Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Back in Nanjing

Meanwhile, back in Nanjing. (to be continued).

Monday, July 27, 2009

Almost Academic Freedom Almost on Trial

In 1991, shortly after my return from teaching in China, I was assigned a seminar at SJSU in the history department. The Seminar was entitled "America in the 20th Century." Since this was my specialty I had an affinity for it and I looked forward to meeting with the students who enrolled and to reading their papers. But first I had to assign a limited reading list. Among the books I selected was one I had recently completed reading, "Goodbye Darkness" by William Manchester. The author, a Pulitzer prize winner had also written a book on the JFK assassination. "Darkness" covered his enlistement in the Marine Corps and his service in Guadalcanal and other campaigns up until the time he was wounded at Okinawa. But it was also a nicely structured book with the elderly historian carrying on a dialogue with his younger self. I thought it might be an excellent way to look at the experience of WWII for some of these students. So I assigned it. The discussions and the reading went very well and I was pleased with the result. The story was eye opening, as well it should be, to many of the students enrolled in the seminar.

Now jump ahead to 1995. In the Spring of 1995 invitations had gone out from China for women to attend the International Women's Conference in Huairou in China. The conference was to take place in the summer. The invitation came to SJSU, a school of unusual diversity. This diversity had always been, I felt, one of the unique and special and wonderful things about SJSU. But the China invitation went from the university administration to the Women's Center on campus. Two delegates from the Women's Center were selected to attend the conference and the trip was to be paid for with student fees. I read a story about this assignment, saw the student names, and wondered to myself why in the world, given the diversity of our campus, that diversity was not to be represented in our delegates. So I sent off a brief note to the campus newspaper, the Spartan Daily, asking about the selection process by the Women's Center and asking why no Asian or Asian-American student was included and wondered in print also why no bilingual student was to be sent. Given the very large size of our Mandarin and Cantonese speaking student body, as well of course as of the Vietnamese and Khmer speaking students, why were these not even considered in the selection process. That was all. I asked a question. I challenged in a Letters-to-the-Editor Forum the judgement of the Women's Center, since the journey was to be paid for by the entire student body through their fees.

Bad move. No question that this mere inquiry could go unpunished in the hyper-political correctness of a university environment. One week later I received in the late afternoon a telephone call from the chairman of the history department of the university. The call was terse and straightforward. A woman had filed a very serious complaint against me, there would be a hearing before the dean of the faculty, and my job, I was told, was on the line. The accuser could not be identified except for the fact that she was affiliated with, you guessed it, the Women's Center. I was told I could bring an attorney to the hearing if I wished. And I was to call the Dean of Faculty to set up a hearing date.

I was at first unsettled by this. But I tried to figure it out on my own and thought I got a good handle on it. I decided no attorney. Just go with the chairman of my department. I called the Dean of Faculty and said I wanted a hearing as soon as possible. That week. Tomorrow. They cautioned me, again, that my job would be on the line but I said I want to get through this now. Fast. So a hearing was set in the afternoon for three days later.

Only at the hearing, in the Deans office, was I allowed to actually see the student complaint. And only then from a distance. The dean held it and read it to me. I could not see the charges or look at the signatures on it. The charges were this. A student in the Women's Center was suffering from what might be called Post Traumatic Historical Disorder. She had enrolled in my 1991 seminar where, she said, she had been "forced to read" William Manchester's Goodbye Darkness. Reading that book, and talking about it every week, she alleged, was "like being raped by the entire class." The dean was reading the charges to me. So she felt she was raped by a book 4 years earlier and now it was haunting her, right after my letter on the selection of the delegates. And why would she feel raped? She said -- and I recognized the student by the complaint, a Caucasian woman in her late 20s from San Francisco --she felt raped by being forced to read Manchester's constant use of the word "Jap" to refer to the enemy in the Pacific. For this transgression, for assigning this book, she demanded that I lose my position or at least that I be assigned to extensive "racial sensitivity counseling" with the Women's Center. It so happens that at that time I was married to a Chinese woman. I wondered to myself if she might take counseling with me.

Anyway, I could not help but laugh inside at this very somber reading. After the reading, the Dean looked up at me, he was a professor of mathematics in an earlier incarnation, and he asked, "Tell me, just who is this Manchester fellow." I remember those words as if spoken today. I felt like a character in a Camus or Kafka novel. I explained how Manchester was a respected and prized Brown University historian, but at the same time wondered to myself, Why am I explaining this to this man in this setting? After I finished my explanation there was utter silence. I was asked if that was all I had to say and I said yes. The Dean told me he would get back to me with his "decision" within a week.

