Charles Moore

Will Cambridge stand up for free speech in China?

Will Cambridge stand up for free speech in China?
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Last month, Dr Priyamvada Gopal, of Churchill College, Cambridge University, tweeted ‘White Lives Don’t Matter’. She was abused online and received threats of violence. Cambridge issued a statement: ‘The university defends the right of its academics to express their own lawful opinions, which others might find controversial… [It] deplores in the strongest terms abuse and personal attacks.’ Dr Gopal was promptly promoted to a professorship. Perhaps professorial chairs should not be handed out as prizes because the person promoted has expressed apparently racist sentiments, but the university was surely correct to defend Dr Gopal’s free-speech rights. So it should protest when the universities with which it associates infringe those rights themselves. 

This week, Xu Zhangrun was detained (after a year’s house arrest) for criticising the ‘personality cult’ of Xi Jinping. He is the author of the most famous dissenting essay in China during the Covid crisis, ‘When Fury Overcomes Fear’. Last year, the Communist party authorities at Tsinghua University stripped Mr Zhangrun of his professorship there. At Jesus College, the UK/China Global Issues Dialogue Centre works in partnership with Tsinghua University. Jesus and, so far as I know, Cambridge have never stood up for the free-speech rights of Mr Zhangrun.

This article is an extract from Charles Moore's Spectator Notes, available in this week's magazine.