Chinese dissident-lawyer Chen Guangcheng has come out with a statement stating he is being forced from his fellowship at New York University (NYU) due to pressure from the Chinese regime, allegedly in response to Chen’s outspoken advocacy for human rights in China.
The news broke June 16, three days after initial reports to that effect emerged and were quickly denied by an NYU representative and the professor who brought Chen to the United States, where he is now in exile.
“As early as last fall, in August and September, the Chinese Communist Party already began to use all sorts of means to exert enormous pressure on NYU. It was such that after we had been in the United States just three to four months, NYU was already starting to discuss our departure with us,” Chen said in the statement.
He was originally asked to leave by the end of June, but the deadline has now been extended to July 15, since he leaves for Taiwan with his wife for two weeks on June 23.
“The work of the Chinese Communists within academic circles in the United States is far greater than what people imagine, and some scholars have no option but to restrict themselves,” Chen said. The statement was in English and Chinese, and was not published formally online; it was instead sent directly to media outlets. The statement was embargoed until 12:01 a.m. on June 17, but the New York Times and other media reported it before then.
“Academic independence and academic freedom in the United States are now being greatly threatened by a dictatorship,” Guangcheng stated.
The narrative in the statement differs from the tone of a conversation between the Epoch Times and a close associate of Chen’s on June 13, when the news that Chen was leaving NYU was first reported by the New York Post. The associate did not disclose that Chen and his wife believed that pressure from the Chinese regime caused the university to ask Chen to leave.
Chen’s statement did not detail specifically why he believed that NYU had been put under political pressure, nor the specific ways that NYU pressured him. One situation reported by the New York Times that took place in Washington—when two NYU handlers allegedly prevented Chen from carrying on an interview with Radio Free Asia—reportedly infuriated him.
Chen recently co-signed a letter with Nobel Peace Prize laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu, which included strongly worded criticism of the Chinese regime’s human rights abuses, including reference to religious persecution, torture, slave labor camps, and organ harvesting.
Linked to the letter was a petition and YouTube music video associated with the film Free China, which explores the stories of persecution of two practitioners of Falun Gong, a spiritual discipline which is heavily suppressed in China and is highly politically sensitive to the Chinese regime. It is unclear whether that letter, published on June 4, precipitated the increased pressure.
In a brief telephone conversation June 6, Chen’s wife, Yuan Weijing, would not say when they were asked to leave NYU; nor does the letter provide that information. Neither Chen nor Yuan responded to an inquiry made on June 16.
NYU recently completed construction on a campus in Shanghai, which is anticipated to be a source of revenue for the institution; the New York Post initially alleged that the campus was used to put pressure on NYU to eject Chen.
The university rejected this claim by noting that it had agreed to take him in after it had begun establishing the campus. Chen made a range of outspoken remarks about human rights in China in the 13 months he was at NYU. In a previous conversation, a close associate of Chen’s said that he felt pressured by the university to be less outspoken.
NYU spokesman John Beckman released a statement on June 16 that sought to rebut Chen’s claims. “We are very discouraged to learn of Mr. Chen’s statement, which contains a number of speculations about the role of the Chinese government in NYUs decision-making that are both false and contradicted by the well-established facts,” it said. NYU was “puzzled and saddened” by the situation, Beckman stated.
Chen was blinded in his childhood and as an adult taught himself law and used it to defend victims of violent abuse associated with the one-child policy. His work led to a four-year prison sentence, which expired in 2010. He was then placed under strict, extralegal, house arrest. In April 2012 he escaped from his heavily guarded rural home with the aide of associates and sought refuge at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. After tense negotiations between U.S. and Chinese diplomats, he was allowed to come to the United States to take up a position that had been offered to him by NYU.
At the end of his statement, Chen said that the Chinese regime was attempting to “make me so busy trying to earn a living that I don’t have time for human rights advocacy, but this is not going to happen.”
He continued: “Whether it was the dangers I faced in China or the current momentary difficulties we face, I will never bow my head to evil or to lies. I will always do everything I can for my compatriots back in China who still are not free and who are now being oppressed.”
STATEMENT OF CHEN GUANGCHENG REGARDING DEPARTURE FROM NEW YORK UNIVERSITY
Recently, there have been some reports that my family and I are leaving New York University, and friends both in China and elsewhere abroad are very concerned about this. So I want to especially thank my friends. At the same time, I want to explain a few things with regard to what’s happened:
1. It is true that New York University has asked us to leave before the end of June.
2. In fact, as early as last August and September, the Chinese Communists had already begun to apply great, unrelenting pressure on New York University, so much so that after we had been in the United States just three to four months, NYU was already starting to discuss our departure with us.
3. The work of the Chinese Communists within academic circles in the United States is far greater than what people imagine, and some scholars have no option but to hold themselves back. Academic independence and academic freedom in the United States are being greatly threatened by a totalitarian regime.
4. I’m very grateful to NYU for its help when my family was in a difficult period and for its good support of us when we first arrived in the United States. We thank Professor Cohen and other friends for trying their best to help us. This assistance has allowed us to have a smooth transition to the United States. For this, we have always wanted to thank the president of NYU in person. Regrettably, to date, we still have not had the chance to meet him. Although NYU has arranged many of our activities, to date, it has not arranged a meeting for us with the president. Therefore, I can only show my gratitude to him in this way.
5. China’s Communist rulers hope to use these means to disturb our normal life, and even want to make me so busy trying to earn a living that I don’t have time for human rights advocacy, but this is not going to happen. Whether it was the dangers I faced in China or the current momentary difficulties we face, I will never bow my head to evil or to lies. I will always do everything I can for my compatriots back in China who still are not free and who are now being oppressed.