Repressive Experiences ‘Rare but Real’ in China Studies

Elizabeth Redden:

Anecdotes abound of scholars who write on controversial subjects being denied visas to enter China, having difficulty accessing archives on the mainland or being “taken for tea” by Chinese police or security officials during the course of their fieldwork. But just how common are these kinds of experiences?

A survey of more than 500 China scholars discussed Saturday at the American Political Science Association’s annual meeting in Boston finds that such “repressive research experiences are a rare but real phenomenon” in the China studies field and “collectively present a barrier to the conduct of research in China.” Researchers found that about 9 percent of China scholars report having been “taken for tea” by Chinese government authorities within the past 10 years, to be interviewed or warned about their research; 26 percent of scholars who conduct archival research report being denied access; and 5 percent report difficulties obtaining a visa.

A majority of researchers believe their research is either somewhat sensitive (53 percent) or very sensitive (14 percent). Sixty-eight percent of scholars say that self-censorship is a problem for the China studies field.