On the way back to my office I walked with the chairman of the history department. I told him how humorous I thought this all was and what a genuine and clear violation of academic freedom. Why was I explaining my book assignments to a professor of Math who had absolutely no idea about historical literature, and defending myself before a "mouth" for the Women's Center. The chairman thought for a moment, a brief moment, and then said, "Well, if I were you, I would never assign Manchester to a class again." That was his defense of academic freedom. That was all.

I did not hear back from the Dean of Faculty. I heard nothing for weeks and weeks and then months. About ten months later, after the hearing, I got a call from the head of the University Academic Freedom Committee. He asked what had happened and said he had just heard about it and he wished I had contacted him because this was a clear violation of my academic freedom. Actually, I told him, I did not even know there was such an office.

Fourteen months after the hearing -- fourteen months! -- I got a call one afternoon from the secretary to the dean of faculty. She told me she was going through her files and found a letter to me that had never been sent. It was from the dean regarding my hearing. I asked her what it said. She said that the letter said the Dean found the complaint "without merit" and had dismissed it. It said that all documents and letters associated with the case and the complaint would therefore be destroyed. She said I was supposed to be notified of this one week after the hearing but the letter had been misplaced. She said she would mail it now if I wished. I said I wished.

A couple of days later I received the letter from the Dean of Faculty. It outlined the charges, repeated them, said a hearing had been held, the charge had been found to be without merit, and now all documents regarding the charge were to be destroyed so no record of it should exist.

At the bottom of the page was the Dean's signature. After it, I noticed "cc." and a list of each department chair in my college along with the Women's Center. I had to laugh at this. But I would not forget the advice not to assign Manchester. The goal of the school was not to teach what I thought needed to be taught and should be taught, not to assign a Pulitzer Prize winning historian and not to provoke discussion and understanding. The goal of the university was to rock no boats, to disturb no waters, to make no waves, and to collect tuition and distribute degrees.

I was never again assigned to supervise or teach a seminar by the history department.

A new president came to the university shortly after that and issued a statement of behavior for goals for the school and one of the top goals was "to provide a comfortable intellectual atmosphere for learning." I was a bit taken aback, since to challenge ideas and conventional wisdom meant always to create tensions. We learn by disagreements, by controversy. We do not learn by massaging each other's preconceptions and agreements. We were not a mere "feel good" sensitivity training group, I thought. But I was wrong. And the new president did not see it that way. The law was laid down. Do not assign certain books. Do not ask certain questions. Do not invite certain discussions. Do not use certain words or phrases. Obviously, the new President and the deans who served him, had become an Orwellian type of anti-university. There was a conscious effort to avoid anything and everything controversial and to jump through each and every politically correct hoop. To do so, clearly, meant promotion. Not to do so meant, well, no promotions, no raises, no recognition. Do not rock the boat. In other words, do not teach.

I expected voices of protest. There were none. A couple of years after these events, the faculty union published a list of the "rewards" in the form of "merit pay" issued by the President's office. It was shameless sycophancy. All of us for the entire year were required to fill out long and detailed forms regarding what we had written, what we had published, what we taught, what our student evaluations were, and so on. The charade was, in this mountain of paper, the President of the University would recommend to the higher State University authorities, pay raises, for those faculty members who had fulfilled, in a distinguished way, their duties as professionals and professors. In the spring I received a long letter congratulating me on my many accomplishments and at the bottom of the page was a blank. And in that blank penciled in was the number 1.8. I had been granted, for my great work, a raise of 1.8%. I thought to myself, well, this is better than nothing. But the union's list of pay raises pointed out that our President had granted pay raises about 10 times as great to every member of the academic senate, every dean and every department chair. The people he depended upon in establishing and defending his utterly banal and mediocre and unimaginative administration. There were some protests. But he had found the jugular of the university bureaucracy. Reward the mediocre and the obedient and the unimaginative. Reward the time servers. The rest are without power. A few years later, successful at the university, the president moved on to some other college that apparently required a massive infusion of mediocrity. And so the system held and so the system worked.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Pre Tiananmen in Nanjing

