The Help That Never Came

Since the lecturers' union rep completely ignored my appeal to them for help re: the University stonewalling me on China, here's a slightly edited version of the email I sent him.

Dear       ,

I am a mature student (no. 10341251) at Northampton in the second year of an English degree. I have been advised to contact you about some concerns I have with regard to the university and its involvement with the Chinese Government.

In Tibet, approximately 30 people have self-immolated since 2009 to protest the continuing Chinese presence there; arrests and disappearances are commonplace; dissenters are sent for "re-education"; monks are made to denounce the Dalai Lama; the diminishing number of monasteries is subject to Government monitoring; Chinese citizens (Tibet is used as a population overspill for China) are paid to report on the activities of Tibetans; Chinese language textbooks are replacing Tibetan books in schoolrooms; and the rich natural resources are being scavenged by Chinese companies, ruining the livelihoods of indigenous people.There were unconfirmed reports of forced sterilization of young women too, when China was still attempting to establish a dominant population in the country.

Watching the situation deteriorate in Tibet has grieved me as a Buddhist and a human being for a long time. And one thing that gave me hope in the past year was the participation of the Borough Council in the "Shine a Light" ceremony in early March, when the Mayor attended a gathering of supporters of the Tibetan cause and helped raise the Tibetan flag at the Guildhall. I was present at that ceremony; and as the organizer correctly said, raising a Tibetan flag in Tibet would have got us all arrested.

The Chinese Embassy had tried to stop the ceremony from going ahead. When it did go ahead, with messages of support from the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Embassy formally complained about the presence of the Mayor.

A week later Minister Counsellor Zhou Xiaoming from the very same Embassy appeared by invitation at Northampton University to speak as part of "Engineering Week". Given the situation in Tibet, not to mention the dreadful abuses of human rights in China - which have been the subject of recent reports by the United Nations and the American Government, among others - I thought it was incredibly inappropriate, and morally rather repugnant, to invite Mr. Xiaoming to Northampton. So acting on the advice of the Student Union, I wrote to the Vice-Chancellor to express my serious concerns. If he didn't mind the Chinese Embassy trying to interfere with local democracy, I thought, he wouldn't object to one of his students using local democracy to raise objections about a visit by a Chinese Embassy representative to the uni.

Disappointingly, the Vice-Chancellor ignored my email completely. I wrote twice to the University's Facebook page after that, which was probably a rather impotent gesture, and I heard nothing at all from them either. In fact, my only recent communication from the university was an email inviting me to come and meet people from Graduates2China next week, which was so annoying I can't even begin to explain it.

I didn't expect the Vice-Chancellor to withdraw the invitation to Zhou Xiaoming on my say-so or for the university to change its apparent policy of engagement with China. I presume there would be financial implications to a decision of that sort. But the uni makes money from my presence here as well - quite a bit - and from the presence of all the other students who would have objected to the hosting of a Chinese minister if the uni had publicised it properly, and if they were made fully aware of what was happening in China and Tibet.

The deafening silence that greeted my efforts to raise this subject sent the unfortunate message that the opinions of students don't matter if they run counter to the policies of the university. It also threw into question the whole purpose of the English department continuing to run its Post-Colonial Literature module. Superb lecturers are telling students every week about the traumatic pan-generational impact of Britain's colonisation of half the world when the university is getting into bed with the world's leading contemporary coloniser.

At the very least if the uni is going to pursue a policy of "constructive engagement" with dictators (I place the term in inverted commas because it is such a misnomer), it should create a parallel space in which human rights can be debated freely and openly. A representative of the Tibetan government-in-exile should be invited to address students the next time someone from the Chinese government visits. Either that or students must be allowed to present ministers with petitions and other documents of objection and grill them on their policies in the Chinese homeland and in Tibet. If something of that sort doesn't happen the university is positioning itself in a very worrying ethical place.

I don't know what you can do with any of the aforementioned ramblings, but as I mentioned, your name was recommended to me as someone on the staff who might be interested in hearing what I had to say. Thank you very much for your patience and feel free to use what I've shared here if it's helpful.


Bruce Hodder.