his view, it was just as important to control the organs of culture and information as it was to control the organs of military power. "To defeat the enemy we must rely primarily on the army with guns," he declared. "But this army alone is not enough; we must also have a cultural army, which is absolutely indispensable for uniting our own ranks and defeating the enemy."

And, as a reminder to any who might have imagined room for dissent, he added, "If anyone opposes the Communist Party and the people and keeps moving down the path of reaction, we will firmly oppose him."

Lest some good comrades had forgotten this fundamental principle on which China was founded in 1949, Mao reemphasized it again in 1961. "The role and power of newspapers," he said, "consist in their ability to present the Party's line, its specific policies, goals and work methods to the masses in the most effective and rapid of ways."

And when Deng Xiaoping came back into office to initiate his extensive reform program, his newly formulated "Current Propaganda Regulations for Print and Broadcast Media" reminded any over-zealous reformers that China's leadership would not countenance an independent press mimicking a Western model.

"Professionals in publishing, news, radio and television must uphold the spirit of the Communist Party," it re-emphasized. "Party newspapers and periodicals must be sure to publicize the opinions of the Party without condition."

Even as professional journalists have sought to adopt elements of the Western press model and to perform a greater watchdog role in Chinese society, the Party has never wavered from its foundation principle that the press in New China must remain the CPC's "mouth and tongue." It is this unyielding principle which lies behind each restatement of the Party's right, obligation, and commitment to manage China's press to serve its own goals, even as those goals have morphed substantially since the time of Mao. The latest set of regulations is only the most recent in a long string of reminders that the media in China has no legal basis to assure its independent, watchdog status.

Rogier Creemers, Research Officer at the Program for Comparative Media Law and Policy at the University of Oxford:

These new regulations find themselves at the intersection of two trends in China's media landscape. First, as Schlesinger and Schell have indicated, the Xi leadership is clearly aiming to re-discipline investigative journalism and critical voices. Second, they reflect a growing unease with the role of foreign players in various areas of China's information order writ large.

When I read these new regulations, I immediately thought of Gao Yu, the septuagenarian, international prize-winning reporter detained in May on the accusation of leaking state secrets. It is widely speculated that the document she leaked was the controversial "Document No. 9," in which the Central Committee defined seven categories of harmful speech. Obviously, the very act of sharing this document with what the propaganda authorities probably see as foreign hostile forces, has taken on a treasonous flavor in this tense environment.

To a certain degree, this is not new. Shielding inside information from foreigners has been a constant factor, even in a period of "openness." This ranges from the minute -- such as a 1987 circular warning domestic publishers not to tell foreigners that copyright regulations had been passed, because otherwise China would face demands for royalties to foreign businesses -- to the highest levels of politics.

What has changed, however, is the perceived extent to which foreign presence is seen as harmful to domestic "information security." After the Snowden revelations and the escalating tensions surrounding cybersecurity, the government has become increasingly concerned about domestic reliance on foreign telecommunications software and hardware, and has intensified efforts to develop indigenous technology. Shortly after Gao was detained, Beijing reportedly ordered large, strategic state-owned enterprises to cut ties with foreign consultancy firms, apparently out of fear that these might engage in industrial espionage.

But perhaps most importantly, foreign reporting on China has vastly improved in quality and quantity in the past few years, and is reaching a quickly-growing domestic readership. Successive reports about the leadership's wealth published by, amongst others, the New York Times and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, have further fuelled growing domestic disaffection, and challenged the credibility of official news outlets.

In response, the leadership now seems to be bent on erecting new barriers between domestic and international information environments. This is not strange in the light of the Xi administration's reform project. The leadership is trying to pull off a profound political and economic reorientation, and therefore aims to minimize the possibility of unpleasant surprises.

One big question, however, is the extent to which self-imposed information autarky may hurt China's economic prospects. The Chinese government generally has not been great at fostering international trust through transparency and communicative clarity. The fact that it took months to provide an official translation of the 3rd Plenum documentation is only one example of the failure to recognize that being the second largest economy in the world means many more people want to find out what's going on. The time for averting the limelight is over.

