Liberal Peking University professor threatened with expulsion

PUBLISHED : Monday, 08 July, 2013, 12:09pm
UPDATED : Monday, 08 July, 2013, 1:08pm

A renowned professor has confirmed online rumours that his peers will decide whether he will be expelled from China's most eminent university after he made a series of remarks in favour of free speech and constitutional governance.

Economics professor Xia Yeliang of Peking University was told by his department that his fate would be decided by a faculty vote, he told the South China Morning Post on Monday.

"They told me it's because of all the things I have said and written," Xia said. "They have threatened me before, but this is the first time they will vote on my expulsion."

Over the last years, Xia has been one of the most outspoken liberal voices among Chinese academics. A friend of imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, he was among the first signatories of Charter 08, the call for personal freedoms that landed Liu in jail.   

In 2009, Xia wrote an open letter to Liu Yunshan, who until last year headed the Communist Party's propaganda department, calling for an end to censorship. In 2011, when the Arab Spring inspired hope for institutional reforms in China, he was placed under house arrest.

Recently, he has been writing critical remarks - on Twitter and Sina Weibo - about party censorship and President Xi Jinping's "Chinese Dream" slogan. 

Several, at least seven he said, of his Sina Weibo accounts have been deleted in the past. In one post, he wrote that the Chinese Dream was "going against constitutionalism and humanity".

Xia said he was told by university officials, whom he declined to identify, that contrary to rumours circulating on microblogs, the vote was not the result of any specific tweet, but of his overall message.

Xia said that he would not be allowed to speak to the voting plenum, which is scheduled for September, and that he did not know how many of up to 35 professors would participate in it.

While he remained defiant, he said he was not optimistic about his fate.

"[Voting professors] can ask for leave," he said. "But they could receive instructions on how to vote from their superiors. They will ask themselves, if they vote for me, what benefits will they get?"

He added that he could not remember the last time the faculty voted on expelling a professor.

"This is not coming from Peking University, this is coming from the central leadership," he said. "The state of academic freedom is getting worse and worse. Nowadays, you don't have the right to debate anymore. A university is a place that should be free and open."

Currently a visiting scholar at Stanford University in California, Xia said he planned to return to Beijing by the end of August. "I have opportunities to stay [in the US], but I want to keep teaching in China," he said.

He said he hoped his classes in American economic history and institutional economics would be "helpful for the promotion of civil society. I want to be in China for that. I will fight the expulsion".

Peking University's School of Economics could not be reached for comment on Monday.