We went down into the street as the Armed Police from Anhui Province and the Army arrived. The whole atmosphere of the city was very tense at that time. Students were not organized for a military occupation. And so even though thousands came out into the streets, it was night. And the police and the army with their trucks and tanks had occupied key positions around the city and blocked intersections. I walked down to the Drum Tower (Gulou) and watched the military maneuvers as the soldiers were ordered out of the trucks and around the intersections. There were no newsmen around because of the news blackout. And because it was night and because both the plain clothes security forces were predominant, a flash from a camera was surely to be answered at that time by someone being surrounded and their camera confiscated. As I said earlier, I'd left my trusty Nikon in my room because I was out of 35 mm film and knew of no place to buy the film that night. I talked with students and they were at that moment confused and somewhat disoriented by this iron fist response from the government. I was told that the students had marched on all of the major campuses of universities and schools in Nanjing that day and evening, looking for African students, destroying dorm rooms, stereos, furniture. The students believed that the government had put the African students on a train and transported them out of town, either to Zhenjiang or to Shanghai. But the main thing was the Africans were safe in the protection of the government. Thousands of students had occupied the main train station. They told me that with the press black out, they were trying to paint large character signs on the sides of train cars so that their message, their revolt and rebellion against corruption could be carried to all parts of China, even without newspapers. Some of them told me that during the Cultural Revolution this had been done when communications broke down. Messages were painted on the sides of railway cars. But now the soldiers were preventing the painting from being done. Still the story persisted that a guard at Nanjing University had been stabbed to death by African students. It was a story without basis but it persisted. It was like so many rumors in China, it had taken on a life of its own, a reality of its own, an importance of its own. There was no evidence. But in China evidence is not required when a crime is believed to have happened. As Lewis Carroll wrote in Alice in Wonderland, "Sentence first, evidence later." And so with police lights illuminating the Gulou and the police and soldiers in control, I returned to my room. I thought at the time of trying to get the news of what as happening, out of Nanjing. I went to the Jinling Hotel which had a teletype. That was impossible to use. The government had shut it down. Back at Nanjing University in my building there was also a wire service, but there the American authorities, absolutely petrified by the idea of defying the authorities, had also refused to allow the system to be used. We were really in a press blackout. The one exception was, of course, the telephones. Nick Kristof called several times and spoke with me and others but always in a short time the line was dead and finally it did not work at all. The CNN crew also came to our facilities and they were wandering up and down the halls with their crew, trying to get a handle on things and to figure out exactly what was happenning, where the soldiers were, how many there were, if arrests were made, if shots were fired, if a university guard had actually been stabbed and killed. Factoids were everywhere but actual evidence was hard to find.

The next afternoon, late, by mid afternoon, another huge march took place. If anything this one was bigger than the first. The student marchers this time stopped ominously at the Hopkins Center adjacent to Nanjing University. They had heard, they said, that the Center was concealing and protecting African students. They demanded that these students be turned over to them. There were a few policemen and guards to bar the front door. It was again a very tense atmosphere. Looking out my window and then watching the demonstrations from the roof of the Center I sensed that it might easily become violent. I saw no soldiers around at that time. Finally, a commissar from the University, Mr. Wu Yingen, a man notorious for being a leader of the Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution, stepped forward. He went out the front door to meet with the student leaders himself. It was, many believed at that time, a brave thing to do. Yingen was a very unlikeable little character. According to stories that circulated around the Center, as a student leader during the Cultural Revolution, he had been the leader of a gang of students who seized several professors, including one Wang Zhigang, and thrown them out a second story window. Now, what was ironic was that Wang Zhigang was the co-director of the Hopkins Center in Nanjing and Wu Yingen was the main party commissar overseeing everything. But Yingen was below Zhigang on the food chain, so Zhigang was his boss. In any case, Yingen was a terrific and seasoned liar. And he used this ability well that night. He told the students there were no African students inside. They demanded to come inside and look. He refused them. The conferred for perhaps half an hour and then suddenly turned away and marched again toward the governor's offices and compound. We all knew there were perhaps a dozen African students inside the Center hiding from the Chinese students. The Chinese students at the Center were not happy about this. But they did not betray their American classmates. One of the Chinese students' charges and complaint against the African students was that they openly smoked marijuana in their dorms on campuses in the city. Of course marijuana grew wild in and around Nanjing. It might have been the pot center of the universe, if someone wanted it to be. But the Chinese students charged at the time, wild as it seemed, that the Africans were using weed and other narcotics to seduce Chinese female students. Again, at the time, it was a salacious story and one that fit in with the uprising and the rebellion. The American officials and the American students insisted that this story was made up, that it never happened, and it was unfair and --who else but Americans could come up with this? -- it was racist. I remember the term being used at that time. So the official story was that this was a rumor and a vicious rumor, at that. I went down onto the 3rd and 4th floors to see some of the African students who were hiding out. They were generally partying with their American student friends. They had brought their pot with them. One group in one room and in the hallway outside, was nearly invisible because of the blue smoke as the students passed around a joint about the size of my forearm. An American student from California told me, through persistent coughing in the smoke, that it was well known that the Africans had the best dope in town. But for anyone else to find this out, particularly the media, would be really hurtful toward race relations. So best not to talk about it. I wondered how anyone walking up and down the halls could sign on to the myth, but they obviously did. See no evil was the operating rule of the American adminstrators.

