ad info

TIME Asia Home
Current Issue
Magazine Archive
Asia Buzz
Travel Watch
Web Features
  Photo Essays

Subscribe to TIME
Customer Services
About Us
Write to TIME Asia
TIME Canada
TIME Europe
TIME Pacific
TIME Digital
Latest CNN News

Young China
Olympics 2000
On The Road

  east asia
  southeast asia
  south asia
  central asia

Other News
From TIME Asia

Culture on Demand: Black is Beautiful
The American Express black card is the ultimate status symbol

Asia Buzz: Should the Net Be Free?
Web heads want it all -- for nothing

JAPAN: Failed Revolution
Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori clings to power as dissidents in his party finally decide not to back a no-confidence motion

Cover: Endgame?
After Florida's controversial ballot recount, Bush holds a 537-vote lead in the state, which could give him the election

TIME Digest

TIME Asia Services
Subscribe to TIME! Get up to 3 MONTHS FREE!

Bookmark TIME
TIME Media Kit
Recent awards

TIME AsiaAsiaweekAsia NowTIME Asia story

NOVEMBER 29, 1999 VOL. 154 NO. 21

Line of Fire: Hot Air at Harvard
Even in academia, no one is telling China what it needs to hear

Three weeks ago, Harvard invited the presidents of seven Chinese universities to meet in Cambridge with five American counterparts. Over two days they held a series of discussions aimed at teaching the Chinese educators how to lift their institutions to world-class status. But it's no mystery why Chinese academia trails the Western variety: there's not much freedom of thought on China's campuses.

The Harvard gathering didn't emphasize that critical point, however. According to a published agenda of the meetings, the topics were limited to the standard issues that preoccupy American universities: fund raising, financing, faculty staffing, relationships with industry and government. Two simple words--academic freedom--were conspicuously missing.

Cover: The Son of Heaven?
A plum trade deal wins Jiang Zemin accolades, but it's probably not enough to elevate him to the ranks of China's immortals, Mao and Deng

Advice for Jiang from the Image Doctors: Look the Part
Those who recognize Jiang--those owlish glasses are, for better or worse, a defining characteristic--see him as bland and uninteresting

Anatomy of a WTO Deal
Bluffs and brinksmanship kept both sides guessing until the U.S. and China finally signed the trade pact

China's WTO Deal May Leave Hong Kong Out in the Cold
The People's Republic's likely accession into the World Trade Organization may make Hong Kong's lucrative role obsolete

ONLINE EXCLUSIVE: Barshefsky: 'It is political legitimacy'
TIME speaks with Charlene Barshefsky, U.S. Trade Representative, in this online-only, extended interview

Line of Fire: Hot Air at Harvard
Even in academia, no one is telling China what it needs to hear

Jiang Zemin's Big Bash
The Mao-suited President stages a huge, highly choreographed show to celebrate the People's Republic's 50th anniversary

China's Amazing Half Century
Navigate through the People's Republic of China and discover the 50 places where history was made

50 years of the People's Republic
presented by CNN, TIME, Asiaweek and Fortune

China's 50th Anniversary
Jiang Zemin's coming-out parade [an interactive photo essay]

By not stressing the issue of academic freedom, Harvard president Neil L. Rudenstine apparently wished to avoid embarrassing his guests. And China's élite no doubt appreciate his sensitivity. It's unclear, in fact, whether the American educators even raised the topic in private, let alone whether it was emphasized. (A Harvard spokesperson declined to comment.) But ducking the topic does nothing for China's quest for academic greatness. Concerns like endowment management or admissions policy pale in comparison.

China's top scholars needed to hear the truth. The country's educational system cannot compete with the West's when scores of topics are deemed off limits. Because university presidents in China are servants of the state, their first priority is to implement decisions of the Communist Party, the country's supreme governing body. The president of Peking University, Chen Jia'er, is a member of the party's Central Committee.

