August 2011

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By Dru C. Gladney

China can say no, as was once declared in the title of the popular 1990s Chinese book. A sovereign country, China has every right to admit or exclude those who seek permission to enter. That it has chosen to exclude a group of scholars who contributed to an edited volume on the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, now known as the “Xinjiang 13,” should not and will not elicit much concern in the wider academic world, despite a slew of recent articles in Bloomberg, the Washington Post, the New York Times, blog fora like China Beat, and on listservs such as China-pol, etc. It is also interesting that this issue has only now emerged in the popular press, nearly eight years later. What does concern me, as one of the names on the list, is the suggestion that there is anything one can do personally, or even collectively, to be removed from such a list, so that’s what I’ll focus on here.

Jim Millward suggests there are certain lessons that can be learned from this experience to help prevent it from happening to someone else. More importantly, he argues that if university and other academic institutions had acted collectively to put pressure on China, our visa troubles “could have been quickly resolved.”  Although I agree with Jim on almost all of his astute responses to the Bloomberg and Post articles regarding our situation, I could not disagree more with this particular assertion. I’m also concerned that this idea bears a faint resemblance to certain 19th century Western efforts to “change” China, and even “save” it (from what exactly, I never have been clear). Just as the perfect storm of events that came together to create perhaps the very first “group blacklist” of a wide range of scholars working on a similar topic by any nation – there are a plethora of scholars and activists who have been denied entré to many countries – is highly complex and impossible to explain, so too the ability of the Chinese state to both impose and perhaps then, to reverse, a decision will perhaps never be fully understood. As one high-ranking Chinese scholar-official suggested to me: “It takes a certain amount of power to put one on such a list, but much greater power to take one off it.”

The anthropologist Gregory Bateson once famously labeled the sort of haphazard and unpredictable process outlined above “schismogenesis.” I suggest that when it comes to a place like China, with 1.3 billion people ruled by a Communist Party under the presumed enlightened guidance of a Chairman and nine-member politburo (all chosen through a selection process that no one has ever explained), the dynamics of schismogenesis are raised to a whole new level of intensity and complexity.

The seemingly arbitrary and idiosyncratic process by which I have been able to obtain three visas to China since the blacklist was put into place in 2004 illustrates this rather unpredictable process. I believe only one other scholar from the group has been able to travel to China more than twice since the list was drawn up, and neither of us have visited Xinjiang (whereas I had travelled to China more than ten times the previous year, and at least six times to Xinjiang in that year alone). It has been noted that it took quite a few years after the Frederick Starr edited volume, Xinjiang: China’s Muslim Borderland (M.E. Sharpe, 2004), was published that the contributors began to become gradually aware we were all on the same list.

In my case, I was actually carrying around a stamp in my passport that indicated I was denied a visa in Hong Kong in 2006 for over a year, before I realized the meaning of such a stamp. It is a simple red stamp that gives a date and a place (in Chinese), presumably signifying where the denial took place. It was situated nowhere near any of the previous Chinese visas that adorned almost every other page of my passport. Once I discovered the stamp (pointed out to me by one of my fellow contributors who had been unsuccessfully trying to overturn the denial for two years), I immediately “lost” that passport and applied for a new one (a photo of the stamp can be viewed in a powerpoint presentation linked to the Bloomberg article on the blacklisting of US scholars).

On my next visa application, I found a new stamp had been surreptitiously placed in the back of the new passport. When I asked the consular clerk why I was denied, I was told: “You should know.” None of the Xinjiang 13 have ever been given an explanation, any kind of explanation, regarding why our group was singled out, whereas many of the authors of other works much more critical of China than ours, on a range of topics from Xinjiang, to Tibet, to Taiwan, to human rights, to the treatment of women, and the repression of artists, writers, and activists, continue to travel to China with relative impunity.

Once I realized I could no longer obtain a multiple entry visa to China within an hour of arriving in Hong Kong, as I had done in 2003, I began to speak to my Chinese friends and colleagues about this. Most were equally shocked and dismayed. Almost all of them believed they could help me and that this “inconvenience” would be easily and quickly resolved. To their credit, all of them tried, and many of them have continued to exert great efforts to bring me back.  I was particularly dismayed in 2006 that I could not immediately travel to China to attend the funeral of my adopted “dry” Muslim Chinese father and mentor, to whom I dedicated my first book in 1991.

It was only after I inadvertently mentioned this problem to a Chinese acquaintance, a journalist from Shanghai based in the U.S. who had often interviewed me on the “Xinjiang problem,” that he offered to help. It turned out that he happened to be an elementary school classmate of Wenzhong Zhou, who was then the Chinese Ambassador to the US. For my first visit, I was told to meet with a consular official in Washington, D.C. After waiting for two hours, I was courteously received and merely asked my opinion regarding the Uyghur, and specifically the businesswoman, Rebiya Kadeer, who was at that time being held in a prison outside of Urumqi. I told him my views as presented in a public lecture at Georgetown University the night before, and that I believed it was in China’s interest to release Ms. Kadeer as soon as possible.

I was never asked to write or sign anything. I was asked to not speak to media, nor travel to Xinjiang, and to be “objective” in my assessment of Xinjiang. My interlocutor did not seem well-briefed on the problems in Xinjiang nor familiar with the content of the Starr volume. After I received my visa, I immediately flew that evening to Beijing in order to present a lecture at the prestigious Beijing Forum hosted by Peking University. When I arrived at the Beijing Capitol Airport, I was unexpectedly taken by the visa officer to a small windowless room and forced to sit there for over four hours without recourse to telephone or communication with the outside world, while they presumably checked to see whether my visa was valid.