I went outside to join the demonstrators. I walked and marched with them the half mile down Beijing Lu to the governor's offices. There was a lot of hostility in the air that night, a lot of tension. For the first time since I arrived in Nanjing, a woman from one of the buildings along the street spotted me and came out to me and spit on my feet and shouted in Mandarin, Foreign Devil! Apparently she thought the demonstrations were against all foreigners and she was enthusiastically in favor of that. Some of the Chinese students pushed her back and laughed at her (but no apologies) and we walked on. Again, the crowds converged on the government offices. A huge crowd.

And again there was a lot of shouting and fist waving. This time, it was sort of funny. Some of the students took off their slippers and shoes and threw them over the fence at the guards. The guards dodged them and then threw them back. This went on for some time. I kept thinking, what sort of Revolution is this when everyone is throwing shoes at everyone else?

Nothing much seemed to be happening and I stepped back through the crowd and went onto the sidewalk on the opposite side of the street. I watched from this distance. Only then did I see what really chilled me. At the east end of the street, perhaps one block away, very very slowly I watched military trucks with soldiers with rifles out crossing the intersection and stopping to block the street. They stopped bumper to bumper. Some soldiers got out of the trucks and formed a line. Officers remained in the trucks above the soldiers and with a better view of the crowd. I thought to myself, "Jesus Christ, I am trapped here, with all of these people. There was no place to run if the shooting started." I felt real panic from being trapped. I stayed close to the buildings and made my way back toward the edge of the crowd and toward the soldiers. As I approached them they of course began watching me. The officer standing on the back of the truck at the intersection was wearing dark glasses even though it was night. I finally approached the soldiers who faced me and shifted on their feet, ready to do, I thought, anything. I looked up at the officer. I really was a his mercy. He looked at me for several seconds. Finally he raised his finger and waved it back and forth in the air, the way a parent might do to a child to scold them and tell them they had done wrong. After he was sure I saw his motion he said something and the soldiers parted and let me through. I remember that night the pounding of my heart. I was sure the soldiers could hear it. I hurried back down Beijing Lu toward my apartment and the center. I turned around to look back at the demonstration again and again, waiting to hear shots fired. There were, thank God, none. I was unsure what was going to happen, but I did conclude that this was not my fight and this was something I did not want to lose my life over. I went into my apartment. I retrieved my camera. I discovered one of the Americans had some 35 mm film and I "borrowed" it from him. I loaded my camera and went back out onto the street, despite the warnings not to do so. I found another American inside and told him to take his camera up on the roof and if I was attacked or anyone tried to take away my camera, that he should take pictures of that incident. I wanted something on the record. Anything.

