Throw Him Out Now! No, Give Him His Job Back!

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


The pros and cons of the Xu Zhangrun Case are offered in these contrasting essays. In one, the author, who is a friend of Xu’s, deploys the cynical language and exaggerated high dudgeon of the Maoist era to offer Xu’s overlords some tongue-in-cheek advice. In the other, the writer launches an earnest defence of a man punished for championing policies that even Xi Jinping claims to support.

I am always grateful to Reader #1 for pointing out typographical errors in the draft of this text. A list of articles in ‘Xu Zhangrun vs. Tsinghua University: Voices of Protest & Resistance’, with links, is appended below.

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


  • As in the case of the previous essays in our series ‘Xu Zhangrun vs. Tsinghua University’, the following texts are reproduced here as they first appeared, despite our ongoing distaste for the ‘Crippled Characters’ 殘體字 of the People’s Republic. These bilingual translations are archived both in The Best China and in the The Xu Zhangrun Archive of China Heritage, under Projects.

Faculty of Law, Tsinghua University

A Recommendation:
Tsinghua, Expel Big-head Professor Xu!


Xia Li’an

Translated by Geremie R. Barmé


The administration of Tsinghua University has recently made a decision regarding Professor Xu and he has been duly suspended and put under formal investigation. In light of the grave damage Xu has caused throughout our society I, for one, believe that this punishment is woefully inadequate. Therefore, I recommend on the basis of what you already know that this person should expelled from Tsinghua University.

My reasoning is as follows:

最近清华⼤学校⽅对许教授做出决定: 停职并接受调查。本⼈认为: 这种处罚与许教授给一个社会造成的危害相比,是远不够的, 建议清华校方在调查的基础 上,将许教授扫地出门。理由如下:

In the first place, I have read most of Professor Xu’s oeuvre and I am quite aware of how dangerously seductive it is. That’s why in the first instance I recommend that all of his books be removed henceforth from the shelves of the university’s libraries and expunged.

Xu’s published work falls into three broad categories:

  • The first dwell on his intellectual concerns, see for example Outline History of Legal Studies;
  • The second reflect his social critique, such as National Rationalism and the Modern Chinese State; and,
  • The third give voice to his so-called humanistic values, to wit Waiting For Dawn.

All of this stuff — regardless of whether considered in terms of the author’s historical perspective, contemporary engagement, or dearly held ideals — is mutually imbricated, moreover, as a whole this corpus is cunningly deceptive. Once you fall under the spell of his logic, it is extremely difficult to extricate yourself. That is why, in summation, I recommend that Tsinghua University rid its libraries of Professor Xu’s books.

The original library building at Tsinghua University

第一,本人对许教授的论著多有阅读,深感很容易上其当受其骗,建议对其作品下架,从大学图书馆清理出去。他的著作大致归纳下来,有三类: 第一类代表其思想关切,如《历史法学论纲》等; 第⼆类代表其现实担当,如《现代中国的国家理性》; 第三类代表其所谓人⽂关怀,如《坐待天明》。这些作品,从历史关怀,到现实担当,再到个人理理想,环环相扣,有很⼤的欺骗性,一旦被套进去,是很难走出来的。建议清华⼤学将许⼤教授的著作从该校的各个图书馆中清理出去。

Secondly, I recommend that you cordon off the grove on the Tsinghua campus where [in 1930] they erected the ‘Stele Commemorating Mr Wang Jing’an [Wang Guowei] of Haining’. Do not allow anyone even to approach it. If, as some would claim, Big-head Professor Xu is the most prominent independent thinker at Tsinghua today, then the long-dead Wang Jing’an is the most prominent early independent thinker in the university’s history. Wang Guowei’s daring suicide and [the celebrated historian] Chen Yinque’s praise for the dead man’s intellectual independence in the encomium inscribed on that stele are the taproot of the canker of independence that continues to bedevil Tsinghua. Unless you uproot this repugnant rhizome you will never entirely rid yourself of independent thought or the ideas that breed such folly at Tsinghua. Things will continue, just as Chen Yinque predicted in his encomium for Wang:

His … Independent Spirit and his a Mind Unfettered — these will survive the millennia to share the longevity of Heaven and Earth, shining for eternity as do the Sun, the Moon and the very Stars themselves. [Also quoted in Guo Yuhua 郭於華, ‘J’accuse, Tsinghua University!’China Heritage, 27 March 2019]

And that’s why, if Tsinghua is really serious about ridding itself of liberalism in all of its guises, then the place to start is in obliterating all historical traces on the campus itself. Then, and only then, will you truly be able to burst the bubble of the present clutch of intellectuals who hold out hopes that they can ‘wait for the dawning of a new day’.

