Cambridge University Disbands Chinese Students and Scholars Association

November 30, 2011 Updated: September 29, 2015
Cambridge University campus
Cambridge University campus (Loic Vennin/AFP/Getty Images)

 UPDATED 2:17 pm, Nov. 30, 2011

CAMBRIDGE, United Kingdom—Cambridge University has disbanded its largest Chinese student association, following the association’s failure to hold an election for president, and has required new elections as a basis for reforming the organization. The Chinese Embassy is implicated in the attempt to set aside voting.

Chinese around the globe are following this story. It was first reported on Nov. 25 by the Guangzhou, China-based Southern Weekend, the largest-circulation weekly in mainland China.

Southern Weekend said that the sitting president of the Chinese Students and Scholars Association in Cambridge (CSSA-CAM), Ms. Chang Feifan, had announced in July that she would continue in a second term without the benefit of an election.

Many among the 800 plus student members opposed this decision, and reported it to the university. The university requested CSSA-CAM submit a constitution by Oct. 1 so that the rules governing the association could be made clear. After Ms. Chang refused to do so, the 27-year-old association was ordered disbanded, according to Southern Weekend.

A former member of CSSA-CAM told The Epoch Times that students had been angry about the forced selection of the president for three to four months.

A CSSA-CAM insider told The Epoch Times, “The Chinese Embassy said, ‘don’t support general voting.’ It was with this backing that she dared to act this way. However, she didn’t think the event will become so big.”

According to Ms. Li Guiha, Ph.D., who worked at Cambridge for a number of years, “voting for the Chinese student association president, this is an old tradition at Cambridge, and has been for more than ten years.”

“At first the embassy needed to mobilize people to run for office. But recently, especially after [former CCP head] Jiang Zemin visited Cambridge in October 1999, and then [premier] Wen Jiabao came in February 2009, the CSSA-CAM president got to meet mainland leaders, the media, and established other connections, and also obtained economic benefits, so many people competed to run for president,” Li said.

“However, during a general election, the embassy is now afraid candidates will openly criticize the mistakes of the former president. This will directly harm interests of the embassy, so the embassy tried to stop them,” Li said.

Embassy’s Role

Former Chinese Student and Scholar Association officers have in the past told The Epoch Times that Chinese consular officials directly control the student associations.

Southern Weekend reported that when the former association officer in charge of the Internet, Chen Qi, compared the CSSA-CAM constitution with that of other CSSAs, he found that the CSSA-CAM constitution was “copied directly from mainland China.”

Mrs. Wang, who works in Cambridge, said, “The student association is a political spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy. When the embassy wishes to complete certain political missions, like welcoming a Chinese leader, or initiating some political movement, usually the Chinese student associations are the ones in front, and the embassy hides at the back.”

“According to laws in many countries, foreign consulates have no right to control or interfere with the activities of the local society, but the Chinese Embassy never obeys any law,” Wang said. “They use Chinese people in the student associations and overseas Chinese associations to conduct illegal activities.”

Li has had experience with how CSSA-CAM acts on behalf of the Chinese regime. She is a Falun Gong practitioner, and learned that her emails about Falun Gong were not permitted on the CSSA-CAM email list. The Chinese regime has persecuted Falun Gong since 1999.

“The embassy is controlling the Student Association, this is a well known secret,” Li said. “A few years ago, the then Chinese Student Association Leader Wang Pengzhu wrote an email to the CSSA-CAM list replying to an email of mine in which he slandered Falun Gong. He was following the directions of the embassy.”

“I wrote back to explain, then, after a number of email exchanges, more and more people supported us [Falun Gong]. Later, Wang Pengzhu blocked my email address,” Li said.

Mrs. Wang explained why student leaders carry out the embassy’s directives. “The embassy pays Chinese Association leaders with financial rewards or political status. The Chinese Students and Scholars Association, especially, gets activity funding from the Chinese Embassy, and the student leader gets additional compensation.”

Status and Benefits

Chang, the woman at the center of the CSSA-CAM controversy, may have angered some of her fellow students, but she has maintained the backing of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). 

A Cambridge student told The Epoch Times, “Her family is relatively powerful and wealthy. One of her relatives is a vice-provincial governor in China. She is very pro-communist.”

Another student told The Epoch Times, “She speaks very differently from others, likes to use bureaucratic jargon, and often mentions terms like ‘social class’ and ‘revolution.'” 

Chang knew that if she obeyed Cambridge’s instructions to submit a new constitution her term as president would end. Only by refusing could she hope to avoid an election.

But elections are coming nonetheless. The university has announced a general election will be held on Dec. 2 for the offices of president, vice-president, secretary and treasurer. The winners can register a new student association.

In the campaign, she has advantages the other candidates don’t have—her CCP connections.

The CSSA-CAM insider told The Epoch Times, “There are quite a few who support Chang Feifan. They believe as long as the student association can bring everyone material interests, like frequent trips and paid dinner parties, they will vote for whoever can provide the benefits. 

“Recently, to win the election, Chang Feifan has often spent money to take people out to eat formal dinners, paying for dozens or up to one hundred people. According to the regulations, this is all against the election rules, and counts as bribery.”

Even though many of the student have been willing to accept Chang’s dinners, this insider says the controversy over the election has changed how some of the students think. “They realize this is not a small incident,” he said.

Read the original Chinese article.