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OpEdNews Op Eds    H1'ed 10/5/14

Libeling a democracy movement: Accusing Hong Kong Activists of Being Tools of US Policy is Both Ignorant and Dangerous

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Let me tell a personal story to illustrate what I'm talking about with respect to jumping to conclusions:

Back in 1990, when my wife and I were between jobs, I applied for and was awarded a one-year Fulbright post in Shanghai, where I would be teaching journalism at Fudan University, one of China's top schools.

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Over that year I came to know my students, and some of my teaching colleagues, well. The kids were smart, and for the most part dedicated to being good journalists. There was one ardent Maoist from an important Communist family in the class, whom I learned along the way had been required to deliver the students' papers to monitors in the school's foreign affairs office (waiban) for vetting before they were turned in to me. Most of these kids were quite sophisticated politically. They were interested in the world and in the US, but were well aware of America's crimes as well as of its virtues, just as they were aware of the good and bad aspects of their own country's culture and politics.

Midway through the year, there was a gathering of all 20 Fulbright professors at a tourist spot in Kunming. The event was hosted by the office of press and cultural affairs of the US Embassy in Beijing.

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It soon became apparent that there was a big issue for us to confront. One colleague, a professor of economics from a university in Texas, had run afoul of the Chinese authorities at his school and in Beijing because he had given his students an assignment to write a paper analyzing the relative competitive benefit, if any, to one country using prison labor to produce products for export to another country. There was at that time a big scandal where Newsweek magazine had exposed a chain of Chinese prisons that were using forced prison labor to produce products for export to the US--including products owned by US companies that had moved their production facilities to China. (That edition of the magazine had been banned in China, but he had distributed copies of the article to his students.)

The university had ordered the professor to turn over his students' essays to them, and his students, who had waxed passionate against the prison and legal system in China, and against the widespread practice of "re-education through labor," were pleading with him not to turn over their papers. He had refused to do so, and was being threatened with deportation and termination of his Fulbright appointment.

The embassy, which the Fulbright Program had asked to mediate, was pressuring this professor to cave in and to sacrifice his students "for the sake of the program," but the other 19 Fulbrighters, myself included, protested. I proposed that we take a vote to support him and we then unanimously demanded that academic freedom be respected and that the professor not be required to turn in the papers. We also demanded that the US oppose his deportation, with some of us saying we'd rather all be sent home in solidarity than have him forced out for defending his students from retaliation or worse.

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In the end, he burned the students' papers and ended the issue. He was allowed to stay on for the rest of the school year and finish the program.

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Dave Lindorff is a founding member of the collectively-owned, journalist-run online newspaper www.thiscantbehappening.net. He is a columnist for Counterpunch, is author of several recent books ("This Can't Be Happening! Resisting the (more...)
 
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