In a small apartment littered with books on the outskirts of Beijing lives one of the last Chinese academics who refuses to be silenced by the ruling Communist Party’s relentless crackdown on intellectuals.
Wu Qiang, 50, has had an enviable career as a professor of political science at the elite Tsinghua University.
But he was fired in 2015 after leading fieldwork at the Occupy Central movement in Hong Kong a year earlier.
“It sent shock waves through Tsinghua. I was cut off and they thought I was a troublemaker, ”he said, adding that the university had instead given an“ obscure technical reason ”for his dismissal.
Since then, Wu has continued to speak to foreign media despite an increasingly hostile nationalist climate to outside views.
He also filed a labor complaint against Tsinghua earlier this year.
“I always protest Tsinghua’s illegal dismissal, just as I always resist in my thoughts and comments on politics,” says Wu, a stocky and energetic man who travels through the history of the Chinese Communist Party as his cats sneak past. between his feet.
“It is very important not to stop talking. You have to comment on politics and society; that’s how you participate in it, ”he said.
There remains one anomaly. Since President Xi Jinping came to power in 2012, China’s vibrant intellectual circles have gradually fallen silent as Party critics were arrested, dismissed from their institutions or forced to flee abroad.
“Ten years ago, maybe every weekend in every corner there were a lot of trade shows and meetings (in Beijing),” he said.
# photo1 ″ But now that wonderful scene no longer exists… everyone always talks about a problem when we meet: who has gone missing or been detained recently. Everyone is waiting to see who will be next. “
A sign of the sweeping changes to come, a leaked 2013 internal statement – known as Document No. 9 – warned against promoting “false ideological tendencies” such as constitutional democracy, civil society and freedom of movement. the press.
It has been compared to a gag order for universities.
Intellectuals, NGOs, civil rights advocates and the liberal media were the first targets of successive purges of state-backed dissent, which peaked during the “crackdown on the 709s” in the United States. nationwide in 2015, when more than 300 lawyers and human rights activists were arrested.
In the past year alone, influential business tycoon Ren Zhiqiang has been jailed for 18 years and lawyer Xu Zhangrun has been arrested and fired from Tsinghua after writings criticizing Xi’s response to the coronavirus outbreak.
Meanwhile, former Central Party School teacher Cai Xia fled to the United States and was expelled from the Party last summer, after a recording of a lecture was broadcast in the United States. which she compared Xi to a “mafia boss”.
– “The taste of freedom” –
The silence of dissent comes as China, having successfully tamed the coronavirus, displays an unprecedented level of confidence on the world stage, battling with Western countries who see it as a strategic threat.
The ruling Chinese Communist Party is also poised to triumphantly celebrate 100 years of its founding.
“The anniversary is, in large measure, to celebrate how China avoided the fate of many other communist parties in Eastern Europe, as well as the Soviet Union, which collapsed after the Cold War.” Wu said.
“(The party) wants to deeply tie the survival of the CCP with China and the Chinese people, to establish a sense of historical legitimacy for future leaders. “
# photo2 In China, public intellectuals who express liberal views or engage with foreigners are frequently trolled by ultranationalists – while those with strident pro-Chinese views are promoted by the state.
Wu denounces the “intellectual poverty” of Chinese academics, whose overseas contacts and research areas are increasingly subject to official approval, leaving them isolated from the international community and locked into internal strife.
“Like the way workers derive meaning and self-realization through work… my comments are my work and the source of my accomplishment,” Wu said.
“My generation experienced the short-lived political openness and freedom of 1989,” he continued, referring to the pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square that ended in the massacre of hundreds of students by the army.
“You only need to have tasted freedom once not to give it up. “
© 2021 AFP