第二,将清华校园⾥的 “海宁王静安先生纪念碑” 关闭,谢绝参观。如果说许大教授是当下清华活着的自由主义分子,那么死去的自由主义分子非王国维莫属。王国维为⾃由之死之⾏为,与陈寅恪为自由呼吁之碑⽂,是清华自由之根。此根不除,清华⾃由主义将不会枯竭,就会如陈寅恪所⾔言,“惟此独立之精神, ⾃由之思想,历千万祀,与天壤 而同久,共三光而永光”。因 此, 清华要真想根绝⾃由主义,须从消除清华园⾥的历史记忆做起,只有这样才能让那些自由主义分子的 “坐待天明” 成为泡影!

Thirdly, you must identify and eliminate the noxious influence of Professor Xu’s thinking among both his colleagues and his students. From what I know, Xu was previously diagnosed with a terminal illness. Although it proved to be a mis-diagnosis, he came out of that near-death experience more fearless than ever before. That’s why throwing him into jail won’t solve anything; it will only bolster his boastful pride, and he will regard it as a validation of his importance. Therefore, you must explore new avenues by which to respond to the threat he poses and inflict real suffering on him.

According to my understanding, in pursuit of the marketing his Liberalist Thinking more convincingly, Xu is particularly attentive to and caring for his students. He even regards them like his own children! That’s why, if you want to eliminate his pernicious influence, you have to mobilise his students and get them to reveal the deceptive nature of his ideas. During the Cultural Revolution how could they manage to overthrow so effectively all of those university professors and teachers? By relying on the treachery of their students, of course! That’s why I say, the most efficient way to deal with this Professor Xu Zhangrun is to prise open the mouths of his beloved disciples.

第三,对许教授的清查要从师⽣层面展开,彻底清除其思想流毒。据我所知, 许大教授曾患绝症,但属于误诊。此⼈经历死劫,故不惧死。让其坐牢会无济于事,反⽽成全了他。因此,需要另辟路路径,伤其要害。据说许教授为了推销其自由 主义思想,对学生倍加呵护,视⽣如子。因此,要彻 底清除其影响,要发动他的学⽣生,揭露其⾃由主义的本质。⽂⾰中有多少教授、多少老师被打倒,都是仰仗其门下弟子的揭批。因此,对付许教授,也应从敲开其弟⼦之口开始最为有效。

Fourth, and finally, I recommend that, on the basis of a meticulous investigation, you must come to the conclusion that Xu be expelled from the university. In the short term, this action will, I daresay, be roundly condemned by all and sundry Liberal Elements. However, in the long run it will not cause any significant damage to the State nor will it have a lasting negative impact on Tsinghua itself. Remember, Xu has had the audacity to say:

Today I leave, burdened with ignominy
Tomorrow… tomorrow
I will return decked in laurels
For this is my lectern

[These are, in fact, lines from a poem written by Tang Yun 唐雲, a teacher in Chongqing who was demoted after having been reported on by a student for ‘ideological non-compliance’ when lecturing on the Republican-era writer Lu Xun. Xu Zhangrun quoted Tang’s poem with approval. — trans.]

What does he mean by saying ‘this is my lectern’? Nonsense: that is the Party’s Lectern! Professor Xu: since you are so anxious to sing a different tune from the Communist Party, I demand that you get off the stage!

In Judgements on History and Historians, Carl Jakob Burckhardt, Friedrich Nietzsche’s mentor, observed that:

Most people who make art are paid a wage; some others strive to be so. Only cultural exiles, or those who entertain the lower orders can enjoy true creative freedom.

Since this is the kind of logic beloved of liberals — that only those who leave their homelands can create in true freedom — then, I ask you, why doesn’t Tsinghua help him get what he wants? Though I would admit, if I were to look at this through the lens of ‘historical cynicism’, I might venture that if, after a decent interval, Professor Xu really does return ‘decked in laurels’, you would be well within our rights to claim him as one of your own. After all, whatever accolades he garners overseas rightly belong to Tsinghua. In other words:

‘Today his presence is Tsinghua’s bane, but tomorrow he may adorn Tsinghua’s name’.

