SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: June 20, 2020

Attack Types: Loss of Position

Institution(s):Hubei University

Region & Country:Eastern Asia | China

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On June 20, 2020, Hubei University banned professor Liang Yanping from teaching in apparent retaliation for her peaceful expressive activity.

On April 24, Hubei University announced it had opened an investigation into Liang, a professor of literary criticism, for her allegedly “inappropriate speech” after she wrote an article in support of Wang Fang (also known as Fang Fang). Wang kept an online diary recounting the experience of living under quarantine in Wuhan and describing the Chinese government’s handling of COVID-19. Once news spread that the diary would be published in English and German as a book, titled Wuhan Diary, Wang was labeled a “traitor” and suffered a public backlash. In an article titled “Fang Fang is facing the shock head-on,” Liang wrote that Fang’s book is “for the people, and for humanitarianism and humanism.” After Wang shared Liang’s article, Liang suffered a similar negative response, including individuals searching her social media activity and reposting politically controversial comments she had made in the past, including about the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong and the Yasukuni Shrine in Japan. Following complaints over the social media posts, Hubei University reportedly opened the investigation.

On June 20, the Chinese Community Party (CCP) committee at Hubei University announced that Liang was expelled from the CCP for publishing “wrong remarks concerning Hong Kong and Japan.” The university also reportedly announced that Liang is banned from teaching and supervising students.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about disciplinary measures against a scholar in apparent retaliation for the peaceful exercise of the rights to freedom of expression — conduct that is expressly protected under international human rights instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which China is a party. University authorities should refrain from retaliating against expressive activity, so long as it is undertaken peacefully and responsibly. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, investigations and disciplinary measures aimed at restricting or retaliating against such activity undermine academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.