Wen Yunchao, a human rights and media censorship activist based in New York:

I don't believe that the government has ever been confused about its own stance on media controls. The core principle of the CCP's Leninist notion of the press is that the Party controls the media, and the media should be the mouthpiece of the Party and the people. From Mao to Deng even up to Xi, this stance has never changed.

Beginning with the founding of the Western China City Daily in 1993 and culminating in the Southern Weekly incident in 2013, twenty years of commercialization of the press in China have given many outsiders the impression that media controls are on the wane. But this is a misconception.

At the time of Deng's 1992 "southern tour," Party newspapers had no competitive market power and were funded primarily by subsidies from the government. With the introduction of market reforms, Party newspapers started founding daughter publications with stronger market appeal, whose proceeds could then support the operations of their parent newspapers and lighten their financial loads.

The authorities have never loosened their grip over these daughter publications, the commercial press. In general, the parent newspaper assigns the top staff of commercial newspapers, and the Party's propaganda organs continue to exert direct influence over the commercial media outlets, using phone calls, critiques of already published articles, and other measures to intervene on matters of content, overall direction, and personnel assignments. Nevertheless, over the past two decades, the staff of commercial newspapers have gradually adopted a value system and a market position similar to that of the Western media, resulting in friction between them and the authorities. The Southern Weekly is a good example of this.

As digital technology has accelerated the spread of information and the commercial media have become more influential, the government has continued to implement targeted restrictions in an effort to control the press. These include passing laws that prohibit and other websites from reprinting articles published in commercial newspapers, and other measures that limit the growth of commercial media. This trend came to a head in early 2013 when the Propaganda Department of Guangdong province forced Southern Weekly to pull its annual New Year editorial and replace it with one glorifying the Party, sparking protests from the staff and public. This was the final consequence of a steadily escalating campaign to reign in the power of commercial media.

Xi's speech on August 19, 2013, signaled that the fifth generation of CCP leadership planned to tighten its grip on media and ideology even further. Since then, a number of prominent Internet commentators have been arrested in harsh cyberspace purges, and at the same time the government has adopted a series of stricter measures, including banning the system of "cross-regional reporting," requiring newspapers to publish only the Xinhua News Agency's coverage of non-local stories, forbidding journalists to report outside their regular beats, imposing strict limitations on visas for foreign journalists, prohibiting reporters from using social media without approval from their organizations, and banning journalists from publishing unofficial critical reports. Most recently, under a set of new rules, Chinese journalists are barred from "illegally recording and transmitting state secrets" or writing articles for foreign news outlets, and are required to sign confidentiality agreements. All this testifies to the state's continuing determination to keep commercial media under its thumb.

- Translated by Austin Woerner



The Debate Over Confucius Institutes in the United States

ChinaFile A ChinaFile conversation on the promises and perils of partnering with Beijing on education. 

Over the last decade, Beijing has sponsored at least 70 Confucius Institutes (CI) in the United States -- Chinese state-run instutions which partner with American institutions to provide Chinese language and culture study to U.S. students. But some suspect that CI, with their state-dictated taboo on sensitive topics such as Tibet, Taiwan, and Tiananmen, infringe upon academic freedom at U.S. universities. In this ChinaFile conversation, participants discuss whether or not these fears are justified, why universities continue to host Confucius Institutes, and what steps can be taken to guarantee academic freedom at American schools.

Stephen I. Levine, retired professor of Chinese politics and history:

As part of the Tiananmen Initiative Project I launched last fall to encourage commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the massacre, I wrote to over 200 CI directors: 

On behalf of an international group of China scholars and others, I am writing to ask that your Confucius Institute mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of liu si [Chinese shorthand for the Tiananmen Square crackdown] with a public event such as a lecture, a teach-in, a roundtable discussion or the like that addresses the relevant historical and contemporary issues. In The Analects (2:24) Confucius himself said, “Not to act when justice commands, that is cowardice.” We appeal to your conscience and sense of justice to act with courage.