On a subsequent trip, I was detained for over an hour at the Shanghai airport. On my third trip in 2009, I was detained slightly on my way out of the Beijing airport.  I was never at any time given any explanation why my papers were suspect. Prior to every visit I filled out the requisite visa application and attached official letters of invitation from the various universities and institutes who inviting me to speak or meet with them.

While in China, to my knowledge my activities and movements were not monitored in any obvious way. I did meet with my sponsor’s associates and spouse on each visit and asked politely to be careful and “objective.” I was widely received and warmly welcomed “home” by my many Chinese friends and colleagues, some of whom I had known for nearly 30 years, and who seemed equally mystified and angered by my visa problems. I’ll never forget the conflicted emotions I felt when, upon my rather tardy arrival at the Beijing Forum plenary session, which at that moment happened to be in session in the Great Hall of the People, a large group of my Chinese colleagues stood up during the middle of the lecture and cheered when I entered the room.

The schismogenetic mixture of personal relationships, political connections, shifting contexts and questionable contents that led to that moment, my subsequent trips, and later continued visa denials, as well as the placing of my name on such a list, I doubt can ever be fully understood or accounted for. Nor do I believe that this decision can be easily reversed or influenced by any individual or institution.  Now that my friend in D.C. has retired and returned to China, and Ambassador Zhou has stepped down, I have no idea if I will be able to travel to China again, and I have been told that some Chinese academies are wary of inviting me.

Western universities and academic institutions can and should play a role in supporting their scholars and promoting the open exchange of different opinions and points of view. That is what defines the essence of academic freedom. I do think that it is only when a wide range of individuals and institutions in China come to the realization that it is through open and regular dialogue with different points of view and a wide range of individuals that we might fully begin to resolve our differences and address our societal problems. Chinese themselves must change China, and realize it is in their best interests to do so. To paraphrase my friend, it takes a certain level of strength for China to say “no,” but even more, in my opinion, to say “yes.”

Dru C. Gladney is Professor of Anthropology at Pomona College and the author of Dislocating China: Muslims, Minorities, and Other Subaltern Subjects (University of Chicago Press, 2004) and Muslim Chinese: Ethnic Nationalism in the People’s Republic (Harvard University Press, 1991, 2nd ed., 1996).

by James A. Millward
Georgetown University

Bloomberg, and more recently The Washington Post, have run stories about the visa problems of scholars who contributed to Xinjiang: China’s Muslim Borderland, a volume edited by Frederick Starr and published by M.E. Sharpe in 2004. The Bloomberg piece was exhaustively reported; the reporters who wrote it, Dan Golden and Oliver Staley, conducted interviews with Chinese as well as western participants in the episode, and all in all did a good job with a complicated story.

Inevitably, however, the Bloomberg piece creates some misconceptions, and these are as likely to be reinforced as cleared up in news reports that build on it, as the Washington Post story of last weekend shows. Now seems the time both to correct the problematic aspects of the Bloomberg piece and also to discuss lessons we may take away from the entire episode. There are a couple of key issues involved. Of special importance to scholars of China: are you in danger of being banned for what you write? My answer below will be, “not really.” And for universities, grant agencies and other institutions involved in academic exchanges with China, the episode raises the question of what you should do in the face of official Chinese interference in curriculum, research, guest lectures or other academic matters. I will suggest that a strong and collective response, organized by institutions and not left to the affected scholars themselves, is imperative. The reason for such a response is not simply to help individual scholars get visas, but to make the point that academic exchange must be unhampered and reciprocal and to set the right tone for future academic interchange with China.

1. Why were contributors to this book refused visas?

Believe it or not, it was not the content per se of the Starr volume that caused the trouble. Those who have read it, in China and outside, are surprised that it caused such a furor. This volume on Xinjiang doesn’t touch directly on the most sensitive issues of human rights or terrorism, for example. Is it different in approach and argument from writing on Xinjiang published in China? Of course. Could it have been translated into Chinese and openly distributed in China? No. But in this it is no different from anything written outside China on such “sensitive” 敏感 issues as contemporary Chinese politics, Taiwan, Tibet, the environment, Falun Gong, the Cultural Revolution or CCP history. We can’t know for sure (few if any people are ever told explicitly why a visa is denied), but it seems that the contributors to this volume were refused visas more because of context than content, because of the fact of the book’s existence and the manner in which authorities learned of it, rather than what was in the book itself. The following are among the special circumstances that led to the trouble:

•Politicization of the project:

Editor Frederick Starr, not a China specialist, contacted the Chinese embassy at the very start (without prior knowledge or consent of the contributors), seeking official Chinese collaboration. I believe this put the work on radar screens it otherwise would not have got on. A better approach would have been to work through Chinese academic contacts, either individual scholars or the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Also possibly contributing to the problem was the fact that meetings associated with the book were held in Washington, D.C. Besides this, there was the unfortunate Chinese rendering of the initial working title, “Xinjiang Project,” as Xinjiang gongcheng 新疆工程. Unlike “project,” a term innocuous enough in English, “gongcheng” has political connotations. The more neutral xiangmu 项目, or even simply yanjiu 研究, would have been preferable and more accurate. The fact that the book was mischaracterized in Chinese as a US government-funded project arises from these and related circumstances. The book received Luce Foundation funding, and meetings were held at Johns Hopkins SAIS. The only government involvement was that which Starr sought from the Chinese government.

