In China, Professors Don’t Have Freedom to Travel Abroad

March 3, 2016 Updated: March 4, 2016

Professors at universities are used to traveling freely around the world to deliver their research findings or collaborate on projects. But Chinese academicians seem to barely have access to their passports.

A professor at the Southwest University For Nationalities in China’s western province of Sichuan recently posted on the Chinese messaging service WeChat a picture of a Chinese passport and the words, “I’ve surrendered my passport to the school administration; I reckon that future travel abroad will be problematic.” In the post’s comments section, the professor added that other schools in the province would soon start confiscating passports from their academic staff.

Mrs. Yang, a staff working at Southwest University For Nationalities, confirmed to Radio Free Asia (RFA) in a telephone interview that the college was indeed requiring its professors to surrender their passports,

The Chinese regime “is afraid that scholars will make careless remarks or make remarks that conflict with those of Chinese leaders,” said Sun Wenguang, a retired professor from Shandong University, in an interview with RFA.

Professor Sun hasn’t seen his own passport for 11 years. “I’m not even allowed to go to Taiwan or Hong Kong … I think that the Chinese regime is afraid of scholars,” he said.

Academics in Beijing are also kept on a tight leash. A professor in Beijing, speaking to RFA on condition of anonymity, said that all colleges in the capital had last year started to keep the passports of professors and certain administrative staff under lock and key. Those who wish to travel overseas are required to sign a declaration agreeing not to say anything that might “damage the interests and reputation of the country while not revealing any Party or country secrets,” and to “turn in their passports or entry permits to Hong Kong and Macau within 7 days of returning.”

Before academics, Chinese officials were the ones having their travel documents confiscated. As early as 2008, the Chinese regime had seized the passports of so-called “naked officials,” or Party cadres who moved their families and assets overseas. This measure was implemented to prevent them from defecting to avoid being investigated for corruption.

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