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Chinese daily takes up cudgels for book club

Posted on Dec 07, 01:31PM | IANS

A professor in China held a book club meeting despite being barred from doing so, prompting a state-run Chinese daily Friday to run a detailed story on liberal thought being stifled in universities.

In an article titled "Shackled Reading", the Global Times said some 20 students and professors from the Northwest University of Politics and Law (NUPL) in Shaanxi province last month read and discussed the book "Science as a Vocation", the text of a lecture given in 1918 at Munich University by pioneering sociologist Max Weber.

Chen Hongguo, a law professor at the university, who runs the book club, Citizens for Self-governance and Cooperation, was forced to hold the meeting in the hallway after being refused permission to use a classroom.

"I never imagined I would share my thoughts on Weber's works in such a situation, but like what Weber has taught us, life is not perfect, we have to live bravely," Huang Xingchao, a student said.

Two campus security guards stood in the corner and carefully watched the proceedings.

In the section "Nascent hopes dashed", the article went on to say that an "unwelcome notice was soon received from university administrators, asking Chen to shut down the book club but with no specific reason being provided".

Chen said students and staff were warned not to attend, and all the classrooms and meeting rooms were made unavailable to use.

The book club was stopped about a week after the National Congress. The news soon circulated on the Internet and sparked concern among those demanding more academic freedom, the media report said.

"I never thought the book club would cause so much trouble, I am not against the government nor the Party, I am just an ordinary professor who tries to teach young people how to be a good citizen," Chen told the Global Times.

Chen feels John Stuart Mill's "On Liberty", Robert Dahl's "On Democracy" and Alexis de Tocaqueville's "The Old Regime and the Revolution" might have crossed the line. However, he pointed out that all these books are available at the campus library and book store.

Wang Tianding, director of the journalism department of Xi'an International Studies University (XISU) who invited Chen to host the book club before the ban was clearly disappointed.

"I don't see any problem with a professor guiding students to read," Wang told the daily. "Professors are all required to promote academic exchanges on campus. Chen's book club should be encouraged and promoted instead."

In the section "Crumbling ivory towers", the article focused on scholars invited to give talks at various universities running into difficulties.

The section on "Thought control" said that Peking University which has been hailed for its liberal ways was also accused of blinkering its students' minds last year.

In March 2011, the university announced its plan to roll out a "consultation" program to screen "students with radical thoughts", provoking angry reactions.