• 9-11 and the “Global War on Terror” frame.

The book project was conceived and largely drafted before 9-11. But the US war in Afghanistan and opening of bases in Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan raised Chinese fears of US “encirclement.” Chinese official rhetoric recast dissent and disturbances in Xinjiang as international terrorism in the “Global War on Terror” mode, and there was much discussion and exaggeration of the role of the East Turkestan Independence Movement. The US then listed ETIM as an international terrorist organization in order to receive a Chinese abstention on the UN resolution against Iraq. All of these events, none of which is dealt with in the Starr volume, served to raise the political temperature regarding all Xinjiang affairs while the book was being revised and edited, and to reinforce the misconception that our book was a US government project.

• Opportunism of a few Chinese scholars.

A copy of the manuscript in draft form made its way to security organs in China, and was internally translated and distributed to relevant units “for rebuttal” 反驳. Starr provided the draft manuscript (without consulting the contributors) to an unnamed Chinese scholar in China. It is possible that this scholar passed the manuscript on to authorities. We have heard from several separate Chinese sources that one Chinese scholar brought the book to the attention of the security services and denounced it as “separatist,” though of course nothing in the book advocates a “separatist” point of view. After the book was formally published in the US, it was translated again by the Xinjiang Academy of Social Sciences in an edition that included material from the draft chapters that had been cut from the final edition, highlighted material in the final version that was not present in the draft, and reprinted, in special typeface, Starr’s marginal comments on draft chapters. This edition was published as “secret” with a preface by XJASS researcher Pan Zhiping (as mentioned in the Bloomberg piece). Pan claimed in his preface that the Starr book “provides a theoretical basis for one day taking action to dismember China and separate Xinjiang [from China.]” The translation is less than perfect. For example, where I labeled one subheading “assumption of power by the Chinese Communist Party,” referring to Xinjiang in 1949, the translator rendered “assumption of power” as “duoqu quanli 夺取权力”—i.e. as “seizes power.” Nevertheless, there is nothing in the text of the book, nor even in its Chinese translation, that remotely suggests we were laying the groundwork for a US intervention. Even Starr’s auxiliary “policy paper” (published separately from the book in English, but bundled with it in the Chinese edition) focuses its bullet-pointed recommendations on how to minimize the threat of violence and dissent in Xinjiang. One wonders, however, how many political figures in China ever read past the inflammatory preface of the translation.

Ironically enough, the same author who calls the contributors “a hodgepodge of scholars, scholars in preparation, phony scholars, and shameless fabricators of political rumor” also argues in the preface’s final pages that engagement with foreign scholars is better than alienating us, on the grounds that such communication helps us understand Xinjiang better. This I would not dispute.

It is the case that Chinese academics can in some cases receive government recognition and funding for their own projects by denouncing US scholarship. This, I think, is partly what happened to us. However, like other contributors, I have been heartened and moved again and again by the opposite phenomenon: Chinese scholars who have supported us not only by issuing invitations, but by directly making the case to authorities that banning us was a bad idea, that our work does not represent a threat to China but is, rather, worth consulting, and that mutually beneficial academic exchanges require reciprocity. With the exception of one or two individuals, then, Chinese colleagues have vocally regretted our banning and maintained close contact with me throughout the time I could not get a visa. It is worth noting that banning a cohort of foreign Xinjiang scholars had tangible negative effects on our Chinese counterparts as well. The word quickly got around, and over the past few years I have attended several symposia on Xinjiang held outside China, for which it was decided not to invite Han scholars from China, lest they report back and get other conference attendees in trouble. These decisions were not made in a punitive spirit, but in one of self-protection. Such concerns were perhaps excessive, but we have generally been more reticent in our conversations with Chinese scholars about Xinjiang since the blacklisting. While not universal, this regrettable climate has thus resulted in Chinese scholars working on Xinjiang likewise being cut off for the better part of a decade.

2. Resolution of the visa problems

There was something of a breakthrough in the spring of 2010, when a few of us were granted visas. PRC embassy staff members have been noticeably friendlier to me over the past year or so; I have even been invited to cultural and social events held at the embassy.

• Has the situation been resolved?

The situation has not, however, been fully resolved. Though some of the contributors have been allowed to return to China, it is only after a process involving an invitation from a Chinese danwei and an interview with a Chinese political councilor, usually at the embassy in Washington D.C., that we have been given visas. This is better than not going at all, but it is cumbersome, time-consuming, and occasionally humiliating and frightening. When my plane landed in Beijing last July, I was met onboard the United Airlines flight by a uniformed Chinese woman who apparently knew who I was. She took my passport and asked me to follow her; we took a different route from the other passengers and I was ushered into a room labeled “interrogation room” 讯问室 while she went off with my passport. Fifteen minutes later, I was photographed and sent on my way. To be fair, everyone was very nice, and I got through more quickly than I would have if I’d had to go through passport control with the masses. But still: we should be able to get tourist visas in an ordinary fashion.

