James Millward on Being Blacklisted by the Chinese Government

James MillwardAs reported in Bloomberg and The Washington Post, James Millward, author of Eurasian Crossroads: A History of Xinjiang, was among the “Xin­jiang 13.” The Xinjiang 13 are a group of scholars of China who were denied visas by the Chinese government after contributing to Xinjiang: China’s Muslim Borderland, a volume edited by Frederick Starr and published by M.E. Sharpe in 2004.

In Being Blacklisted by China, And What Can Be Learned from It, a recent post on The China Beat, James Millward discusses the circumstances behind the controversy around the book, which focused on controversial subject for the Chinese government but in a manner that was not unfamiliar to Chinese officials. Millward explains that the context surrounding the volume and how it came to publication was far more objectionable to the Communist government than its content.

Millward also describes his efforts to get his visa reinstated and the support or in some cases lack of support that he and his fellow scholars received from their U.S. institutions. Millward criticizes U.S. universities for not being more active in trying to get scholars’ visas reinstated. He writes:

If institutions don’t support their own faculty, but allow visa refusals to occur and go on unchallenged for years, American academics may well gradually be placed in a situation akin to that of our Chinese colleagues: facing the Chinese state on our own, forced to consider the possible personal repercussions of everything we write.

Millward notes a growing tendency among some scholars of China who have begun “pulling papers from collections, hesitating to have their work translated, and so on, as a result of what happened.” He strongly cautions against this trend, concluding:

While it is ethically incumbent upon scholars to communicate their knowledge and speak the truth as best they can determine it, I believe one may with integrity chose the manner and venue through which one communicates. Expressing oneself second-hand through a reporter can be frustrating and inaccurate as well as hazardous. Even when writing themselves as commentators, scholars seldom receive enough space in mass media outlets to explain complex issues with any nuance. But academics can in good conscience, and should, publish academically. Moreover, foreign scholars can indeed do so with little fear of reprisals, even in the current restrictive climate in China. To put it more strongly, I think we have an obligation—to our Chinese colleagues and friends as well as to our profession—not to be “chilled” by such episodes as the blacklisting of contributors to the Starr volume. While we can at present still fulfill this obligation at little personal risk, the promise of real institutional support is a necessity as we go forward.

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