Speaking Up for a Man Who Dared to Speak Out

Xu Zhangrun vs. Tsinghua University
Voices of Protest & Resistance (V)


Petitioning is common enough in every country.
It doesn’t necessarily end in death —
except, of course, in China.

Lu Xun, 10 April 1926

trans. in New Ghosts, Old Dreams
Barmé and Linda Jaivin, eds, 1992


On 31 March 2019, an Open Letter and Petition to the president of Tsinghua University in Beijing bearing an initial 137 signatures from present or former academics and students from Tsinghua and 94 signatures from others throughout China was published online. Below we offer a translation of that petition followed by the original text and a preliminary list of signatories.


At a moment of public concern and outrage over the fate of Professor Xu Zhangrun 許章潤 and other academics in China, we would recall that administrators at Tsinghua University played a key role in the high-education Thought Re-education Campaign in the early 1950s which devastated China’s intellectual and pedagogical worlds. It was also at the forefront of the rabble-rousing zealotry, as well as the bloody violence, of the Cultural Revolution.

Although the contemporary university touts itself as something of a modern-day incarnation of Chen Yinque’s praise for ‘A Spirit Independent and a Mind Unfettered’ 獨立之精神, 自由之思想 in 1930, in reality, since 1989 at least, Tsinghua University can at best only claim a mixed — and at times markedly indifferent — record of achievement.

Following the online release of this Open Letter/ Petition on 31 March, the number of signatories increased exponentially. The response of the country’s ‘brittle political superego’ was relatively swift: within two days, evidence of the petition had been eliminated.

— Geremie R. Barmé
Editor, China Heritage
1 April 2019


  • As of 2 April 2019, the Petition had 273 signatories from Tsinghua University and 325 from various institutions in China and internationally.


To See and Sign the Petition

To view the following Open Letter/ Petition and a growing list of signatories, go to:


To add your signature, please email your name and affiliation to:



Xu Zhangrun vs. Tsinghua University
Voices of Protest & Resistance

(March 2019-)

Former Tsinghua President Mei Yi-chi’s credo. Source: National Tsinghua University, Taipei


Open Letter Demanding Tsinghua University Reinstate Professor Xu Zhangrun



(Everyone is welcome to sign this letter. It is permanently open and the list of signatories will be updated frequently)


To Tsinghua University and President Qiu Yong,


Upon learning that Professor Xu Zhangrun, an academic working in the School of Law at Tsinghua University, had been stripped by your estimable institution of all duties, banned from accepting any new students as well as forbidden from pursuing his teaching and research activities, we the undersigned were Shocked, Dumbfounded and Outraged.   

By their very nature universities are sanctuaries devoted to the pursuit of scholarship and intellectual freedom. They offer an assured homeland that nurtures and protects scholars and thinkers. Mei Yi-chi — the eternal president of Tsinghua University [who led the institution from 1931 to 1948], observed:

A real university is found not in grand buildings but in great scholars.
所謂大學者, 非謂有大樓之謂, 有大師之謂也。 

With a history that spans over one hundred years, Tsinghua University has been buffeted by the turbulence of the times. Despite those vicissitudes it has given us such Great Scholars as Wang Guowei, Liang Qichao, Chen Yinque and Zhu Ziqing. It is precisely when and because it has adhered to the dictum [articulated in a commemorative epitaph written in 1930 by Chen Yinque for Wang Guowei] championing the need for ‘A Spirit Unfettered and a Mind Independent’ and vouchsafe scholastic independence and intellectual freedom that it has been able to reach the very pinnacle of Chinese scholarship and learning. 

In pursuing his research on China’s political, economic and social realities, and in publishing his findings, Professor Xu Zhangrun has embodied the expectations held for any university professor. His work is also a powerful reflection of a profound concern for the People of China and his abiding anxiety over the Fate of the Nation. The free and independent expression of scholastic opinions is the very thing that allows Tsinghua University to enjoy a reputation for scholastic preeminence. In stripping Professor Xu of his right to work at the very institution that employs him not only betrays Tsinghua’s worthy tradition of academic independence, it also directly contravenes both the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China and the Teachers’ Law [adopted in 1993]. 