With the exception of one positive message, the lack of any other response suggests that expediency and cowardice rather than conscience and justice are the hallmarks of the CIs -- not surprising in view of their provenance and the role they play in China's cultural diplomacy.

A confession: In 2007, without having given the matter sufficient thought, I myself, then an associate director of the Mansfield Center at the University of Montana, shared responsibility for a successful application to the Hanban, the organization that partners with China's Ministry of Education to oversee CIs, to establish a CI at my university, a typically underfunded state university with a woefully inadequate Asian studies program. Our institutional poverty rather than our greed motivated us. We pledged to ourselves to brook no interference from Beijing in what we did. As far as I am aware, there has been none except, of course, in terms of the recruitment criteria for teachers in China itself that preclude any who would function as anything other than mouthpieces of the Chinese state.

What I failed to consider at the time, though I should have known better, was what might be called the side effects of the seemingly benign CI medicine that Beijing prescribed for the financial-deficiency disease from which my institution suffered. Of course, as others have noted, there is the inherent danger of self-censorship, which may even operate at a conscious level. Just as important is that the CIs function to conceal the ugly features of a repressive regime whose relentless depredations against its own people as well as its increasingly truculent international behavior require no recitation to readers of this website.

Chinese culture and language are undoubtedly magnificent contributions to world culture. Yet there are surely other ways than accepting handouts from Beijing to bring them to our students and our fellow citizens. Russia, too, has a great culture and language. Yet would we have blithely accepted Pushkin Institutes on our campuses funded by the murderous Stalinist autocracy? King Sejong of the Joseon Dynasty was a great figure in Korean history and culture. Would we accept King Sejong Institutes on our campuses funded by the tyrannical regime in Pyongyang?

There are better ways to partake of China's cultural heritage than to sacrifice our integrity.

Matteo Mecacci, president of the International Campaign for Tibet:

First, any increase in the teaching of Mandarin Chinese in schools is a positive. And we all benefit from greater understanding of Chinese culture and history (as long as the bad is taught with the good).

The questions for our schools and our society are whether Confucius Institutes are the only vehicle available to achieve these goals and whether the price a school pays to accept a CI is too high.

The anecdotal evidence suggests that there can be a negative effect on free and open academic discourse, as evidenced by the recent statement by the American Association of University Professors. CIs may overtly suppress discussion of topics deemed sensitive by the Chinese communist government, such as Tibet, Taiwan, and Tiananmen. For instance, the contract of a Toronto college instructor barred her from discussing the Falun Gong (a spiritual movement that Chinese authorities have banned and designated an "evil cult"]. CIs may exert undue influence on university decisions: In 2009, North Carolina State University disinvited the Dalai Lama after the school's CI complained. The presence of CIs may result in self-censorship by the school.

In our own investigation, the International Campaign for Tibet (while not identifying our Tibet connection) in 2011 requested resource materials on Tibet from a Confucius Institute at a university in the Washington, D.C., region. Instead of scholarly materials published by credible American authors (not to speak of Tibetan writers), what we received were books and DVDs giving the Chinese narrative on Tibet published by China Intercontinental Press, which is described by a Chinese government-run website as operating "under the authority of the State Council Information Office ... whose main function is to produce propaganda products."

Academic freedom is a cherished value in democratic and scientifically productive societies. Given the stakes involved, investigation into the effect of CIs on such freedom is warranted.

Robert Kapp and Jeffrey Wasserstrom [in their original ChinaFile entries, here] are right on the need for requirements on CI operations. They should be clear and uniform across the United States. The associations representing the university presidents and university professors, with relevant stakeholder input from other academic, policy, and advocacy communities, should collaborate to create CI standards.

