Thu, Oct 17, 2013 - Page 9 News List

China’s top colleges chafing under government intervention

Many see Beijing’s latest attempt to silence professor Xia Yeliang as reflecting its determination to stifle discourse at the nation’s leading universities

By Andrew Jacobs  /  NY Times News Service, BEIJING

These days, Xia and other academics say, students largely value careers over ideals.

“They’ve been taught by their parents to avoid politics and strive to become civil servants,” he said. “Their goal is to land the kind of jobs that will allow them to buy an apartment.”

In interviews, several Peking University students said they were unaware of Xia’s case, and the few who were aware were unsympathetic, saying he had crossed a line by repeatedly provoking the party.

“I can understand why the government would sacrifice a little bit of democracy and righteousness,” postgraduate physics student Chu Yiqi said. “I think they made the right call.”

However, many of the students who attended Xia’s Institutional Economics class one recent evening said they appreciated his unfettered speaking style, even if some of his statements struck them as didactic. (At one point during the lecture, he said, “When communist values replace traditional values, the most severe consequence is that people lose their conscience, like during the class struggles of the past, when sons were told to kill their fathers.”)

As the classroom emptied out, postgraduate economics student Grace Zhang said she was appalled to learn that Xia could be fired for his public comments.

“It’s unthinkable that the university could stifle these kinds of voices,” she said. “Accommodating such voices is what a university education should be all about.”

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