Xian university bans liberal reading group

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 November, 2012, 12:31pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 November, 2012, 4:06pm

When Professor Chen Hongguo was asked by his dean to cancel his popular weekend reading salon, he was shocked and befuddled.

The associate professor of law at Northwest University of Politics and Law, in Shannxi’s Xian city, didn’t know what he did wrong.

He started the reading group on November 10. It was well liked by students and was turning into a weekly meeting, according to Chen’s statement on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter-like service.

Students, who participated voluntarily, would gather in classrooms and read scholarly books including John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty, and Robert Alan Dahl’s On Democracy.

But after two weeks, the university called for a stop.

“No students or teachers should participate,” said officials in an announcement.

Chen was also prohibited from using classrooms to host any reading sessions.

Chen suspected it was the reading list that got him into trouble.

He confronted the authorities with his doubts, but was simply told it was an “order” with no specific explanations.

Frustrated, Chen decided to hold the third meeting on Saturday as scheduled, defying university authorities.

It drew more than 50 people, mostly students and local residents. They read books and exchanged ideas during the two-hour session at his office.

Chen said many had to stand outside in the corridor because the room was too small.

“I have no choice but to defend our bottom line: academic freedom,” said Chen.

“Let politics be politics and academics be academics,” he said.

Chen’s story has won him thousands of supporters online, who praise him for his courage and demand the university to withdraw its orders.


Professor Chen Hongguo's letter to his students


 (An earlier version of this story mistakenly identified the professor's last name as Zhou. His last name is Chen.)