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: December 13, 2022

Attack Types: Killings, Violence, Disappearances

Institution(s):Nankai University

Region & Country:Eastern Asia | China

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On December 13, 2022, Nankai University philosophy professor Wu Yanan (“吴亚楠”) was reportedly forcibly admitted to a psychiatric hospital after her repeated expressions of support for students who participated in demonstrations protesting Covid-19 lockdown measures.

A professor at Nankai since 2014, Wu had been posting social media content calling on her university to protect students who were facing reprisal, including being summoned and questioned by the authorities, for participating in the so-called “white paper” protest movement that began in November 2022. The protests were prompted by a deadly apartment fire in Urumqi that many believe was exacerbated by China’s strict “Zero COVID” policy. The university reportedly ordered Wu to take down the social media posts, but she refused.

Authorities reportedly found Wu and told her they were going to take her to get tested for COVID-19, but instead transported Wu to the Tianjin Sheng’an psychiatric hospital. Wu’s students and Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported social media posts Wu posted after being admitted, including a photo of her hiding in the hospital’s bathroom from staff who she believed were going to forcibly medicate her. Students who spoke out about Wu’s disappearance were taken for questioning by the authorities, according to RFA.

Wu’s social media posts published on the day she was admitted to Tianjin Sheng’an were deleted; however, there reportedly remains a December 14 post in which she admitted that she was “under the influence of mental illness” and “basically better now.” That post has raised concerns that it was published under duress. A hospital employee reportedly agreed to seek information regarding Wu, per a request by RFA; however, they did not respond by the time RFA published its coverage.

As of this report, there is no public information regarding Wu’s status.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the use of forced psychiatric treatment of a scholar and the deprivation of their liberty, apparently intended to deter or restrict nonviolent expressive activity—conduct that is expressly protected by 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 signatory. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, such actions undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.