Posted by Joel Martinsen on Monday, November 24, 2008 at 3:04 PM
Guo Guanglin, hired two years ago by Hubei University for Nationalities to fill in as a photography instructor, was let go last month after he made a blog post criticizing the excesses of the school's 70th anniversary celebration.
As China Media Project explains, the incident is yet another example of someone being punished for expressing a negative opinion. Renmin University professor Zhang Ming, well-known for his outspoken views on academic freedom, notes the influence of bureaucratic intertia on individual opinion (CMP's translation):
As a temporary hire, Guo was fairly easy to handle: he simply got a call telling him not to come in to class the next day.
The school also blamed the media for destabilizing the campus environment. Guo was informed by school security that students were looking to rough him up and to tear apart the photo studio he ran on campus, a situation the president said was a direct result of media reports on Guo's complaints about the anniversary celebration. (The school also claimed he was operating the business without a license; Guo says he signed a contract with campus management and that all his papers were in order.)
Invoking "stability" and blaming the media is nothing new, writes Yang Wanguo, a reporter for The Beijing News. Yang's article, which ran in the paper's Saturday opinion section, examines the reflexive distrust that university students and administrations often show toward the news media:
Difficulties with interviewing college studentsby Yang Wanguo / TBN
On November 12, Guo Guanglin appeared at the entrance to the Temple of Heaven, wearing a baseball hat and looking dejected.
Formerly an instructor at the Hubei Institute for Nationalities, he had been dismissed for criticizing the school's 70th anniversary celebration in a blog post.
Subsequently, a school security official called him up to inform him that students were looking to beat him up. The official asked him to come to the security office for a chat, but Guo couldn't bring himself to go.
He fled back to Beijing.
On the 13th, the university president, a PhD advisor in constitutional government, confirmed the security official's account. He said students wanted to smash up Guo's on-campus studio in addition to beating him up.
The president told me that Hubei media had published articles that "sparked a disturbance, leading to instability among the students," making "the media personally responsible for the consequences of those reports."
Although Guo told me that he didn't believe that students would beat him - he claimed that many of his students had called up to express their support - it still chilled him to see how the president had portrayed him.
Guo admitted that some students were attacking him.
I had no way to measure Guo's rate of support among the students, nor was I able to verify whether there were students who wanted to demonstrate and tear up his store because of his criticisms.
I tried to engage the students, but met with avoidance, hostility, and antagonism.
This seemed to prove the conventional wisdom among my colleagues that college students are difficult to interview.
That's what it's like with so-called "negative news."
Not long ago, China University of Political Science and Law professor Cheng Chunming was stabbed to death by a student. A number of my colleagues returned discouraged from each attempted interview, where they found the same avoidance, hostility, and antagonism.
And reporters even found it hard to get the basic facts about a minor fire at a certain university, when students were uncooperative.
In 2001, the media exposed a "coed bath-house" at my alma mater, and the news spread quickly. Caught unawares, the entire school got all worked up, and the subject was on everyone's lips. Indignant, some teachers assailed the media for making false reports, and the unscrupulous reporters for harboring ulterior motives.
At a regular meeting of the school's press corps a few days later, a few teachers began arguing. One teacher said that media reports were insignificant: coed bathing on campus was far from being a rare thing, and minor errors in media reports were no cause for moral condemnation.
Those words have remained with me to this day; it was then that I began to understand how respect, tolerance, and differences of opinion play a role between the media and its subjects.
And honestly, if time tries all things, will horror at college students' coed bathing habits be seen as a joke when we look back from many years in the future?
The media is a public platform, so surely it should also be a platform for college students. When the media reports on a school fire, it is not, as some students may imagine, an enemy out to expose the school's unseemly side. No, it seeks to attract attention to its reports so that the school will replace expired fire extinguishers and improve student evacuation training. Only then will we be able to avoid tragedies like the four students who leapt to their deaths to escape a fire in a Shanghai Business School dorm.
Links and Sources
Jobs in China
Henry on The Eurasian Face
Caroline W on Big in China
Michael on Julia Lovell on translating Lu Xun's complete fiction: "His is an angry, searing vision of China"
Brandon K. on Clueless academic takes on popular fantasy novels
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Books on China
The Eurasian Face : Blacksmith Books, a publishing house in Hong Kong, is behind The Eurasian Face, a collection of photographs by Kirsteen Zimmern. Below is an excerpt from the series:
Big in China: An adapted excerpt from Big In China: My Unlikely Adventures Raising A Family, Playing The Blues and Becoming A Star in China, just published this month. Author Alan Paul tells the story of arriving in Beijing as a trailing spouse, starting a blues band, raising kids and trying to make sense of China.
Pallavi Aiyar's Chinese Whiskers: Pallavi Aiyar's first novel, Chinese Whiskers, a modern fable set in contemporary Beijing, will be published in January 2011. Aiyar currently lives in Brussels where she writes about Europe for the Business Standard. Below she gives permissions for an excerpt.
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+ Korean history doesn't fly on Chinese TV screens (2007.09): SARFT puts the kibbosh on Korean historical dramas.
+ Religion and government in an uneasy mix (2008.03): Phoenix Weekly (凤凰周刊) article from October, 2007, on government influence on religious practice in Tibet.
+ David Moser on Mao impersonators (2004.10): I first became aware of this phenomenon in 1992 when I turned on a Beijing TV variety show and was jolted by the sight of "Mao Zedong" and "Zhou Enlai" playing a game of ping pong. They both gave short, rousing speeches, and then were reverently interviewed by the emcee, who thanked them profusely for taking time off from their governmental duties to appear on the show.