More seriously, some of the contributors have not yet been granted visas, despite recent applications. These recent denials may be because the units that invited them got cold feet and withdrew the invitations, or because there was insufficient time for the lengthy process we now must endure to get a visa. I first contacted my handler at the embassy at the end of April 2011, and received the visa only in late June, after which I bought an expensive ticket to fly in mid-July. (A third group of the contributors have not for various reasons applied for visas or sought to go to China since 2003. It is thus inaccurate to refer to us as the “Xinjiang 13.”)

• Did we have to write self-criticisms or censor our publications to get visas?

The Bloomberg story leaves the impression that I received a visa because of a letter I wrote the Chinese ambassador, while other affected scholars who did not write such a letter do not receive visas. This is wrong.

I mentioned to Bloomberg reporter Dan Golden that the National Committee on US-China Relations, in the course of pressing for my inclusion in a delegation headed on a study trip to China, had passed on a request from Chinese Ambassador Zhou Wenzhong that I write a letter explaining the situation behind the book and our failure to get visas. In the fall of 2006, I wrote a two-page letter which simply explained the situation, making many of the same points I make here.

I pointed out that the book posed no threat to China, and pressed the importance of untrammeled academic exchange between our two countries. Since we had been accused of being Xinjiang separatists, I also wrote that I did not advocate a separate Uyghur or any other kind of state in Xinjiang. This may have been something they wanted me to say, but since it accurately reflects my views, not to mention the public position of every country internationally and even the stated position of mainstream Uyghur advocacy groups in exile, it is hardly a self-criticism, confession, or retraction. Except when my own research and evolving thinking has dictated it, I have never changed my views on Xinjiang history as expressed in the two chapters I co-wrote in the Starr volume, or in work before or after that time, nor was I asked to. I did indeed receive a visa in 2007 after this letter and the lobbying of the NCUSCR. But in 2008 and 2009 I was again refused visas. So it wasn’t the letter that did it, but rather the successful strategy and unstinting efforts of the NCUSCR—on which, see below.

One of the reasons I believe that peculiar circumstances were more important than content in causing our visa troubles, is that since the Starr volume and during the time I could not receive visas, I subsequently published a book (Eurasian Crossroads) and two articles containing material that might be seen as more critical or at least more sensitive than anything I wrote in the Starr book. In Eurasian Crossroads, though not in my chapters in the Starr volume, I discussed the latter 20th century, i.e. Xinjiang under the CCP. My short 2006 study, “Violent Separatism in Xinjiang: a Critical Assessment” (downloadable from the East West Center), directly challenged the PRC narrative that Uyghur disturbances arose from international Islamist terrorist connections and Islamist Uyghur organizations.

I also edited a special edition of Central Asian Survey (Dec. 2010) on the July 2009 Urumchi riots. In my introductory article I put forward my own early attempt at a history of these riots, arguing that official Chinese propaganda and restrictions on media contributed to the expansion of tensions after an earlier attack on Uyghurs in a Guangdong factory, and for the widespread panic and violence among Han and Uyghur in Urumchi during and following July 5th, 2009. I heard nothing about these publications from Chinese authorities or colleagues; a few months after the Central Asian Survey number came out, I received a visa to return to China for a conference, and subsequently traveled in China for a couple weeks with my family.

What worked (and didn’t work) in getting past the visa problem?

Once we were blacklisted, it became bureaucratically difficult to lift the ban—and indeed, we are still on what might be called a gray-list—even after many in Chinese officialdom apparently recognized that it was a bad idea to exclude us. But what made possible the visas some of us have received over the past two years was, I think, a combination of factors. One may have been the transfer in April 2010 of Wang Lequan from his longtime position as Xinjiang Regional First Party Secretary and effective head of the region. Likewise, the Obama administration’s dropping of the “Global War on Terror” rubric for US foreign relations, the erosion of the US position in Central Asia, and the winding down of the Afghanistan war no doubt helped change the climate.

A more direct reason was likely the cumulative effect of lobbying by Chinese scholars with access to the Chinese leadership, possibly by Chinese foreign ministry figures, and by a group of prominent US China hands who signed a joint petition and whose representatives met directly with the Chinese ambassador about this issue. (I’ve been told that the US State Department also repeatedly raised the issue with Chinese interlocutors, but no US official ever spoke with me either to ask about the situation or to tell me of US government efforts on our behalf; a State Department official rejected my initial request for help in 2005.) Such interventions, and time, I believe, allowed a partial break in our visa logjam.

The Bloomberg piece accurately reflects my and other contributors’ frustration at the weak responses by our own universities; to the list of universities that come in for criticism, I might add the Fulbright Program (which allowed an American grantee to be refused access to China for no good reason while continuing to fund Chinese grantees’ research in the United States). I also wrote to the SSRC and ACLS, hoping for help in organizing a coordinated response. I received notes of consolation, but no tangible help or acknowledgement that there was a broader principle to be defended here.

To be fair, ours was a new situation for many of these institutions, and my co-contributors and I could have raised the issue more aggressively. (For why I, at least, didn’t, see below.) I do not want to dwell in the past, cast aspersions, or sound bitter. I don’t believe, for example, that universities were unwilling to stand up for us because of financial considerations per se, as is simplistically suggested by the news reports. Nevertheless, because all along the way I encountered an institutional urge to hush up the visa banning–like it was an awkward social disease and I an embarrassingly afflicted family member–it is worth airing my criticisms frankly now so that if a similar situation arises later, we will have some idea of what to do.

