On October 12, 2018, it was reported that Prof. Zhao Si-yun, the Deputy Head of the School of Literature of Zhejiang University of Media and Communication (ZUMC), was disciplined by the university for making remarks criticizing China’s education system at the welcoming ceremony for freshmen on September 30, 2018.
In his welcome speech, titled “The Public Intellectual is a Scarce Resource”, Prof. Zhao criticized the state of education in China, lamenting that the school system had failed to nurture students’ creativity, innovation and concern for society. He also spoke of the need for students to have independent thought, and to embrace the concept of “the public intellectual”, which he defined as ”an idealist with the spirit to criticize and the willingness to uphold morality.” He posted his speech on his social media account after the ceremony. On October 8, 2018, local newspaper QianJiang Evening News also shared the speech.
On October 12, the University’s Communist Party Committee reportedly issued a “severe internal Party warning” to Prof. Zhao for his “inappropriate choice of words” in the welcome speech. The Committee also noted that between 2013 and 2015, Prof. Zhao had shared and posted “erroneous opinions and speech, causing negative influence”. It said that Prof. Zhao’s speech would be investigated for “violations of political discipline.”
Scholars at Risk is concerned about disciplinary actions against a scholar in retaliation for the peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of expression and academic freedom, conduct which is explicitly protected under international human right instruments, including the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In addition to the harm to immediate victims, such incidents have a chilling effect on academic freedom and undermine democratic society generally. University and state authorities have a responsibility to refrain from wrongful disciplinary action in retaliation for nonviolent actions of expression.