Xia Yeliang (夏業良), a professor in the economics department at Peking University, was recently dismissed from his job. Although Xia had reached a position of seniority in which a vote was no longer required to extend his tenure, the school authorities made an exception and initiated the procedure, which constitutes a procedural flaw. The university said that Xia had been reported for making “vicious attacks on the [Chinese Communist] Party [CCP] and the socialist system, mocking and distorting the Chinese dream.”
This makes it clear that Peking University made its decision because of political pressure.
Xia is a prominent economics academic with many publications. He has won praise in academic circles and has promoted systemic reform and the implementation of a constitutional system in China.
Xia was a member of the first group of signatories to Charter 08 — a manifesto published on Dec. 10, 2008, urging democratic reform in China — and in 2009, he called then-CCP Central Propaganda Department head Liu Yunshan (劉雲山) an incompetent and ignorant man. These statements and actions led officials at Peking University to dismiss Xia.
A university is an open forum for exploring truth and sharing opinions, and academic freedom is the foundation for its existence. Suppressing that freedom by political means constitutes a major obstacle to exploring truth and destroys the spiritual cornerstone of a university — a university without academic freedom is no longer a university.
The history of academic development also includes incidents of political interference: There was the April 6, 1949, incident when military and police arrested 200 students at the student dormitory of the precursor to today’s National Taiwan Normal University; the persecution of Yin Hai-kuang (殷海光), a philosopher considered one of the nation’s pioneers of democracy; and the systematic purge of liberal members during the incident at National Taiwan University’s (NTU) philosophy department between December 1972 and June 1975.
Democratization included the development of academic freedom, which involved the removal of Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) symbols from schools, student strikes to protest against the white terror, the implementation of university autonomy and the removal of compulsory classes and military training offices.
Academic freedom did not come as a gift, but was the result of a struggle waged over many years by professors and students.
As a reflection of the universal nature of the university spirit and academic freedom, we solemnly make the following demands:
First, Peking University should immediately and unconditionally reinstate Xia and guarantee unrestricted academic freedom for all its lecturers and students.
Second, Academia Sinica president Wong Chi-huey (翁啟惠) and every university president should promptly write to Peking University president Wang Enge (王恩哥) making these demands and calling on Peking University to implement academic freedom.
Academic institutions in Taiwan have signed many memorandums of cooperation and exchange agreements with Peking University. Given this, the third demand is a call for every Taiwanese school to include demands for guarantees of academic and spiritual freedom in the guidelines for conducting exchanges with Chinese academic institutions.
These demands should include freedom of expression in the fields of academia and research, lecturing, authorship, publication, faith and art. All of these should be used as reference points when deciding whether to continue an exchange.
Thirty-six professors and six organizations at National Taiwan University contributed to this piece.
Translated by Perry Svensson