Your act is a blatant betrayal of Academic Independence, the spirit of which enlivens Tsinghua University’s scholastic traditions. Moreover, it is at odds with the university’s own motto of ‘Self-Discipline and Social Commitment’ 厚德載物, 自強不息. Your action has led a broad constituency of Tsinghua graduates, as well as the men and women of China’s intellectual and academic worlds, to resile in a mood of grievous concern and dejection. With this act you give us all just cause to be fearful for the academic and humanistic environment of China today.

We would like to know exactly what ‘Serious Breaches’ were committed by Professor Xu Zhangrun to give you, Tsinghua University, an excuse to suspend his teaching and academic duties while also allowing you license to subject him to a formal disciplinary investigation? Your behaviour has been arbitrary, underhanded and reckless. It also permits you cover to pursue action against a member of faculty even before a formal conclusion has been reached in regard to him. By so doing you are perpetrating an odious injustice against a teacher who has devoted his life to learning, a scholar whose research is justly celebrated and a man who has demonstrated at every turn a profound involvement with and concern for this Nation and its Peoples.

We decry the decision made by Tsinghua University in the strongest possible terms!

We furthermore demand that you immediately:

  • Allow Professor Xu to resume his pedagogical activities;
  • Cease and desist from any and all punitive actions against him; and
  • Offer a public account of what this is really all about.

We can only hope that you, Tsinghua University, can somehow remind yourselves of the outstanding traditions of your own institution and thereby ensure that you are up to the task of protecting the research endeavours, as well as the academic and intellectual independence and freedom, not only of Professor Xu Zhangrun but of all members of faculty and all students at Tsinghua.

Signed by … [see below]

To view the Open Letter/ Petition and the growing list of signatories, go to:


To add your signature, please email your name and affiliation to:


Original Chinese Text and Signatories:



闻悉清华大学法学院许章润教授因言被贵校撤销所有职务、 停止一切招生、授课和科研活动, 我们感到震惊、不解、愤怒。

大学是学术和思想自由的殿堂,是孕育和保护学者、思想家的家园。 清华永远的校长梅贻琦先生曾说:“所谓大学者,非谓有大楼之谓也, 有大师之谓也。” 清华大学建校百余年来虽历经风雨, 却仍产生了王国维、梁启超、陈寅恪、朱自清等几代大师。 皆因其坚持“独立之精神,自由之思想”的宗旨,一向高举维护学术独立、 精神自由的大旗, 才能位居中国学术界、知识界的金字塔顶端。

许章润先生对国家的政治、经济、社会现象进行研究,发表评论, 实属其大学教授的本职, 也是他忧国忧民的体现。发表自由的学术观点当是清华创建一流大学的前提。 清华大学剥夺许章润教授的工作权力, 不仅有违学术自由的传统,也违反了中华人民共和国宪法和教师法。 清华大学此举,背离了清华一向倡导的 “学术独立” 的传统精神, 也和 “厚德载物,自强不息” 的清华校训不符, 令广大清华学子和知识界、 学术界扼腕叹息,并为中国的学术和人文环境深深担忧。

不知许章润教授做出了何种 “严重的错误行为”,导致清华大学对其做出了停课停职、 进行审查的决定?这种遮遮掩掩、轻率武断, 未有结论先有处分的做法,是对一位献身教育、学术严谨、 深切关注国家和民族命运的学者的极大的不公。我们对清华大学 所做的决定坚决反对。 我们要求:立即恢复许章润教授工作, 停止一切迫害行动, 并向社会说明事实真相。

希望清华大学能够牢记自己的优秀传统,保护许章润先生以及其他清华教师学生的研究、 学术和思想的独立和自由。


To view the Open Letter/ Petition online and the list of signatories, go to:


To add your signature, email your name and affiliation to:



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