But because universities are self-interested entities that have made themselves financially dependent on CIs, it is appropriate to apply the oversight lever of Congress. Relevant committees should investigate whether the terms of CIs' agreements with universities result in reduced academic discourse and freedom of speech on topics such as Tibet and whether such agreements or practices violate any laws in relation to publicly funded universities.

But the problem with CIs cannot be remedied by transparency and good governance. No democratic country can ignore their insidiousness, active or potential. CIs should respect the universal value of freedom of expression. If universities instead degrade these values to suit the CI, then universities should be forced to find another way to teach Chinese language and culture.

Michael Hill, Associate Professor of Chinese and Comparative Literature, and Director of the Center for Asian Studies and the Program in Chinese at the University of South Carolina:

Anyone with experience teaching critical languages like Chinese, Arabic, or Russian at the college level has seen what we might call a "low-equilibrium trap," a situation where a language program has just enough staff to run a small number of courses, but never gets enough resources to expand. One, maybe two overburdened tenure-track faculty members and instructors keep the program afloat, but not much more. In my experience, a Confucius Institute partnership can help Chinese programs avoid that trap.

The CI at the University of South Carolina opened in 2008; our partner institution is Beijing Language and Culture University. Without the CI, I don't see how we could offer our current array of courses. Moreover, there's no question in my mind that our students have benefited from working with experienced instructors from our partner school.

I have not seen any attempt by the CI to interfere politically at the university. I am sensitive to these issues, in part because I spent a large part of my language training in Taiwan and continue to engage with the scholarly community there.

The issues that have arisen are largely administrative and easily anticipated. Teachers with little experience working in a U.S. university need time to adjust to a different classroom style and to a different type of student. For example, often our CI colleagues are accustomed to teaching students who are enrolled full time in a Chinese-language program. These students are very different from Carolina undergraduates who take three to four hours of Chinese per week along with their other classes. Each group of students has a different set of needs, and their academic progress must be evaluated by different standards. It is up to the regular tenured and tenure-track faculty to facilitate that process and make sure our students get the best experience that we can offer them.

Looking ahead, I do worry that some universities will begin to use their CIs as a replacement for a regular language program, effectively outsourcing their teaching responsibilities to Hanban. It's a strong temptation, given how little outside funding exists for the humanities.

Until a better alternative arises, however, CIs are probably here to stay in the United States, because without them, many public colleges and universities will not be able to expand their Chinese programs. We all would welcome other sources of support, of course. Restructuring and expanding Title VI funding to help more universities might be a good place to start.

Finally, we should not see these issues as unique to Chinese. Funding for the study of Arabic, for example, can raise just as many problems. If colleges rejected all funds tied to regimes with questionable records on human rights and refused to participate in programs that are directly tied to U.S. national security, students would have precious few opportunities to study that language. A broader perspective might also help us think through these issues.

(These views are my own, not my employer's.)

Zha Daojiong, Senior Arthur Ross Fellow at the Center on U.S. China Relations at the Asia Society, is a Professor of International Political Economy at Peking University:

The ongoing controversy over Confucius Institutes in the United States is a cause for some concern. Without having had direct exposure to CI operations either here in Beijing or overseas, I offer a few general remarks.

When foreign language/culture institutions came to China after the early 1970s, universities were the natural hosts. Many of those foreign institutions had nationals from their host countries as directors, some of whom had held government posts before moving to China. There certainly was a long and sometimes troublesome process of mutual accommodation. The net result, however, is that generation after generation of Chinese and Western professionals have benefited from the scholars' continued efforts at engagement. There continues to be a demand for such exchange in today's world economy.

The seeming campaign to drive CIs out of university campuses, against the backdrop of an ongoing mood of geopolitical uncertainties, might cause a tit-for-tat response from China. Let's hope not. If it did, that would be most unfortunate. Exchanges in education and science between China and the West positively contributed to the lessening of political and diplomatic tensions between China and most Western countries in the last decades of the Cold War. It would indeed be a net loss for all if educational initiatives, such as language teaching and cultural exchange, fell victim to the current mood of geopolitics.