I was a member of the first group selected for the National Committee on US-China Relations’ “Public Intellectuals Program,” intended to help China scholars of all disciplines learn more about contemporary issues and US-China relations, and to encourage and prepare us to interact with the media. This program involved study trips to Washington and to China. Knowing of my visa troubles, officers of the NCUSCR began pressing contacts in the Chinese Foreign Ministry many months before my scheduled departure on the China tour. They laid out the virtues of free academic exchange in a reasoned way, but were also uncompromising: if Millward was not a member of the delegation to China, the delegation would not go. Their principle in this case, as in earlier ones, was that China cannot veto members of the delegations NCUSCR puts together. This was the strategy that gained me a visa in 2007. It did not put any Chinese colleagues in jeopardy.

My own university helped me in one way: both the university President and the Provost’s office wrote letters to accompany my applications for visas. (I received similar help at various points from deans in our School of Foreign Service.) But these letters, like those from university presidents of my fellow contributors, were simply ignored, and after each visa refusal, I could not get Georgetown to press for follow-up dialogue with the embassy. Thinking of the NCUSCR strategy, I asked my university to include me in the semi-annual delegation we send to a joint symposium at the Central Party School of the Communist Party of China, an institution with which Georgetown had recently formed a “cooperative agreement to engage in scholarly exchange.” At the very least, I thought, it would be interesting to be denied a visa when invited by the Central Party School, whose president was then and remains Xi Jinping! But I was told that any plan to draw on our Central Party School relationship was “a non-starter.”

The Bloomberg piece includes another example of a disappointing Georgetown reaction—or rather, non-reaction—when PRC authorities scuttled a promising Georgetown course exchange with Fudan University. After I applied for a visa to go to Fudan for two weeks of planned co-teaching with my collaborator there, PRC authorities instructed the Fudan waiban to stop the collaboration. I never received a visa, and Georgetown received no explanation.

I also suggested, but in retrospect did not work hard enough to mobilize, a joint response by the affected universities, which included Dartmouth, Johns Hopkins, Miami University of Ohio, Mt. Holyoke, University of Indiana, University of Hawai’i, and ultimately Pomona College and Yale in addition to Georgetown. Whether it would have helped at the start of the visa trouble I can’t say; but it would have been the right thing to do to make a strong statement on academic freedom while simultaneously mitigating the universities’ own (exaggerated) fears of retaliation by spreading the risk. And of course, if the universities involved had been willing to link our visas in some way with any of their on-going exchanges with China, I believe our visa troubles could have been quickly resolved, especially if the institutions acted collectively.

Georgetown did not embrace my suggestion of a joint multi-university response, and I did not push further. The reasons I did not push harder are worth noting, should academics be denied visas again: first, an individual scholar does not have the time, access or staff resources to organize a multi-university response or engage in on-going dialog with Chinese representatives; second, to someone on a blacklist, it feels self-serving to ask other scholars or institutions to help. A scholar who has been denied a visa, when pushing for a strong response, must ask others to spend time and take some risk for the banned scholar’s personal benefit. When an institution responds, however, or better still a group of institutions, they are making the case for the general principle of academic freedom and reciprocal exchange, as well as defending their legitimate “business interest,” namely access to China by the people they pay to study China.

3. Lessons from the Xinjiang scholars’ visa problems

• Should Chinese studies scholars be careful about what they write?

I have recently heard stories of US China-scholars avoiding certain topics, pulling papers from collections, hesitating to have their work translated, and so on, as a result of what happened to my co-contributors and me. As I explained above, however, our experience does not suggest that we were blacklisted specifically for the content of our writing, though of course Xinjiang is one of the most sensitive topics in China. Everyone in the Starr book, regardless of subject, suffered difficulties—including one non-contributor simply mentioned in passing in the introduction. No one of us to my knowledge has censored him- or herself since the visa troubles began (though I am always careful to maintain a fair approach and objective tone.) If anything, we’ve become more outspoken, yet many of us are now getting visas. I have written about more sensitive matters since after the Starr book came out than I did in it, with no further ill effects. Chinese embassy personnel have as much as told me that they disagreed with the visa refusals. We know how the Starr book got to Chinese authorities’ attention, and this suggests that no one in China’s security services is tasked with trolling through US academic writing looking for western scholars to ban. And while some Chinese academics are closely associated with the state and do write official reports about our work, the vast majority are not interested in sticking it to US scholars. I suspect that after this episode, moreover, Chinese scholars and scholar-officials will realize that in a globalized world foreign scholars will find out sooner or later what they write or say about us, and that it does not behoove Chinese scholars expected to present and publish in international venues to advance their careers domestically at the expense of foreign colleagues.

Thus my advice to my colleagues outside of China is, speaking purely practically, to go ahead and publish in English in normal academic publications without concern about visas. What you write may be too much for publishers in China, and thus cannot be translated and published there—but those editors will make that calculation. I know of no other example besides the Starr book, with its peculiar circumstances, where Chinese authorities have denied visas to western academics because of what they published in English academic venues. It would be useful to know of other examples, if there are any.

