Responding to a Gesture of Support — Xu Zhangrun

Xu Zhangrun vs. Tsinghua University 


On 19 July 2020, Xu Zhangrun, the professor of law cashiered by Tsinghua University, released an open letter addressed to independent-minded graduates of Tsinghua University and members of the Tsinghua community led by Yan Huai 閻淮 and Sun Nutao 孫怒濤 who had responded to a call for monetary donations to support the now-unemployed former professor. Below we offer the text of that letter, and a translation.


Our China Heritage series ‘Xu Zhangrun vs. Tsinghua University (March 2019-July 2020)’ was inspired by the outrage expressed by Professor Xu Zhangrun’s colleagues, friends and supporters over his treatment at the hands of Tsinghua University. The series started with ‘J’accuse, Tsinghua University!’ by Guo Yuhua 郭於華 on 27 March 2019 and it went on to feature essays, poems, commentaries and even a song that, in addressing the particular fate of a courageously outspoken academic, pointedly confronted the sorry state of intellectual freedom in China today. Professor Xu has called the New Epoch of the People’s Republic ushered in Xi Jinping:

‘…an evolving form of military tyranny that is underpinned by an ideology that I call “Legalistic-Fascist-Stalinism” [Fa-Ri-Si 法日斯], one that is cobbled together from strains of traditional harsh Chinese Legalist thought [Fa 法; that is, 中式法家思想] wedded to an admix of the Leninist-Stalinist interpretation of Marxism [Si 斯; 斯大林主義] along with the “Germano-Aryan” form of fascism [Ri 日; 日耳曼法西斯主義].’

from Xu Zhangrun, ‘Viral Alarm: When Fury Overcomes Fear’
trans. Geremie R. Barmé,
ChinaFile, 10 February 2020


Xu Zhangrun was detained on the 6th of July (for details, see ‘無可奈何 — So It Goes’). Following his release six days later, we noted that:

During his period in custody Tsinghua University rushed through a final determination on his status and, on the second day of his incarceration a delegation from the university personnel department visited him to read out an administrative sentence adjudged on the spurious basis of ‘moral turpitude’ 道德敗壞: he was stripped of his job; his professional status as a professor was invalidated; his pension was taken away; and, health coverage was withdrawn. In the event, Professor Xu was freed a few days later and, according to friends, he therefore speculated that his detention was merely a trial run. (He received a hard copy of Tsinghua’s ‘letter of cancellation’ dated 15 July 2020 delivered by courier following his release.) It seemed possible that the authorities, taken aback by the furore both in China and overseas resulting from his sudden disappearance, had thought better of their precipitate action. Now they had withdrawn to regroup; their next gambit could well be both more decisive, and final.

from ‘Xu Zhangrun & China’s Former People’
China Heritage, 13 July 2020

We also commented that:

‘Xu Zhangrun’s situation reflects the broader fate of intellectual and political life in China today. But, as Xu himself observed, quoting a famous saying: “It’s easier to dam a river than to silence people” 防民之口 , 甚於防川.

As Xu Zhangrun re-iterates in the following letter:

‘As long as I draw breath, I will continue to speak out.’

— Geremie R. Barmé
Editor, China Heritage
19 July 2020


Protests at Tsinghua University:

Related Reports:

Essays by Xu Zhangrun and Others:


‘A Decision to Dismiss Xu Zhangrun’, the formal notification from Tsinghua University dated 15 July 2020 sent to now ‘former professor’ Xu

A Letter Written in Gratitude &
A Suggestion

Xu Zhangrun 許章潤

translated by Geremie R. Barmé


Respected Members of the Tsinghua Community:



Evil days continue to mar this Gengzi Year of 2020. For my part, I was detained [on 6 July], then Tsinghua University stripped me of my professional standing and left me without a livelihood. Twenty of the last thirty-four years of my teaching career have been spent at Tsinghua, yet with this ‘coup de grâce’ my career was nullified.


I am honoured that members of the Tsinghua Community like yourselves not abandoned me; and I am moved to learn that you responded to an online call for donations to support me so generously. I believe that no fewer than 594 of you have made contributions to this fund ranging from 10RMB up into the thousands. As a result, a staggering sum of 100,683.77RMB [= US$14399] has been collected.

Allow me to tell you all that, although I am approaching my sixtieth year and despite failing eyesight, I am still hale and hearty, well enough in fact to support myself through my own labour. Despite the limitations of my learning, I nonetheless strive constantly in pursuit of knowledge; henceforth I hope to eke out a living by writing.

Therefore, although I am deeply moved by this gracious gesture, I feel that I must decline your generosity.

Today, as in the past, the power-holders continue to indulge their every extravagance even as the majority of our compatriots get by on the most meagre of incomes by sheer dint of hard work and constant struggle. Now, the official media is blustering about the prosperous age even as half of our nation is submerged in floodwaters, and while the ship of state itself lurches on its unsteady course.

This is a time in which those who are learned enough to know better for the most part reveal their stunted souls; their vacuous mummery is egregiously self-indulgent. As for officialdom, it is a home to ashen hearts and indolent minds. From top to bottom the bureaucracy brims over with abhorrent lassitude and delinquency.

The political system remains recalcitrant, refusing to change; now the whole world is on guard. Imperial hauteur has turned China into a boastful orphan. There is no doubt in my mind that totalitarianism such as this will come to no good end and that true freedom will finally visit our land. The Will of Heaven and the Hearts of Humanity, like the luminosity of the Sun and Moon, show the way!

As long as I draw breath, I will continue to speak out. This is incumbent upon me and it is my fate.

To live on and to strive regardless of the burdens suffering imposes, to kindle that precious flame even in the stygian depths of night, and to prepare to greet the dawn — in this we are all joined as one, and I am no different from any of our fellow Chinese.

Therefore, I implore you to donate the funds that you have raised on my behalf to those who are truly in need. At this pressing time of hardship and want, please share this bounty with our fellow citizens.


Dawn approaches … …


Allow me yet again to express my thanks, dear members of the Tsinghua Community, and forgive me for the brevity of this note.


19 July 2020