On August 2, 2023, the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) updated its code of conduct to include new regulations imposing academic sanctions on scholars who publicly express academic opinions unrelated to their disciplines and requiring that scholarly research adhere to Communist Party policies. The updates are the first changes made to the code since September 2014.
CAS, which is publicly run, is the largest and most prestigious scientific organization in China. Its members, known as ‘Academicians’, are scientists who have made significant achievements in their fields. There are currently 873 Academicians, in China and overseas. Academicians receive a range of privileges, including greater access to research funding and influence on government policy development. It is reportedly almost impossible to achieve a position in senior university leadership without holding the title.
The August 2023 changes to the code of conduct include the addition of a new chapter, “Prohibited Behavior,” which includes an article barring members from “publicly express[ing] academic opinions that have nothing to do with one’s own professional field.” Types of prohibited expressions include participation in “consultation, review, evaluation, evaluation, [and] recommendation.” The changes came after online criticism about the misuse of the Academician title for commercial and industry ventures.
The code was also revised to require adherence to the policies of the Communist Party’s Central Committee and contribute to national security, topics which were not mentioned in previous versions of the code. Members are expected to “be an example of caring for the motherland and serving the people” by “contribut[ing] to serving national security and national decision-making,” and to “be a model of patriotism for the party and an example for scientific researchers.”
Scholars at Risk is concerned about policies that use institutional punishments to restrict scholars’ free expression and require adherence to party ideology. Scholars have the right to express their opinions publicly without fear of reprisal, and academic institutions have an obligation to refrain from actions intended to restrict or chill expressive activity. Moreover, government officials should refrain from interfering in the functioning of higher education and research institutions. Such policies have a chilling effect on academic freedom, and undermine democratic society generally.