第四,建议清华在缜密的调查基础上,将许教授扫地出门。此举短期可能会招致⾃由主义分子们的围攻, 但是从长远看于国家无害, 于清华无害。许教授已经撂下狠话: “今天披着耻辱离去,明天我定会戴着桂冠⽽来。这是我的讲台。” 这怎么会是他的讲台? 这是党的讲台。你既然要与党唱对台戏,请离开党的讲台。尼采的⽼师布克哈特在《世界历史沉思录》中表达了⾃由主义者的学术心声: “许多创造文化作品的⼈领取薪⽔,还有一些人为了享受这个待遇而不懈努⼒,只有在那些流亡的文化人那里,或者充其量在那些给下等阶层的人逗 乐的艺⼈那⾥,才有一些⾃由的创作。” 既然自由主义的逻辑是: 只有去国者才有⾃由之作,只有流浪艺人才有自由之作,那清华为什么不成全他呢! 说句投机历史的话,如果真有⼀天,许⼤教授挂冠而归,他仍然是清华的人,他的荣耀也是清华的。即所谓 “今天清华以你为耻,明天清华以你为荣。”

In scribbling down these crude thoughts on the Xu Case, I may appear to be a tad callous. I am, indeed, conflicted in myself. Because my own family background was deemed unworthy, I nearly didn’t get a chance to go to university. Yet, I don’t want China to suffer another Cultural Revolution either. Despite all of that — don’t ask me why — there just are some things, or people, that you want to hurt in the same way you were hurt in the past yourself. I guess that’s because, in my heart of hearts, apart from having learned how to hurt others, I really have nothing else to my name. All I know is how to lash out.


Professor Xia Li’an

Guanghua Law School,
Zhejiang University, Hangzhou
Chair, Zhejiang University Social Sciences Degree Committee
Deputy Director, Zhejiang University, Faculty of Studies

31 March 2019



Left to right: Xia Li’an and Xu Zhangrun. Image provided by Xu Zhangrun

An Appeal to Tsinghua:
Allow Professor Xu to Resume Teaching!


Gu Wanming 顧萬明

Translated by Geremie R. Barmé


Tsinghua Professor Xu Zhangrun’s essay ‘Protect Reform and Openness’ published early last year [early 2018] was both extremely timely and relevant. It was a powerful rebuttal of the Extreme Leftist Thinking current at the time and a defense of Deng Xiaoping’s policies. I had a similar response upon reading Professor Xu’s subsequent essays and that’s why I couldn’t believe it when I heard the recent news that he had been suspended from teaching by Tsinghua University. How could such a thing happen to a senior professor who defended the policies of China’s Economic Reforms and Openness to the World? What’s happening: is Deng Xiaoping’s banner no longer to be held high?


In an article published by some newspaper under the name ‘Shan Renping’ it said that:

In the past, Xu Zhangrun made some positive contributions to the field of legal studies. However, in recent years he has increasingly veered towards political radicalism. This has particularly been evident in a series of essays promoting extremist views that have appeared over the last year. As a result he has become a significant dissident within China. [‘Shan Renping’ is the nom de guerre of Hu Xijin, the editor of The Global Times. See Zha Jianguo 查建國 et al, ‘Heads or Tails — Criticism and Xu Zhangrun’China Heritage, 29 March 2019]


That Professor Xu’s article ‘Defend Reform and Openness’ is described as being ‘politically radical’ and ‘extreme’, and that he has been branded as being ‘a dissident within China’: all of this reeks of the residual stench of the Cultural Revolution. Let me say it again: the title of Professor Xu’s article was ‘Defend Reform and Openness’, and that was exactly the theme that he addressed. There is no doubt that essay supported Deng Xiaoping’s policies. Now, an article with such title would hardly advocate opposing Reform and Openness, however, an article [like that of ‘Shan Renping’] that opposes that self-same theme is surely an attempt to cut down the banner of Reform and Openness itself.