Were the headquarters of CIs incorporated as a not-for-profit entity in the Chinese educational system, rather than a component of the Ministry of Education, foreign suspicions of state interference might have been less tense. Regardless, Hanban or not, China is just still very, very short of individuals capable of navigating the social and political landscapes of Western educational institutions. It would to be interesting to have a sense of the percentage of CIs that have a difficult relationship with the institutions where they park.

It may still be worthwhile for CIs in the West to consider 1) changing their legal status within China, 2) renaming themselves, and 3) establishing as independent and not-for-profit institutions. Would a Pinyin name like "Zhongwen" (and no affix) help? Some may still pick it apart to say that "Zhong" could be associated with a "Middle Kingdom" claim of territoriality. Well, there are also those in Chinese society who would define a Western educational institution in China as a Trojan horse of sorts. Life, in China or the West, cannot be perfect. At the end of the day, it takes sensible political judgment.

Stephen E. Hanson, Vice Provost for International Affairs, Director of the Wendy and Emery Reves Center for International Studies, and Lettie Pate Evans Professor in the Department of Government at the College of William & Mary:

The statement by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) calling on all universities hosting Confucius Institutes to consider closing them immediately appears to be based on a misunderstanding of several important elements of how such programs run in practice. As a faculty member and administrator who has been involved in the founding and operation of two separate CIs -- the Confucius Institute of the State of Washington and the William & Mary Confucius Institute -- I am in a good position to comment on the recent controversy. The AAUP sets out three prerequisites for ensuring that CIs are not impinging in any way on academic freedom on U.S. campuses. I will endeavor to show that these three seemingly clear-cut conditions are more complex than AAUP appears to realize and that satisfying them all would call into question a wide range of common university programs with international partners.

First, AAUP insists that though there is no concrete evidence of any CI actually engaging in on-campus censorship of China-related programming, the mere fact that Hanban is a Chinese state agency means that recipients of its funding will engage in various forms of "self-censorship" in order to stay on the good side of its leadership. In my own case, I can state unequivocally that I have not experienced any such difficulty. Indeed, when William & Mary student organizations invited the Dalai Lama to speak on our campus in October 2013 -- just six months after the opening of the William & Mary Confucius Institute -- the Hanban leadership understood the situation and continued to support our CI at the same level as before. Much of the commentary in this controversy fails to take into account that CIs are just one aspect of any university's wider programs on China, East Asia, and international affairs. Lectures and conferences on such subjects as the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, the status of Tibet and Taiwan, or the legitimacy of groups such as Falun Gong take place all the time on our campuses -- just not with direct Hanban funding. And this seems like a quite reasonable arrangement: it allows universities to take advantage of Hanban's generous support for expansion of programs on Chinese language and culture, without restricting freedom of inquiry for our scholars and students to investigate potentially sensitive political and historical topics.

AAUP demands that universities must have "unilateral control ... over all academic matters" related to the work of CIs, but the reality is that this is already the case: No one in China, or any other foreign country, can in the end tell us how to manage our universities. If Hanban were to ask us for changes to our curriculum or adjustments to the topics of our lecture series as a condition for receiving further funding, we would obviously have to stop working with Hanban. It is to the great credit of the Hanban leadership that it simply hasn't made demands of that sort, despite the political difficulties such flexibility can occasionally cause for it within China.

Second, AAUP demands that each university with a CI "afford ... Confucius Institute teachers the same academic freedom rights ... that it affords all other faculty in the university." This seems to rest on a basic misunderstanding of U.S. immigration law. Hanban scholars come to U.S. universities as J-1 exchange scholars or J-1 interns, subject to the rules and regulations governing such visas; they already have the same academic freedom rights while on our campuses as other international visiting scholars. But U.S. universities simply cannot dictate to the foreign governments that send us these scholars -- China included -- what their domestic labor laws or home university governance should look like. From a classical liberal arts perspective, the argument for hosting exchange scholars from foreign countries with authoritarian governments is that in doing so, we expose students and faculty to a full range of world viewpoints and thus prepare our scholarly community for successful global engagement. Such scholars also have the opportunity to experience life in a free society and return home with a better grasp of what makes the American way of life so special.

