“He told me to cancel the talk,” Teng says. “He told me the time we were supposed to give our talk, that day was when the Harvard president would fly back from Beijing. And a few weeks before that, the Harvard president was meeting Xi Jinping.” The administrator told him hosting an event with two Chinese dissidents only days after a historic meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and then University President Drew G. Faust would “embarrass” Harvard, Teng recalls.
“It was not about the title or the topics — but because of ourselves,” Teng says. “We ourselves are sensitive.”
Teng and the other organizers persisted, hoping they could find another Harvard venue. “We tried to avoid him, but eventually we realized we were not able to,” he says.
The second phone call, on March 10, was a formal and final warning. The powerful person called Teng to his office and told him the event would embarrass the University and potentially threaten the continuation of collaborative programs and joint research with China. The administrator asked Teng to “postpone” the event, and Teng finally agreed.
“Postpone is a polite word,” Teng recalls. “They never invited us to give a talk after that.”
Chen Guangcheng puts it more bluntly. “What he meant was that it was going to be postponed indefinitely,” he explains, through an interpreter. “It was just another way to cancel it completely.”
That powerful person also made Teng promise to keep the cancellation a secret, and at the time Teng told almost nobody. Chen was particularly struck by this self-censorship. “It seemed really strange to me at the time, because this is not what Teng Biao is like when he’s back in China,” Chen says. “He’s very outspoken.”
Additional notes from Gady Epstein.
Imagine writing this four months after China forced a group of doctors to sign an apology for discussing a new coronavirus in a chat room.
Referencing this, by Jack Goldsmith and Andrew Keane Woods:
In the debate over freedom versus control of the global network, China was largely correct, and the U.S. was wrong.