At a moment of public concern and outrage over the fate of Professor Xu Zhangrun 許章潤 and other academics in China, we would recall that administrators at Tsinghua University played a key role in the high-education Thought Re-education Campaign in the early 1950s which devastated China’s intellectual and pedagogical worlds. It was also at the forefront of the rabble-rousing zealotry, as well as the bloody violence, of the Cultural Revolution.
Although the contemporary university touts itself as something of a modern-day incarnation of Chen Yinque’s praise for ‘A Spirit Independent and a Mind Unfettered’ 獨立之精神, 自由之思想 in 1930, in reality, since 1989 at least, Tsinghua University can at best only claim a mixed — and at times markedly indifferent — record of achievement.
Following the online release of this Open Letter/ Petition on 31 March, the number of signatories increased exponentially. The response of the country’s ‘brittle political superego’ was relatively swift: within two days, evidence of the petition had been eliminated.