Political Science Professor Denounced By Students

(China Daily)  Speaking up a virtue, not sin.  By Chen Weihua.  December 6, 2008.

Tragedies keep happening at Shanghai universities.  Three weeks ago, it was four students jumping to their deaths from a burning sixth-floor dormitory at the Shanghai Business College. This week, news from the Shanghai-based East China University of Political Science and Law was not of physical injury, but it deeply traumatized many Chinese.

Yang Shiqun, a professor of ancient Chinese language at the school, wrote on his blog (shiqun2007.blog.sohu.com) that two of his students reported him to the city's public security bureau and education committee, accusing him of making counter-revolutionary comments during a lecture, critical of government and Chinese culture.

This is bizarre.

While revolutionary, counter-revolutionary and reactionary were among my first English words added to my vocabulary in the 1970s, they have rarely been used since 1978, when the country opted to forget slogans like, "Never forget class struggle". Counter-revolution, once a top crime according to the Chinese criminal law, was abolished in 1997. Students from such an elite law school are supposed to know more about this than the average Chinese. Counter-revolutionary crime, even under the old criminal law, referred to those whose aim it was to overthrow the government. That surely had nothing to do with Professor Yang's criticisms of government practice and Chinese culture.

At the same time, students as young as these two, born many years after the "cultural revolution" (1966-76), cannot fully understand what counter-revolutionary means for the many people who were persecuted under such a name during the several leftist movements three decades ago. By accusing their professor of being a reactionary, the two female students have done nothing but opened old wounds on such crimes that once tore apart our nation.

It is truly regrettable. But, what it has profoundly revealed is the lack of academic freedom present on our campuses. Our students, taught under the same crammed system since kindergarten, are not used to critical thinking and listening to opposing views, let alone enjoying and embracing them.

As the saying goes, "let a hundred flowers bloom and a hundred schools of thought contend". Freedom of expression is a constitutional right guaranteed for every Chinese citizen, so Professor Yang ought to be free to criticize in the classroom, without fear of retribution. Besides, universities are supposed to be a platform for exercising this right, otherwise, there is no need to send our children to these institutions.

In fact, the word revolutionary means a sudden, complete, or marked change, while a counter-revolutionary is one who acts after a revolution to try and overturn or reverse it. In this sense, being counter-revolutionary could be good or bad depending on the outcome and beneficent or pernicious character at the heart of the revolution that is reversed.

We have heard critics call the pre-emptive strike in Iraq revolutionary. And in this case, it certainly does not refer to anything positive. So a counter-revolution to reverse the notion of a pre-emptive strike would indeed be a good thing for humankind and world peace. We also know that in the last 30 years, China chose reform, not revolution. The word reform is in stark contrast to revolution because it advocates a gradual change, not an abrupt one.

While many Chinese intellectuals are appalled by the action of the two students, those in support of them, who believe Professor Yang should be restrained from making such comments, is equally disturbing. If another revolution is ever needed, it should be one to change our education system and bring back academic freedom to our schools.

(Yang Shijun's blog)

I was summoned to speak with my leader today.  He said that some students in my <Ancient Han Language> course have denounced me to the Public Security Bureau and the City Education Committee for criticizing the government.  An investigation is being conducted.  I did not know whether to laugh or cry at the idea that students at the East China University of Political Science and Law should still have Cultural Revolution-era thinking and will resort to all and any methods to denounce their teacher as a counter-revolutionary.  So sad!  These Chinese university students.

When I held my <Ancient Han Language>, I definitely criticized certain traditional Chinese culture in the context of the course materials.  If there are certain aspects of traditional culture that are connected to today's society, I would make those connections and criticize the government.

I remember that two female students came to see after class and angrily denounced me for daring to criticizing Chinese culture and the government!  They even had tears in their eyes.  I admire students who love Chinese culture and the government so much, and it is their right to do so!  But why don't I have the right to criticize Chinese culture and the government?  Therefore I told them: I have the right to express my views and if you don't like my lectures, you don't have to take my course.  However, they went to denounce me to my superiors and added some more imaginary "crimes."  I was really surprised.

