Ivy League Schools Self-Censor For China

Either we become more like China, or China becomes more like us. Guess who’s winning?

A Wall Street Journal article on Wednesday by Lucy Craymer says that Harvard and Princeton professors teaching topics related to China will resort to code words, not unlike what happens on WeChat in China, in order to shield themselves and students from China’s new National Security Law.

Classes will carry “a warning label this fall,” Craymer wrote, saying some Ivy League schools who have thousands of Chinese students and are on the receiving end of major donations from Chinese individuals want to try to protect those students “from prosecution by Chinese authorities.”

I reached out to both schools on Wednesday via phone and email, but two days later…no response.

Talk about the long arm of the Chinese law. Is this even remotely legal? While the target is Chinese students, the notion is that Americans have to protect against Chinese laws on American soil in order to save students the headache of running into legal problems upon their return home. And American colleges are willing to follow those laws, assuming, I suppose, they believe their students run the risk of legal problems back home for taking a modern civ core class.

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Given that most of these schools are not talking poorly about about China or its current government, it is hard to imagine what these classes could possibly be teaching in a Chinese language or Chinese history class that would trigger the CCP in Beijing.

Harvard University had 1,099 Chinese students enrolled in the fall semester of 2019, the most of any foreign national, compared to No. 2 Canada which had 629 students enrolled, according to the school’s Office of Institutional Research. Princeton University did not have this data on its website.

China has suddenly hit a brick wall at American universities.

Chinese government funded education centers known as Confucius Institutes have been closing down. The 2019 National Defense Authorization Act forced colleges to choose between keeping their Confucius Institutes or getting language program funding from the U.S. government. Over the past six years, at least 29 universities that had Confucius Institutes have closed them. Twenty-two closed after the law passed in August 2018.

This week’s WSJ story is another chapter in what looks like the inevitable decoupling of the United States and China. There are a lot of manifestations of its implications everywhere, and college campuses are one such place.

Top tier schools get a lot of funding from former students from China. Chinese entities fund research. To the schools, this is a good option — it’s money good. To Washington, it’s a bad option, because it promotes spying, some in government say; financial dependency; and now self-censorship when it comes to debate on China’s role in the world.

That role is becoming bigger. China is definitely the co-star in our global soap opera. But as it gains more star power, do we really want to have to change the way we talk in private schools in order not to risk running afoul of Chinese law, a law that has no application in the U.S.?

Some of the best schools in the country think we do. At least two Ivy League schools seem to be taking extra steps to keep their Chinese students safe from Beijing’s big brother. Who knew he attended Harvard and Princeton?

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