On November 5, 2020, an online lecture by Shen Zhihua, a professor of history at Beijing’s Capital Normal University, was shut down after one or more individuals reported the professor for giving an “inappropriate speech.”
Shen was reportedly one hour into giving a lecture on the rise and fall of the Soviet Union when his live feed was cut. The university’s history department issued a statement blaming the incident on students or other individuals maliciously reporting on Shen. The department further complained that the tip-off violated academic freedom. It is unclear whether the university, Bilibili (the streaming service used for the lecture), or both were responsible for cutting the live feed.
Reporting of this incident coincides with growing discussion of the role of so-called “student informants” on Chinese university campuses. The informants report to university and Party officials comments that contest the Party’s views.
Scholars at Risk is concerned by the effective cancellation of an academic lecture in order to restrict the exercise and enjoyment of academic freedom. State authorities, higher education officials, and civil society should refrain from restricting or retaliating against peaceful academic activity and should promote academic freedom. Such incidents undermine academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.