Fri, Sep 15, 2017 - Page 5 News List

Professor flees ‘another five years’ of Xi Jinping’s China

The Guardian, BEIJING

Writer and former professor Qiao Mu poses for a picture at his home in Beijing on July 21.

Photo: AFP

Qiao Mu (喬木) had always insisted he would not be forced to leave China.

“We must change our nation, not our nationality,” the outspoken academic told the Guardian over lunch in the summer of 2015.

However, on Friday last week, the former Beijing Foreign Studies University journalism professor and his family set off for Beijing Capital Airport to catch a Boeing 777 bound for the US.

“I am leaving my country and I will miss it. Farewell,” Qiao, 47, announced on the social messaging service WeChat, as he waited to board Air China Flight CA817 to Washington.

He did not say when, or indeed if, he might return.

In the nearly five years since Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) took office, Qiao, a journalism professor at Beijing Foreign Studies University and a human rights advocate, had emerged as an increasingly isolated voice of dissent in a country where political opposition appears to grow more perilous by the day.

China-based foreign correspondents and diplomats complain that under Xi — who is about to complete his first term in power — local academics have increasingly shied away from discussing politically sensitive topics or, in some cases, meeting with foreigners at all.

“The general climate for reporting in China deteriorated over the last year,” a report released by the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China in November last year said. “Many denounced pressure exerted on organizations and academia, and cited growing difficulties in securing interviews with sources and experts.”

However, Qiao appeared to shrug off the pressure, granting regular interviews to media outlets worldwide, including the Guardian, the Financial Times the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.

He tackled thorny issues such as media censorship, ethnic rioting, elite politics and the Mao-style personality cult that some accuse Xi of trying to cultivate.

“I am a typical Chinese person. I love my country and I want to change it,” Qiao told Agence France-Presse earlier this year.

Qiao declined to go into details about his decision to swap northern China for the east coast of the US.

“I am busy making a living,” he said in a brief WeChat message this week

However, friends said he had decided to leave after seeing his academic career wrecked by his refusal to fall into line.

Since 2014, Qiao had been banished from the classroom, apparently in punishment for his public support for ideas such as multi-party democracy and freedom of speech.

In April, Qiao resigned, citing his frustrations at the political restrictions as a motivating factor.

“A journalism professor [who] has to be against a free media. Even Tchaikovsky could not play a symphony with enough sorrow for my situation,” he complained in a letter published online.

Former Beijing Normal University assistant professor of Classical Chinese Shi Jiepeng (史杰鵬), who also recently fell victim to the crackdown on liberal thinkers, said life had been made impossible for his friend.

“People like him cannot find any jobs within the system,” said Shi, who was sacked from his job at the university in July as a result of his politically charged online posts.

“There was still space outside the system, but without the backing of an institution a scholar faces all sorts of inconveniences,” Shi added.

He suggested financial difficulties had played a role in Qiao’s exit, since he would have lost the benefits that came with a university job, such as his daughter’s education.

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