The Chinese government, or people sympathetic to it, encourage like-minded Chinese students and scholars in the West to report on Chinese students who participate in politically sensitive activities — like my salons, but also other public forums and protests against Beijing.
Members of the China Students and Scholars Association, which has chapters at many American universities, maintain ties with the Chinese consulates and keep tabs on “unpatriotic” people and activities on campuses.
Agents or sympathizers of the Chinese government show up at public events videotaping and snapping pictures of speakers, participants and organizers.
Chinese students who are seen with political dissidents like me or dare to publicly challenge Chinese government policies can be put on a blacklist. Their families in China can be threatened or punished.
When these students return to China, members of the public security bureau may “invite” them to “tea,” where they are interrogated and sometimes threatened. Their passport may not be renewed. One student told me that during one of his home visits to China he was pressured to spy on others in the United States.
And in one egregious example of intimidation, in March 2016, the police in China abducted the relatives of the Chinese journalist Chang Ping, who lives in exile in Germany, after he published an article in a German publication that was critical of President Xi Jinping’s crackdown on free speech.
Chinese students abroad hear these stories and, with good reason, tread carefully. Many have become too afraid to attend open forums like my salon, and those who do show up mostly keep a low profile.
Not all Chinese students in the West condemn their government. Many, in fact, actively support Beijing, often by shaming their fellow students who criticize Beijing.
Nationalism is rampant in China and many students, who grew up subjected to the full force of the Chinese government’s “patriotic education program,” carry it abroad. They blame Western powers for causing a “century of humiliation” before the Communist takeover in 1949 and for instigating trouble and constraining China’s growth as a global power.
These “patriotic” students and scholars team up with the Chinese consulates to sabotage protests critical of the Chinese government. Many resort to online harassment of Beijing’s critics.
n a typical example, Shuping Yang, a Chinese student at the University of Maryland in May praised the “fresh air of free speech” in the United States during her commencement address and then faced a barrage of threats online from Chinese citizens and the state media for “insulting the motherland.”
The China Students and Scholars Association encouraged people to rebut Ms. Yang’s views. Under the pressure, Ms. Yang issued a public apology, asking for forgiveness and declaring that she did not intend to belittle her country.
Even Western educational institutions that have benefited from Chinese government funding, student enrollment and Chinese private donations have succumbed to pressure from Beijing. Some have canceled activities or programs, and others have resorted to self-censorship.
Springer Nature, which publishes prestigious science magazines like Nature, recently blocked access to some articles from China to avoid being banned in in the country.
The country’s growing influence abroad has received a lot of attention in Australia, where journalists have detailed how Chinese money has infiltrated the political process. Chinese students in Australia can come under heavy pressure and shame from other nationalist Chinese students for criticizing Beijing.
Recently, Clive Hamilton, a professor of public ethics in Australia, said that his publisher delayed the release of a book of his that investigates the rising influence of the Chinese Communist Party in Australia for fear that the Chinese government may sue for defamation.
We can be certain that Mr. Hamilton’s name has been added to a list of Western scholars who are banned from China, another common tactic used against outspoken China scholars whose work the Chinese government dislikes.
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