What constitutes academic freedom? Consider Harvard historian Cornel West's popular course on American democracy. In his lectures, West, an African-American, routinely questions whether U.S.-style democracy can cope with the economic and racial problems that continue to divide the country. He wonders aloud, in a classroom filled with future leaders of the nation, whether there might be something fundamentally wrong with American institutions. Would Peking University allow a professor to question whether communism and the ruling party are part of the country's problems? Could a university president tell official superiors that his institution can't be first-rate as long as Marxist ideology continues to set the parameters of what can be taught? Tolerance of radical or unpopular ideas is an integral element of what makes a good university.

Harvard officials should know better. Founded in 1636, the university is the oldest, richest and most powerful institution of higher learning in America. It has a long tradition, to paraphrase Marxist jargon, of being the incubator of America's ruling class. Its very name is a metaphor for excellence, creativity and intellectual freedom. It sets standards for others to follow. So where were those ideals when China's educators came to visit?

The silence was reminiscent of what transpired at the Fortune Global Forum in Shanghai in September. Although the forum addressed the sensitive issue of human rights, a number of American captains of industry thought it best to refrain from commenting on the subject since, as guests, it would be impolite to make waves. Communist Party chief Jiang Zemin felt no such restraint. Bluntly and publicly he reminded the visitors of the differences between Western and Chinese values. As host of the event, Jiang had the right to say what he wanted. Harvard's host, however, abandoned that privilege and deferred to his visitors' perceived sensitivities by not speaking out publicly. It seems that no one is willing to tell China what it needs to hear.

An appalling encounter occurred when Wang Dan, a leader of the 1989 student movement at Tiananmen Square and now a history graduate student at Harvard, was prevented by a fellow student from entering the hall where president Chen was to speak. The female "gatekeeper" was a Harvard graduate and former student at Peking University, which Wang once attended. An assistant to president Chen had asked her to dissuade Wang from entering, as both Chen and his aide would be "embarrassed" by Wang's presence and subjected to criticism when they returned to Beijing.

Wang, hardly the firebrand portrayed in Chinese propaganda, meekly obliged. None of the 20-odd Harvard students and alumni of Peking University who were present protested. In a Chinese academic context, it is unthinkable for a student to refuse a "request" from a superior, even a former one. As for Harvard, it considers the incident a private matter between Wang and Peking University's leaders, even though Chen was an official guest and the incident took place on Harvard property.

Communist China unfailingly demands that others respect its internal values. Yet when they are overseas, China's leaders too often show scant respect for values precious to other nations. What's troubling is how willing the rest of the world is to exercise self-restraint, even at the cost of bending its core values. Even at fair Harvard.

This edition's table of contents
TIME Asia home


Quick Scroll: More stories from TIME, Asiaweek and CNN


U.S. secretary of state says China should be 'tolerant'

Philippine government denies Estrada's claim to presidency

Faith, madness, magic mix at sacred Hindu festival

Land mine explosion kills 11 Sri Lankan soldiers

Japan claims StarLink found in U.S. corn sample

Thai party announces first coalition partner


COVER: President Joseph Estrada gives in to the chanting crowds on the streets of Manila and agrees to make room for his Vice President

THAILAND: Twin teenage warriors turn themselves in to Bangkok officials

CHINA: Despite official vilification, hip Chinese dig Lamaist culture

PHOTO ESSAY: Estrada Calls Snap Election

WEB-ONLY INTERVIEW: Jimmy Lai on feeling lucky -- and why he's committed to the island state


COVER: The DoCoMo generation - Japan's leading mobile phone company goes global

Bandwidth Boom: Racing to wire - how underseas cable systems may yet fall short

TAIWAN: Party intrigues add to Chen Shui-bian's woes

JAPAN: Japan's ruling party crushes a rebel at a cost

SINGAPORE: Singaporeans need to have more babies. But success breeds selfishness

Launch CNN's Desktop Ticker and get the latest news, delivered right on your desktop!

Today on CNN

Back to the top   © 2000 Time Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines.