Spied on. Fired. Publicly shamed. China’s crackdown on professors reminds many of Mao era

Alice Su:

The professor was under surveillance. Cameras taped her every lecture. She couldn’t publish or give talks outside the university. She knew she had to be careful when she taught on one of China’s most sensitive and dangerous topics: the Cultural Revolution.

To preempt accusations of straying beyond academia, all discussion was based on archives, books and articles. Classes were kept small; heavy reading lists filtered out potential student-informants. She made seating charts with photos, making sure no stranger could wander in unnoticed.

Despite such scrutiny, Sun Peidong felt lucky to be teaching in Shanghai’s prestigious Fudan University, the only school left in China offering truthful courses on the repressive Cultural Revolution of half a century ago. She loved watching her students question conventional narratives, find new ways of understanding their nation’s history and draw connections with their own families’ traumas.