You know, if this were to happen in the late Qing dynasty, someone might believe it.  If this were to happen in the May 4th era of the Republic of China, people won't believe it.  The youth of that era had basically adopted the notions of "democracy," "freedom" and "human rights" and therefore such weird incidents could not be happening.  But today in the 21st century, it is happening in China and at a Chinese university no less.  This is really incredible.  When I recall the series of weird things that occurred in Chinese schools recently, I have to pray silently for Chinese society and its people: When will Chinese society emerge out of ignorance?  When will Chinese education get on the right track?  When will Chinese students begin to think normally?

(Southern Metropolis Weekly)

A blog post half a month ago thoroughly interrupted the tranquil life of Yang Shiqun.

Yang Shiqun is a professor and a thesis advisor at the Legal System History Research Center of the East China University of Political Science and Law.  His blog at a certain web portal has a longish scholarly title, <Recovering the Past, Facing the Present Squarely and Exploring the Future>.

The blog post that created a public stir was published there under the title <Some students denounced me as a counter-revolutionary>.

In this blog post, Yang described what happened to him: "...some students in my <Ancient Han Language> course have denounced me to the Public Security Bureau and the City Education Committee for criticizing the government.  An investigation is being conducted."

In his blog post,  Yang admitted that in this class, "I definitely criticized certain traditional Chinese culture in the context of the course materials.  If there are certain matters of traditional culture that are connected to today's society, I would make those connections and criticize the government."

He recalled that two female students came to see him one day after class: "I remember that two female students came to see after class and angrily denounced me for daring to criticizing Chinese culture and the government!  They even had tears in their eyes."  In his blog, Yang speculated that these two female students were the ones who denounced him.  He said that he admired the two female students for having the courage to love traditional culture so passionately, but he could not understand why they did this.

At the end of this blog post that has less than 700 words, Yang reflected wistfully: "Today in the 21st century, this is happening in China and in a Chinese university no less.  This is really incredible."

This blog post was published at 4:19pm on November 21, 2008.  It was hidden from more viewing just after 7pm on November 25.  In the brief time that it was publicly available, the page views and comments rose rapidly.  Hundreds of comments were made in heated language.

Yang recalled that certain media workers left comments expressing their desire to understand this affair.  But Yang has calmed down and is refusing all interviews now.

He told one reporter that the school is still trying to protect him and his motive was to let off some steam on his personal blog.  On the evening of November 25, he received a reminder call from a friend and he hid the blog post from further public viewing.

But he did not imagine the power of the Internet was so great that this blog post became the focus of media attention and public debate.  Within a few days, his colleagues Wang Xiaoyu, Zhang Ming and other university scholars would also chime in to criticize the culture of denunciation.

Actually, this blog post which can only be retrieved through search engines today was the result of a conversation on that day.

That day was November 21.  It was a Friday and Yang Shiqun did not have any class.  He received a telephone call to go to the office of the School of Humanities.  When he got there, several School leaders were waiting for him.

One leader told him straight up: "Some student has directly complained about your class lecture to the city public security bureau and the city education committee.  The case is being investigated by the authorities.  We want to verify two things with you now.  First, did you say anything in class about a certain illegal organization?  Secondly, did you mention a certain overseas website?"

Yang said that it was impossible.  He neither believed nor knew enough about the former, so he could not have gotten into the subject.  As for the latter, he knew what the limits were and he could not have touched the subject.

The conversation ended quickly.  But this ten minute conversation left Yang Shiqun very uneasy.  He has been teaching for almost 20 years and this is the first time that he has ever run into anything like this.  When he returned to his office that afternoon, he wrote and published that blog post.  In retrospect, Yang admitted that he was too excited at the time and his words were unavoidably emotional.

The next day was Saturday.  But Yang Shiqun did not have a quiet weekend either.

On that day, he was asked to go to the chancellors' office in the Changing school district of the university.  A vice-chancellor in charge of teaching was waiting for him.  Four or five other leaders from the School of Humanities, the School Affairs Office and the Security Office were also there.

This time, the vice-chancellor led the discussion.  The subject was still about the verification of the two problems from the day before..  He was asked again whether he spoke about a certain illegal organization and Yang denied it once more.

This conversation lasted less than 30 minutes  Yang was uneasy because he spotted that one of the leaders holding some written notes in his hand.  Yang speculated that this was written by his student denouncer.

Yang felt very saddened.  He told the university vice-chancellor repeatedly: "It is so sad that this type of thing should be happening."

