The unfolding of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) incident in spring 2006 led to lively exchanges and debates among scholars on the US-based Asian studies listserv, H-Asia, which lasted from early May to mid-June. They were the most rapid, intense exchanges and debates on a single topic in the more than two decades' history of the listserv, providing a small window onto the mentality of the academic world mostly dominated by US scholars regarding the MIT incident and other relevant issues. Some commentators on H-Asia were thoughtful and open minded. But a number of the posts, critical of the MIT students, quickly framed the debate as Chinese nationalism vs. US academic freedom. They implied that the MIT Chinese students were motivated by Chinese nationalism because of the Chinese Communist Party's indoctrination. According to those critics, the MIT Chinese students failed to appreciate the nuance of humanities and social sciences and the spirit of US academic freedom. This article takes a critical look at the H-Asia debate on Chinese nationalism and US academic freedom over the MIT incident. It raises a number of issues, including academic freedom; nationalism; academic hierarchy; culture of victimization; scholars' responsibility; racial, political, and cultural prejudice; and some Western scholars' own aversion toward “Chinese nationalism.” It questions whether the threat to academic freedom is not within each of us because of our own prejudices.
Qin Shao; American Academic Freedom and Chinese Nationalism: An H-Asia Debate. positions 1 February 2015; 23 (1): 41–48. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10679847-2870462
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