More to follow

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Nanjing Pre-Tiananmen Fight

I was in Nanjing at Christmas 1988. I was in my room on the 5th floor of my apartment building one afternoon -- the 23rd I think of December -- when I heard singing. Around 2PM. I stood and looked down and at first I saw nothing. It was a cool winter day. No snow yet on the ground. I sat down at my desk again but heard the singing and it was nearer. Again I stood and looked out the window. I saw to the right, coming down the street, a crowd. I could not at the moment see its size. But as it approached I would guess at least 5000 people. Carrying huge banners in Chinese. And all singing THE INTERNATIONAL. It was quite stunning. These were students from throughout Nanjing marching on the offices of the Governor of Jiangsu Province. I jumped up from my desk, put on my winter coat, and shouted to some other Americans, "Get your asses in gear and come downstairs. We are in the Middle of Dr. Zhivago." That is what it felt like. I had a 35mm Nikon at the time. It was loaded with 400 ASA film and ready to shoot. I ran outside, watched for a moment and jumped into the middle of the crowd and was swept along. The street we were on, if I remember, was Beijing Lu. And I think we were marching west. We went a few blocks, I was snapping photographs. Then everyone stopped. It was quiet for a moment and I had no idea what was going on. Was this the end of it. Everyone else seemed to know what wuld happen next. We stood, some whispering, some talking, looking around. Then, suddenly from the South I heard it: loud loud singing. The same song, The International. The street dipped down as it ran South. I stood with everyone else watching. It was one of the more dramatic moments in my life. At first about 1 mile away I saw the tops of the banners, bobbing up and down. I heard the singing. Finally the people appeared at the top of the hill and coming down toward us. More and more and more. Filling the streets and sidewalks. I would say another 5000 people. I asked one of the students standing next to me, Who is that? He said, Those are the Middle School Students of Nanjing. This was really nicely planned. Soon everyone was singing the same song. The two groups joined and proceeded up Beijing Lu toward the governor's offices. Some police appeared and were simply swept aside, as if by a huge tide of people, which this was. Knowing the crowd was coming, the governor had ordered the big iron gate in front of her offices shut. Police massed behind the gate. Students marched to the walls and the gate and everything stopped. There was a shouting match. Police ordered the students to disperse, and the students demanded the police open the gates. There was a lot of pushing and shoving through the iron gate I remember. It was quite dramatic. Soon my film was gone. Some students warned me not to develop it. They said that the police, the secret police, had a relationship with every film developing shop in Nanjing. And as soon as my film showed up, showing the faces of the demonstrators, they would seize the film. In time I forgot about that. About two hours passed of talking and shouting and shoving, and finally students warning, "We'll be back." There was also a lot of profanity. I was told that earlier in the day this huge crowd had descended on the student housing of Nanjing University, which was nearby my apartment. They had, they said, been looking for African students. They were enraged. They had broken into the African students dorms, broken down the doors, broken all the windows, trashed the dorms. I walked to the campus, past the guards who tried to bar my way, but without enthusiasm. I was out of film. I saw the dorms, broken windows, furniture thrown out the windows, curtains now flapping in the breezes. What had happened? I was told by students that on the previous night a group of African students had attempted to come to a student dance. The guards had prevented them from coming in because they refused to provide adequate identification. The rumor was that one of the guards had been stabbed and killed. But this was not true. This was merely a rumor. But it incited students from throughout the city who had long standing grievances, they said, with their government and with the African students in particular. I was told by several students, that the schooling for the Africans was free, they were given special dorms, special food, monetary allowances and special travel funds. This is, students said, because they were from influential families and countries in Africa. They were even given special academic help and graded separately from all other students. This was the story, that the students told. And so students saw themselves as marching against corruption and unfairness, that of their own government and that involving privelege for foreigners in China. Something many students insisted on that eventually came true. They told me, "Just wait till next spring. This is only the beginning. This is only the start."

A press blackout was ordered by the central and provincial governments. No journalists were allowed into Nanjing. I had met Nick Kristof at the Jianguo Hotel in Beijing on November 1st. His wife, Cheryl Wu Dun, was still in Taiwan, at the time. He was new in China, having just replaced Edward Gargan for the New York Times. We spent an evening talking in the hotel, which is within walking distance of the New York Times bureau office. I gave Nick my phone number in Nanjing. In the evening following the first demonstration he telephoned my room. We could tell that the phone lines were tapped. But we talked quickly. He wanted to know if I had pictures. I said I did. I said I just had the raw film. Here we had a misunderstanding. I thought he told me to make prints and send them to him. But he may have merely asked for the film rolls. In any case I misunderstood him and made a bad choice in the next days. He asked if I could Fed Ex them to him. Apparently Fed Ex was safe from searches at that time. He asked more more questions about the events of the day and I gave him answers. He could not get out of Nanjing. By coincidence however there was a CNN film crew in Nanjing, headed by John Pomfret, and I did meet them also the next night.

This was a big big story that according to the government was NOT happening. Unfortunately, as time passed, the efforts of the government to suppress what had happened worked. Neither Kristof or Pomfret or anyone else wrote about Nanjing when they wrote about Tiananmen. And yet all students knew what the prelude was.

That evening, there was a dusting of snow. I was working in my room, expecting to go out and watch student demonstrations the next day. Suddenly the entire building began to shake and shake like an earthquake. At first I thought it was an earthquake. I stood and looked down out the window again onto the streets. "Jesus Christ," I shouted, "We are really in the middle of Dr. Zhivago." The street was filled with soldiers, pouring into Nanjing. Truck after truck after truck, each with perhaps a dozen or more soldiers with an officer standing at the rear of the truck facing back. Some of these were the Anhui Armed Police --a large military force from a neighboring province, Anhui. The system of the government, as at Tiananmen, was not to call upon local soldiers to crush demonstrations and opposition. Soldiers from the distant provinces were brought into Beijing to crush the Tiananmen demonstrations. And soldiers from Anhui were brought in to crush the student demonstrations in Jiangsu province. But all the time the government insisted this was NOT happening.

What was making the building shake was tanks. Several of them grinding and rumbling down the street towards the center of town. I grabbed my camera-- realized I had no film -- and put it down and ran downstairs. The exits to my building were blocked by administrators. Nobody should go outside, they said. I waited for a bit. Finally I saw another professor. We decided to go out the back door and onto the street to see what was happening near the Gulou and the center of the city that night.

To be continued.