Public comment in mass media outlets and more direct advocacy bears greater risk, as the experience of the few blacklisted scholars not part of the Starr project shows. It requires courage, conviction and even heroism to be an intellectual who publically takes up the most controversial matters, materially rescues a Chinese colleague, or mobilizes opposition to Chinese policies. While such individuals a fortiori deserve robust support from institutions, this is not a calling all academics rise to, and I by no means consider myself in that league. Nevertheless, the examples of Chinese blocking access to scholars simply for their media comments are few—I know of only one example at present, though there may be more.

In any case, while it is ethically incumbent upon scholars to communicate their knowledge and speak the truth as best they can determine it, I believe one may with integrity chose the manner and venue through which one communicates. Expressing oneself second-hand through a reporter can be frustrating and inaccurate as well as hazardous. Even when writing themselves as commentators, scholars seldom receive enough space in mass media outlets to explain complex issues with any nuance. But academics can in good conscience, and should, publish academically. Moreover, foreign scholars can indeed do so with little fear of reprisals, even in the current restrictive climate in China. To put it more strongly, I think we have an obligation—to our Chinese colleagues and friends as well as to our profession—not to be “chilled” by such episodes as the blacklisting of contributors to the Starr volume. While we can at present still fulfill this obligation at little personal risk, the promise of real institutional support is a necessity as we go forward.

• What should universities do if one of their faculty members faces visa trouble?

What if an academic does get blacklisted? Universities, please be as upright and courageous as your scholars, who understand China better than administrators do. Do not seek out publicity, necessarily, but understand that the issue will become public eventually if not firmly addressed. Stand up for reciprocity of exchanges and academic freedom—that is what you are about, after all. Work collectively, so as not to be picked off one by one. Lobby hard for support from government, foundations and granting institutions with relations to China, since visa denials affect us all. (How often have I longed, during these years, for an institution like the former Committee on Scholarly Communication with China, which in the late-1970s and 1980s represented all American scholars and institutions in first negotiating and managing reciprocal Sino-US academic exchanges!) Engage in on-going dialogue, not just before a visa application, but after a failed one as well. Leave plenty of time before the travel date for an application—six months to a year—and lobby Chinese interlocutors throughout that time, understanding that Chinese bureaucracy can move slowly. Think of creative ways to link the effected scholar’s visa to other exchanges. Hey, Mr. University President! Why not take the blacklisted scholar on your next trip to China? She speaks good Chinese, knows the protocol at banquets, and can show you the best places for shui zhu yu 水煮鱼and foot massages. Linkage should be designed so as to inconvenience innocent Chinese or foreign scholars as little as possible—though I firmly believe that if a large university called a temporary halt to significant exchanges until its faculty member was again granted visas, the problem would be resolved very quickly indeed. There is a reason why Chinese students and visiting scholars are flocking to US universities: we have a lot to offer.

It’s simply not on for one side in academic exchange to arbitrarily pick and choose, like a toddler crying, “you can’t play in my sandbox.” Nor is it right for government to interfere in academic exchange, or for opportunists to smear colleagues to advance their own careers. Such behavior does no one any good, including our colleagues in China, as they well know. Our own institutions must recognize this as well, and for reasons both of principle and practicality help to protect academic freedom and reciprocity as we forge ever broader academic relations with China. If our universities, foundations and other academic institutions take a prompt, uncompromising, collective stand, not only will visa refusals be overturned more quickly; the issue of scholars being denied visas to China is less likely to come up. However, if institutions don’t support their own faculty, but allow visa refusals to occur and go on unchallenged for years, American academics may well gradually be placed in a situation akin to that of our Chinese colleagues: facing the Chinese state on our own, forced to consider the possible personal repercussions of everything we write.

By Christian Hess

The past week has seen Dalian become the focal point of significant global press coverage for two different reasons. The uptick in interest started with the maiden voyage of China’s first aircraft carrier, the former Soviet vessel Varyag, which set sail from Dalian’s harbour after years of not-so-secret rebuilding. More recently, the ongoing drama of citywide protests over the feared environmental impact caused by damage to one of the city’s major chemical plants has made the rounds of the international press.

Perhaps because it does not feature prominently on the foreign journalist’s map of China, the coverage of events in Dalian quickly transcends the city itself. Seemingly out of nowhere, Dalian is the place which has rebuilt a weapon which may allow China to project power in the region in important new ways, and a site of protest where we may be witnessing a nervous government making major capitulations to the demands of outraged citizens.

There are of course important local contexts here. The two previous posts in this series, by political scientist Meg Rithmire and historian Miriam Kingsberg, reminded us of this, as they explored the origins and development of an environmental discourse related to urban planning in Dalian that stretches from the colonial period into the reform era. I’d like to add two more points to this discussion.

The first deals with Dalian’s industrial heritage, which likewise harkens back to the colonial era. The ongoing protests over the PX plant in particular reveal significant changes in what industrial development means for Dalian and its people.

The second and related point I want to make touches on the nature of planning models and order in the local past. And how this has been linked to an endless series of top-down, state definitions of the city’s identity.

The recent protests remind us that Dalian’s makeover as one of China’s greenest cities shouldn’t blind us to the fact that potentially harmful industries continue to play an important role in the city’s growth. While similar protests have occurred in other parts of China, the intensity of the movement in Dalian is likely due to the fact that, for many years, industry (including chemical production) served as a defining feature of the city. Dalian’s industries, led by shipbuilding, locomotive plants, and chemical production enabled this former colonial city to rebuild quickly after 1945, and gave the city and its people a privileged position in the new urban landscape of the People’s Republic.

