Crossing the line in China: Calls for action, not simply dissent

Professor Xia Yeliang (Photo credit: Stanford University, http://fsi.stanford.edu/people/david+yeliang_xia)

Professor Xia Yeliang (Photo credit: Stanford University)

The New York Times’ Andrew Jacobs reports that Peking University economist Xia Yeliang may be dismissed from his position there in the near future.  Despite the fact that Professor Xia has criticized the communist regime for some time now, Jacobs reports that Xia

“says he most likely crossed a line last year when he posted an online jeremiad calling on Chinese intellectuals to gather in public squares to debate political reform. ‘That seemed to really upset school administrators,’ he said recently. It also apparently upset powerful figures in the Communist Party.”

Such a development should come as little surprise to followers of recent research by Harvard University political scientists Gary King, Jennifer Pan, and Margaret E. Roberts. In their 2013 American Political Science Review article “How Censorship in China Allows Government Criticism but Silences Collective Expression“, they concluded on the basis of patterns of internet censorship that the Chinese government was willing to allow criticism of the Communist Party and the government on the internet, but moved aggressively to censor calls for collective action like protest (or, we can only assume, gatherings in public squares). Intriguingly, both pro-government/party and anti-government/party posts related to collective action were censored; it was the publicizing of the action (or call for action) itself that seemed to be most worrisome to censors. In a follow up working paper, the three scholars have extended their analysis to included a randomized experiment and arrive at the same conclusions.

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