‘Shan Renping’ went on to say that Professor Xu:

Has obviously presented Tsinghua University with a problem, one of which he is surely completely aware. It is impossible to think that you could keep teaching at a famous Chinese tertiary institution like Tsinghua after you’ve openly aired such politically contrarian views. Xu has, in effect, forced the hand of a university that has long tolerated him.


So, Shan says that Professor Xu’s article on the Reforms ‘openly expressed politically contrarian views’; in other words, Shan is saying that the contemporary political situation does not favour Reform and Openness. Let me ask you, Mr Shan Renping, is this your interpretation of the present Chinese political line, or are you denigrating it? As I see it, Tsinghua University and ‘Shan Renping’ have taken a problematic political stance, not Professor Xu!


A century ago, Tsinghua University was a standard bearer for the May Fourth Movement; it was significant for it encouraged the pursuit of ‘a free spirit and independent thought’. Its decline has been so precipitous that now it has suspended from teaching a professor who has dared to speak out, a man who defends Deng Xiaoping’s reforms and political line no less. It simply leaves one speechless!

In the past the President of Tsinghua University [Mei Yi-chi] had the courage to protect students who had participated in the May Fourth Movement [this is an anachronism since Mei was the Tsinghua president from 1931; May Fourth broke out in 1919] against the despotism of the local warlord. Now the place has a president who not only doesn’t dare protect a professor who speaks out in defence of Deng Xiaoping’s policies, he has taken it upon himself to dismiss him. After a century, where has Tsinghua’s famed ‘free spirit and independent thought’ gone? It is agonising to witness.


Professor Xu has had the courage to express views while others have been too cowed to speak out. Although what he talks about is protecting the policies of the last four decades, he is nonetheless being libeled and called ‘a radical anti-establishment figure’, one who has ‘purposefully used dangerous and extreme actions to damage the academic environment of Tsinghua University’. How is it that both Tsinghua and ‘Shan Renping’ have so easily forgotten that, at the Grand Ceremony held in the Great Hall of the People in late 2018, the Highest Leader himself revalidated the importance of raising high the banner of Deng Xiaoping Theory and the policies of Reform and Openness?

By forcing Professor Xu out of his teaching position and by denouncing his articles, have Tsinghua and ‘Shan Renping’ in effect declared themselves to be at odds with the unmistakable message of that Grand Ceremony?


What’s all that other garbage spouted by ‘Shan Renping’, such as:

In China it is not permissible for critical works to contravene the Constitution or to direct negative comment at the basic political system of the People’s Republic;

We must resolutely oppose any kind of criticism that questions the authority of the ruling party or that in any way undermines people’s confidence in the content or direction of national policy.

And then he says:

In China it is not possible to encourage any form of opposition; and,

It is incumbent upon critics to avoid giving people the mistaken impression that some localised issue is representative of the state of affairs in the nation as a whole.

All of these statements are crude slanders against Professor Xu. He’s been suppressed because he spoke out in favour of national policy! Given all of this, who could possibly believe that either Tsinghua or ‘Shan Renping’ are interested in supporting the policies and political stance of either the Party or the State?


Moreover, that critic by the name of ‘Shan’ avers that: ‘some forces in the West have been consistent in attacking in the most extreme fashion the unique Chinese Path of development’, that there has been ‘ongoing interference from the System of Western Values’, and that ‘critics in China should not join forces with this foreign endeavour.’ By saying all of these things, ‘Shan’ is maliciously suggesting that Professor Xu’s writings represent a form of ‘Western Thought’. If the policies of Reform and Openness are so influenced by the West, then what ‘Shan Renping’ is saying in effect is that he [and by extension Tsinghua University] disagrees with national policy!


As we approach the centenary of May Fourth [on 4 May 2019], Tsinghua University should be championing the ‘May Fourth Spirit’; it should be protecting a professor who is a paragon of the spirit of independent thought; it should be protecting the man who wrote ‘Defending Reform and Openness’. The last thing Tsinghua should be doing today is crushing a professor who dared to express himself.

Tsinghua University, shame on you for forcing Xu Zhangrun to quit teaching.

Herewith, I solemnly call on you, Tsinghua University, to reinstate Professor Xu Zhangrun with immediate effect!


Hu Xijin (aka ‘Shan Renping’) and The Global Times nurture the growth of ‘positive energy’ 正能量

Xu Zhangrun vs. Tsinghua University
Voices of Protest & Resistance

(March 2019-)