James A. Millward: Being Blacklisted by China, And What Can Be Learned from It

Last week CDT posted articles from Washington Post and Bloomberg about the so-called Xinjiang 13, a group of U.S.-based scholars who have been denied entry to China after contributing to a book about Xinjiang. On China Beat, James A. Millward of Georgetown University writes a response that gives an in-depth look at the actual dangers faced by scholars working on China, and how their universities can support them if they do encounter problems:

Bloomberg, and more recently The Washington Post, have run stories about the visa problems of scholars who contributed to Xinjiang: China’s Muslim Borderland, a volume edited by Frederick Starr and published by M.E. Sharpe in 2004. The Bloomberg piece was exhaustively reported; the reporters who wrote it, Dan Golden and Oliver Staley, conducted interviews with Chinese as well as western participants in the episode, and all in all did a good job with a complicated story.

Inevitably, however, the Bloomberg piece creates some misconceptions, and these are as likely to be reinforced as cleared up in news reports that build on it, as the Washington Post story of last weekend shows. Now seems the time both to correct the problematic aspects of the Bloomberg piece and also to discuss lessons we may take away from the entire episode. There are a couple of key issues involved. Of special importance to scholars of China: are you in danger of being banned for what you write? My answer below will be, “not really.” And for universities, grant agencies and other institutions involved in academic exchanges with China, the episode raises the question of what you should do in the face of official Chinese interference in curriculum, research, guest lectures or other academic matters. I will suggest that a strong and collective response, organized by institutions and not left to the affected scholars themselves, is imperative. The reason for such a response is not simply to help individual scholars get visas, but to make the point that academic exchange must be unhampered and reciprocal and to set the right tone for future academic interchange with China.