If the AAUP leadership is arguing against this entire line of reasoning -- that we should, in effect, cease all J-1 scholarly exchange programs except with countries rated at or near the top of Freedom House's democracy rankings -- I imagine that there would be much debate about that idea among the AAUP membership. If AAUP is instead arguing that J-1 programs should be stopped only with China, but not with Russia, the United Arab Emirates, Uganda, Singapore, or any number of other countries where academic governance and labor laws fall short of ideal U.S standards, then that argument needs to be somehow justified and substantiated in much more detail.

Third, AAUP demands that all U.S. university agreements with Hanban be made fully public. Since my experience with CIs has been at two public universities, I can quickly confirm that this requirement is already satisfied at the University of Washington and the College of William & Mary: In principle, all of our university contracts with overseas partners are public documents. Now it is quite true that the content of international agreements with non-U.S. partners can involve delicate negotiations to ensure compliance with university rules and U.S. law -- but this is an issue with all such agreements, not only those with Hanban. If AAUP wishes on principle to demand that all U.S. university administrations make public all of their international agreements -- in short, to ensure that private universities adopt the same policy that is already mandated by definition at public universities -- that might be a cause worth debating. If instead the AAUP only wants to ensure that agreements with Chinese partners at U.S. private universities are made public, one again wonders why only the People's Republic of China, and not any other country with which AAUP may disagree on policy issues, should be subjected to such special scrutiny.

AAUP is absolutely correct to be continually vigilant about potential threats to academic freedom, including those originating from foreign countries. However, the recent AAUP statement on CIs, based as it is on several misunderstandings about how CIs work in practice, is in my view counterproductive. In a complex and interdependent world, it can be tempting to wall ourselves off from interactions with partners that have perspectives on political and ethical issues that are quite different from those typical of many U.S. faculty members. One would think that AAUP, of all organizations, would wish instead to encourage programs that open up new opportunities for faculty, students, and the community to engage with diverse international points of view -- including those sponsored by Hanban.

Mary Gallagher, Associate Professor of Political Science and Director of the Kenneth G. Lieberthal and Richard H. Rogel Center for Chinese Studies at the University of Michigan:

The University of Michigan has a vibrant Chinese studies community with a long history and a strong institutional commitment from the university. The Lieberthal-Rogel Center for Chinese Studies (LR-CCS), which I direct, recently received a large private endowment (hence its new name). The University of Michigan has also housed a Confucius Institute on campus for the last five years. Amid some controversy and faculty opposition, it was established with a specific focus on Chinese arts and culture. It is not involved in language training.

As others have correctly argued, CIs based at major universities with strong Asian studies programs are less likely to close out debate or dominate the discourse on China on campus. Our situation may not be similar to those of universities with limited resources for Chinese studies. When I proposed a series of events to mark the 25th anniversary of the 1989 Student Movement, the LR-CCS invited the University of Michigan's CI to co-sponsor one of the events. It agreed. We regularly co-sponsor events such as film series, which have included films banned on the mainland.

While I personally was not enthusiastic about the presence of a CI on campus, I cannot give specific examples of interference or self-censorship, though I take professor Perry Link's warning about the insidiousness of self-censorship seriously. Given that our center has just received a large gift from a private source and has just submitted our next Title VI grant application to the U.S. Department of Education, we must always be vigilant in protecting the principle of academic freedom. Diverse sources of support and a vibrant community of scholars who surely disagree on a number of issues related to China make our work easier. It is a pity that many academic institutions in the United States, particularly public institutions, do not have these luxuries.

Kiyoshi Ota/Getty Images