Cambridge University’s China Centre, which is based at Jesus College, has been mildly rebuked for its lack of transparency by an internal College review. As Juliet Samuel points out in her Telegraph column, it’s a little rich of Jesus to have spent £120,000 in an unsuccessful legal battle to remove a plaque commemorating Tobias Rustat because of his links to the slave trade when it has accepted millions of pounds from a totalitarian regime which is currently enslaving close to two million Muslims.
The review makes some long-overdue recommendations, including a policy of transparency about the Centre’s sources of funding and the suggestion that it practises “academic freedom”, rather than simply claiming it does. You could be forgiven for thinking that dons are finally entertaining the thought, trickling uncomfortably through their brains like a stream of iced water, that they may have allowed their college to host a propaganda factory for a genocidal regime. Alas, the review panel’s report stops short of such a conclusion.
Instead, the report is steeped in the delicate art of office politicking. There is lavish praise for the China Centre’s “truly remarkable” seminars and the “exceptionally generous… time, effort and creativity invested” by its director, Peter Nolan – all, remarkably, unpaid.
There is no mention of the fact that Prof. Nolan’s academic work was supported by a £3.7 million donation to the university from the family of Wen Jiabao, China’s former prime minister. Nor does it mention that Prof. Nolan has been recorded telling Cambridge students that the Centre should not hold an event to discuss China’s mass human rights abuses in Xinjiang because it would not be “helpful” and would make it “very difficult to contain… sentiment”. Such facts, you might think, would not make him the most suitable person to run a truly independent centre of study focused on China.
Indeed, as the report points out, the China Centre was notable in its omission of any events on Xinjiang or Hong Kong from its programme, a situation belatedly remedied last year after pressure from students. Even then, its Hong Kong seminar, featuring the Chinese state TV pundit Grenville Cross QC (who has called democracy protesters “terrorists”), happened to run on so long that there was just no time for questions from the audience.
Speakers at its Xinjiang seminar, meanwhile, emphasised “Islamic fundamentalism in Xinjiang”, the effect of Western (yes, Western) “Islamophobia” and the need for a “recognition of the reality of serious violence over many years in Xinjiang”. Nowhere, according to the Centre’s write-up, was Beijing’s incarceration, torture, rape or medical experimentation on more than 1.5 million Uyghurs discussed.
Worth reading in full.