The city did not start its life as a major industrial base. Dalian was built by Russian (1898-1905) and Japanese (1905-1945) colonial powers as a trading port, billed by the South Manchuria Railway Company as “The Gateway to Manchuria.” It stood as an ultramodern point of access to the agricultural and mineral wealth of Manchuria.

By the 1920s Dalian was on the global map as a major port, home a burgeoning commercial and consumer economy best symbolized by the central plaza. This often photographed space was ringed with monumental buildings which reflected this economic vitality, including banks, stock exchanges, post offices, and luxury hotels, and still stands today as the core district of the city. While locomotive and shipbuilding facilities were also major features of the economy, it wasn’t until the 1930s that Japanese authorities began to implement significant industrialization plans for the city.

It wasn’t an easy transition. Dalian lacked space and ready access to water for large scale industries. But Dalian’s geographical location, and the pressing needs of an empire at total war would make the transformation of the colonial port into an industrial center of Japan’s wartime empire an urgent priority. With its advanced rail and port links, raw materials could move into the city with relative ease and finished goods, ranging from chemicals and armaments, to locomotives, ships and machined tools could flow out. New industrial zones were built in the suburbs, which came to replace the central plaza as the city’s center of economic gravity. Importantly, many of these industries were large in scale, and state-owned. This industrial base would prove critical for the city’s survival in the postwar era.

At the end of the war in 1945, Dalian was in a state of geopolitical limbo. Soviet troops occupied the city, and Chinese political powers had to work under Soviet authority while at the same time building legitimacy for themselves. Unlike Harbin and Changchun, Dalian had never been a Chinese administered city.

Yet, Chinese were the majority population throughout the colonial period, and many had lived there for decades. How would they be treated? Dalian might have easily been condemned for its colonial past. Instead, once the CCP started to gain control, the city’s industrial base, along with its colonial built environment served as the foundation for rebuilding the city. Equally important, reindustrialization provided the storyline for Dalian’s integration with China. By the late 1940s, it was rebranded as “China’s model production city.” Since the bulk of its industries had been in state hands under the Japanese, Dalian’s new authorities had a significant lead over places like Shanghai in terms of the transition to state ownership. Skilled Chinese workers who worked in these industrial units, trained under the Japanese, were not threatened politically, but rather were rewarded for staying on the job, often with former Japanese houses as part of their benefit package.

Dalian’s colonial built environment was used to build an image of the city as a “worker’s paradise.” The new story of Dalian as a production model and worker’s paradise was empowering in a time of renewed civil war. Moreover, it emphasized to workers that both their individual path to redemption and the city’s reintegration with China rested on their ability to live up to the new, state-ordained status as model production city.

Things have obviously changed quite a bit since then. Dalian sits far more comfortably on the map of China than it did in the late 1940s. As Meg Rithmire’s post shows us, the reform era has brought new state initiated efforts to build Dalian into a powerful new model with multiple “branding” operations. This pursuit to order the city through the use of models has been a constant feature of the city since its inception by Russian planners in the late 1890s. From Russia’s dream of a European style imperial metropolis and Japan’s building of a vibrant trading port and then industrial city, to its status as a vanguard production city in the late 1940s, “Dalian as model” has, at different times brought wealth and prosperity, or certain political clout to people here.

Yet such systematic and often overlapping schemes to rebrand, reorient and reorder the city often leave city residents out of the equation. It was a total colonial space, full of inequalities and exploitation. People here had little say in what happened to them after the 1940s. The brutal campaigns of the 1950s and 1960s did dive into family backgrounds, and past ties to Japan and even the Soviets cost people dearly. In recent years, Dalian’s GDP has risen, and new models have firmly planted it on the global map as a major IT center. It is still regarded as one of the cleanest cities in China. Yet the PX plant was allowed to set up shop here along with other polluting industries, and Dalian’s new image has involved much relocation and destruction, a fact not lost on city residents.

Perhaps it is more useful to view the recent events here as less a rigid tale of the Chinese government vs. the People, and more about local people trying to claim some control over what their city is and how it functions. And also about what it means to be from Dalian.

Christian Hess is Research Council Fellow/Assistant Professor of Chinese history at the University of Warwick. He is currently completing a book manuscript on the history of Dalian. He can be reached at

By Nicolai Volland

Twenty years ago, on 23 August 1991, a grim-looking Boris Yeltsin shoved a sheet of paper in front of Mikhail Gorbachev with the words, “You read this now!” Gorbachev, who had just returned to Moscow after the abortive coup d’état led by KGB generals and hardliners in his own Party, appeared tense and insecure. In front of a stunned international TV audience (original footage here [at 01:25]), he did as he was told. Gorbachev’s decree was the first in a number of documents that led to the ban of the once mighty Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

It had been Yeltsin’s bravado, climbing atop a tank at the Russian parliament building and calling on the Moscow population to resist the generals’ power grab, that had saved Gorbachev, the Soviet leader. Now Yeltsin used his new-found influence to terminate the Communist Party’s 74-year rule over Russia. In the days and weeks after the event, the former republics of the Soviet Union one by one declared their independence. In December 1991, just four months after the coup, the Soviet Union ceased to exist.