This university leader is a colleague of his at the Legal System History Research Center.  At the end, the leader assured him that they only wanted to verify the relevant issues with him and they don't mean anything else.  He suggested that Yang should concentrate more on mainstream topics in his class and omit anything unrelated to the textbooks.  Yang should also pay special attention to the new students, and remember: "While there is freedom in academics, there should also be discipline in the classroom."

In the past, Yang Shiqun led a very regular and calm life.  On Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, he teachers.  For the rest of the time, he reads in his office and conducts research.  He seldom deals with other people.  He claims to be someone who has no quarrels with the world.  But these two conversations disturbed him greatly.

So now this professor is perplexed.  Each day, he tries to remember all the classes that he has taught and every sentence that he has spoken in class.


According to Yang's own analysis, the incident was triggered during the <Ancient Han Language> undergraduate course some time during the three months between September and November.

This course was designed for new students.  In Yang's PowerPoint presentation (posted at 杨师群制作的课件幻灯片), the first class was about <Random thoughts on the first language course at university>.

He emphasized the difference between university and secondary school education as well as the goals and values of education.  He emphasized that this seemingly remote subject is highly significant, because "if you don't understand China of the past, you cannot understand China today."  Furthermore, "the difficulties along the path to modernization in China can be understood through the history of traditional culture" and this is how breakthroughs can be achieved.

In his first class, Yang Shiqun listed his email address and blog URL to the students as is his practice.  He welcomed the students to discuss any problem with him.  His blog links to his good friends as well as active public intellectuals such as Liu Junning, He Weifang, Qin Hui and others.


Yang was disappointed because the quality of the students seems to be getting worse over time.  While he lectures passionately on his subject, most of the students were sitting there looking as dumb as "wooden chickens."

He was even more disappointed because he could not determine just which class on which day during the three month period caused the students to denounce him.  "I am sure that I did not say any of those things listed in the denunciation.  But it seems that every class could have caused trouble, especially the first class."

Concerning the two female students who argued with him after class one day, he shook his head and said that he could not remember which lecture it was.


After the affair became public, he received phone calls from all over every day.  He does not use a mobile phone, so the calls have to come to his office.  Finally, the telephone directory page was deleted from the official website of the School of Humanities.

So media reporters began to show up in person to interview him.  On the morning of December 12, a female Shanghai media reporter intercepted him successfully in front of his office and she even expressed the intent to sit in on his lecture the next day at the Songjiang school district.

Meanwhile, at the university BBS, a blog post titled <Secret denunciations are also a basic civil speech right> also received support.


Another student wrote: "There are any number of other more reasonable, more effective and more logical things that the two female students could have expressed their dissenting views."  More importantly, how can teachers "at the university teach these general knowledge without increasing their influence on how students think?"


At this time, Yang Shiqun does not necessarily think that the two female students who came to see him after class are his denouncers.  He is more angry about the two fictitious charges against him.  "Isn't this framing me?"

He wants to learn the truth.  He wants the relevant departments to tell him just what the students denounce him for and just what were the inappropriate things that he said in class.  If possible, he is willing to have a good talk with his student denouncers.  He can even understand that students may act naively: "They don't even know what they are doing, and that is sad for education as well as society."


The details of the affair are somewhat unclear.  In Yang Shiqun's recollection, he was told at the first meeting that the authorities are conducting an investigation.  On December 2, the Shanghai police said that there was no such case on file.  Meanwhile the university says that they are still looking into the matter.


The only university respresentative who responded to the reporter was the vice-chancellor who participated in the second meeting with Yang Shiqun.  There are discrepancies between his story and Yang's blog post.

"You should go and ask Yang Shiqun three things.  You write that down.  First, which student said that he was a counter-revolutionary?  Secondly, which public security organization has set up a case for investigation?  Thirdly , did those two female students speak out?  Ask Yang to produce the evidence and the problem is solved!  Your newspaper is influential across the nation.  I give you these hints.   You go and ask him first.  Don't ask me.  Once you get the answers, you have the truth.  If he cannot produce the evidence, it shows that he is the one with the problems and not me!"

It should be pointed out that Yang Shiqun's blog post was written before the second meeting (which included this university vice-chancellor) and after the first meeting with the School of Humanities leaders.

Related Links: Chinese students inform on political science professor  David Bandurski, China Media Project; 杨师群制作的课件幻灯片  猫眼看人