Thu, 01 Oct 2020

Outspoken Chinese professor Xu Zhangrun has been fired from his post at Beijing's prestigious Tsinghua University after being released from police detention, RFA has learned.

Authorities in the Chinese capital detained Xu on the morning of July 6 after he called online for political reforms, on allegations of "seeking out prostitutes."

He was released on Sunday, but later told the media that he had been fired from his teaching post and subjected to public sanctions for "moral corruption" by Tsinghua University's law school.

Outspoken political journalist Gao Yu confirmed the media reports in an interview with RFA on Tuesday.

"Tsinghua dismissed Xu Zhangrun from his official job and his teaching position," Gao said.

But she said there had been scant transparency surrounding Xu's firing.

"What exactly are their firing procedures? If there is a legal basis, then make it public and let everyone take a look," she said.

Charges of "seeking out prostitutes" have been used before by the Chinese authorities to target peaceful critics and activists, or anyone who runs afoul of local officials and powerful vested interests.

An employee who answered the phone at Tsinghua University on Tuesday said they had no details about Xu's firing and referred inquiries to the university's propaganda office. Calls to the propaganda office rang unanswered on Tuesday.

Gao said the charges against Xu were likely trumped up in response to his public criticism of Xi.

"I don't believe for one minute that Xu Zhangrun visited prostitutes," Gao told RFA. "This is him getting the consequences for his criticism [of the government]."

"It's so easy for them to detain someone and release them when there's no paperwork," she said. "It was all done by phone ... there was no legal basis for it; it's just casual disregard for the law."

Stepped-up purge

Political commentator Wu Qiang, who was also dismissed by Tsinghua for showing public support for the 2014 Occupy Central pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, said that since Xi began an indefinite term in office in March 2018, the ruling party has stepped up a purge of liberal intellectuals from higher education institutions.

"It's not in the authorities' interest to allow a public trial around Xu Zhangrun's remarks and his critical writings, so they are using this humiliating tactic to retaliate against him," Wu said.

"This retaliation comes along with a strong message of warning, not just to Xu, but to all Chinese intellectuals," he said. "We are being warned that the authorities could impose various punishments on us in future if we voice similar criticisms."

Friends said at the time of Xu's detention that it could be linked to the publication of one of his books in New York last month, a collection of some of his most controversial essays and articles.

Xu's detention was the latest in a string of actions targeting dissenting voices in China's higher education sector, according to a fellow academic.

Xu recently also criticized the Beijing municipal authorities for demolishing an artists' village, and said that the administration of ruling Chinese Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping is taking China into "a dead end."

Xu was notified by Tsinghua in April 2019 that he should cease performing any duties, and that he was banned from teaching and counseling students.

Article criticized ruling party

The move came after he published an article last July hitting out at the return of totalitarianism under the ruling Chinese Communist Party, including the abolition of presidential term limits and a cult of personality around Xi.

Xu called for amendments nodded through by China's rubber-stamp parliament, the National People's Congress (NPC), in 2018 to be revoked and for an end to massive international expenditure to boost China's influence overseas, as well as for legislation requiring officials to publish details of their assets and financial interests.

He had also published articles hitting out at "red" imperialism and calling for an upgrade to China's political system.

Reported by Gao Feng for RFA's Mandarin Cantonese Service, and by Ng Yik-tung and Sing Man for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

Copyright © 1998-2018, RFA. Published with the permission of Radio Free Asia, 2025 M St. NW, Suite 300, Washington DC 20036

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