The shockwaves of the tremor that brought down the Soviet Union were felt across the globe, among populations both friendly and hostile to the first socialist nation on earth. They were felt acutely in China, and especially so in a particular age group: People who grew up in the 1950s, when the young PRC embarked on a path of “learning from the Soviet Union.” For this generation, the process of coming-of-age had been intimately tied to images, sights, and sounds of the Soviet Union—Soviet songs, films, and books permeated popular culture and everyday life in 1950s China. Dreams, both personal and collective, were intimately tied to the big socialist neighbor.

Sino-Soviet relations had gone through a rollercoaster ride that had in turn profoundly influenced the lives of the 1950s generation. More than many other groups in China, they were affected by the deterioration of bilateral relations and the split in the early 1960s. Twenty years later, when relations finally improved, many members of this generation—now mostly in their 50s—had felt great relief. The break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, then, came as a shock to them, leaving behind a sense of loss that was arguably more profound even than that of 1960.

One member of this generation is the writer Wang Meng (b. 1934). Wang is known in the West chiefly for his intricate novels published in the first years after the Cultural Revolution, with their deep psychological insights and experiments with stream-of-consciousness technique. He was also the nation’s Minister of Culture from 1986 to 1989, a period generally associated with a liberal and widely open cultural climate (“culture fever”).

Less well known is Wang Meng’s lifelong entanglement with the Soviet Union and its culture. A volume published in 2006, with the title Mourning the Soviet Union (Sulian ji, Beijing: Zuojia chubanshe) documents Wang’s intellectual and emotional relationship with the erstwhile “big brother” on China’s northern border. As the title indicates, the Soviet Union is an object of admiration and nostalgia, tied to memories of youth, optimism, and a cosmopolitan outlook that informed hundreds of thousands of Chinese from Wang Meng’s generation.

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by Jeffrey Wasserstrom

Tom Scocca’s engaging new book, Beijing Welcomes You: Unveiling the Capital City of the Future, which explores his experiences in China during its pre-Olympic and Olympic moments, has been getting enthusiastic reviews, including one by Jonathan Yardley of the Washington Post and one that yours truly did for Time. Seeing references online to the author giving talks about his book at various East Coast venues, I decided to send a few questions his way on topics ranging from the reaction he’s getting from audiences to how he keeps up with Chinese events now that he’s based back in the US. He readily obliged, with answers that often reminded me of why I’d liked the book so much (and in one case confirmed that I was on the right track to bring up parallels to Twain’s approach to memoir and travel writing in my Time essay). Here is what I asked and what he wrote in response:

JW: I know you’ve been touring to promote the book. Any questions you’ve gotten after book talks that have struck you as particularly interesting or unexpected?

TS: I hadn’t counted on the book coming out in the middle of quite this much economic and social turmoil in the West, so questions about America being surpassed by China are coming more frequently than I would have guessed. The bottom line remains that neither country is going to make the other go away. Any Chinese schadenfreude over the debt-ceiling crisis is tempered by China’s desire not to see its American investments crater.

JW: Any questions you wish you’d get asked–but don’t?

TS: The audiences have been pretty thorough. I’ve been carrying around a copy of the official Chinese party-line answers to difficult questions, in case I get stuck on a sensitive subject, but I keep forgetting to consult it.

JW: I’m always interested in influences, so were there any books–need not have anything to do with China–that you had in mind as literary models of a sort for what you were trying to do with Beijing Welcomes You?

TS: As soon as I signed the book contract, I read Mark Twain’s Roughing It and I reread my copy of Marco Polo, and I tried to keep it at that. Back when I reviewed movies, I used to avoid reading other reviews before seeing and writing about one, to stay as ignorant (or “open-minded”) as I could. I read a chapter or two of Maximum City, and I thought, this is a strong way to write about a foreign city, and I’ll be in trouble if I don’t put this away right now. So I did.

JW: Was there any book you read in prepping for or during your time in China that you found particularly helpful for orienting yourself to the country–or to Beijing as a city?

TS: The magazine That’s Beijing — there was a struggle over control of the title in 2008, and it now publishes as The Beijinger — was indispensable, especially its annual Insider’s Guides to the city. Eric Abrahamsen’s Beijing by Foot was immeasurably helpful. For serious political and historical context, there was Out of Mao’s Shadow, by my old friend (and accidental author-portrait photographer) Phil Pan.

JW: Will you be in London for the 2012 Games? And whether or not you are heading there, any thoughts on the impact Beijing’s handling of the Olympics is likely to have on this next Summer Games?

TS: I have no idea what I’ll be doing about London 2012. It might be nice just to sit down in front of the TV at home and watch some events. It will be interesting to see how London’s handling of the event compares to Beijing’s—especially now that London has gone up in flames, which China attributes to Great Britain’s careless attitude toward social control.

Of course you’re going to have mobs, China figures, if you just keep letting the citizens communicate with each other on Facebook and Twitter. So now you have Britain discussing—and last week, San Francisco actually deploying—a Chinese-style communication shutdown to keep unrest under control. That’s one of the scarier legacies of the 2008 Games: the West’s tacit endorsement of China’s security strategies.

JW: I assume you like to keep up on China from afar now. If so, how do you do this?

TS: Evan Osnos at the New Yorker and Gady Epstein at the Economist keep me supplied with excellent reporting and active Twitter accounts. Phil Pan’s Twitter account is also a good survey of what’s breaking in China. The New York Times, especially the business section. And I keep an eye on China Daily for the government-approved news.

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