fast boat from China
would not be mere institutional ego-stroking to say He Qinglian
is lucky to be at Chicago. The well-known Chinese economist
and writer barely made it out of her home country in June after
months of being followed by security agents who had broken into
her home, tapped her phone, and seized documents and personal
that the government was trying to build an espionage case against
her, she left her apartment in Shenzhen June 14 with no luggage
and went to the bank and then straight to the airport, ending
up in Princeton, New Jersey, two days later. She had already
been invited to spend a year's sabbatical at Chicago through
the Scholars at Risk Program ("Chicago Journal," August/00),
so she traveled from Princeton to the U of C in late September.
is He a wanted woman? Her 1998 book China's Pitfall (Mingjing)-in
which she takes on what she considers a corrupt Chinese government-won
acclaim from academic corners but raised the hackles of Communist
party leaders. Her follow-up book published last year, We
Are All Still Gazing at the Stars (Lijiang), in which she
specifically targets President Jiang Zemin, got her fired from
the Shenzhen Legal Daily, and as of December 2000 her
books were officially banned in China.
do you explain the recent crackdown on scholars and writers
in China when the country seemed to become more tolerant through
mid-1990s the Chinese regime did loosen its control on media
and intellectuals tactically for a short period. Soon the regime
realized that even limited press and academic freedom might
undermine its exclusive rule, so it moved backward to re-tighten
the control since 1999.
one wants to find some "progress" in terms of the
strategy the regime uses in its crackdown on scholars and writers,
he could identify two small changes. First, in the past two
to three years such persecution has become a kind of silent
activity, even with features like "secret action."
For example, all orders to ban an article or a book or publications
of a scholar like me, are no longer written down as official
documents. Instead, top officials give the orders only by phone
calls, face-to-face instruction, or in confidential meetings,
always with a reminder not to make any notes or records about
the order, just keep the long list of the names banned in mind
and follow the order.
think this way may prevent foreign media from finding any hard
evidence of the persecution. The second change is to charge
scholars or independent intellectuals with espionage rather
than to accuse them of being anti-revolutionists. Accusing scholars
of espionage enables the regime to keep trials in secret and
thus to charge scholars with false or no evidence.
do you think upcoming major events in China-like the Communist
Party Congress in 2002 and the Olympic Games in 2008-will affect
academic and journalistic freedom?
there is going to be more academic and journalistic freedom
in China probably is not simply determined by who wins in top-level
power struggles before or after the Communist Party Congress.
Any new leaders of the ruling party have to face a series of
difficulties such as economic recession, social unrest, widespread
corruption, and shaken legitimacy. The worse the economic and
social situation in China, the more the regime may rely upon
control of media and intellectuals. If the government has lost
confidence in solving those problems, it may consider shutting
down the independent voice of intellectuals an option to avoid
the revelation of policy failures.
event like the Olympic Games alone could hardly produce motives
for the regime to promote academic and journalistic freedom
in China. Very likely, the political results of organizing the
games in China may be just the opposite.
the early 1990s the regime held Asian Games in Shanghai. What
happened then was more political control rather than political
reform. Before the games the regime declared that-to maintain
a good image of China to foreign delegations and visitors-all
media should be more censored. A frequently heard slogan was
"Everything gives way to the games." The regime therefore
gained more excuses to tighten its control on society and politics.
These measures may be repeated during the 2008 Olympic Games.
did you choose Chicago for your sabbatical?
University of Chicago, of course, is well known in many ways
in China and among Chinese scholars. What attracted my attention
in China after I found myself under full-time surveillance was
a special program established at Chicago: Scholars at Risk under
the Human Rights Program of the University. Some friends here
sent me the message, and I realized that this program was exactly
what I needed and I was indeed a scholar at risk then. Fortunately,
my application was accepted by Chicago.
would like to take this opportunity to thank Robert Quinn, the
director of the program, and other faculty members who helped
me. I had several research programs going on in China, but they
were interrupted by political forces there. It is Scholars at
Risk that makes it possible for me to continue my research at
the University of Chicago.
are you doing during your stay?
I mainly work on improving my English and will give some lectures
in the upcoming quarters and conduct my research program with
faculty members. One of my research programs is the analysis
of current social structure and social injustice in China and
the relations between the social injustice and China's unbalanced
changes would you like to see in China before you return?
hope China will move toward positive changes like democratization
on the foundation of constitutionalism. The myth that China
could reach success solely by economic reform has almost reached
its end. The unbalanced reform met its bottleneck years ago.
problems in China today, such as widespread corruption, maladministration,
social injustice, and potential financial crisis, can hardly
be solved without political reform. The Chinese regime well
knows this but doesn't want to meet the challenge. Many Chinese
intellectuals appeal for political reform, and the majority
of Chinese people would like to see such a positive change.
But voices for political reform are curbed.
reform is not going to be an easy or short process. In most
socialist countries it is not stability of the system or successes
of policies that brings about positive political changes; instead,
it is crises the regime can't handle that leads to such changes.
Anyway I hope such changes would be peaceful and smooth.
are your plans after leaving Chicago?
have no detailed plan for the next years. But one thing is certain
for me: I'll continue my research on China's current economic
and social problems and publish papers and books. I recently
read from Web sites in China that a lot of people were looking
for my latest writings even though they knew I fled China. I
should keep my independent voice loud.