On that gorgeous fall day, I was listening to the soundtrack of “Cedar House Rules,” perfect music for New England in October. Suddenly I saw my name in the New York Times and Chronicle of Higher Education as an accused Communist spy by my colleague Professor Thomas Cushman. There is even a glamorous photo of him with Professor Susan Reverby. Oddly, both papers retracted their statements later, even though the original reporting was actually a correct version of Mr. Cushman’s attacks on me.
This is just mind-boggling. I didn’t even know anyone at Peking University (PKU). I do not hold any position at PKU or any Chinese institution and receive zero dollars from the Chinese government. I am just a mathematician. I rarely express my own opinion. Now suddenly I am a Communist Party agent working in the U.S.? Seriously? Why?
Last summer, Wellesley’s Albright Institute had a hugely successful program at Peking University on women’s leadership. Our students spoke highly of how much they benefitted from it. Then there was an open letter signed by 130 colleagues, who questioned whether we should continue engaging in academic exchanges with PKU. After a spirited debate, the faculty voted overwhelmingly in favor of continuing our partnership with PKU.
I spoke at the Academic Council for the first time in 20 years. I wrote articles to explain why such open letter was the worst way of communication, why the PKU exchange is good for Wellesley and why journalists should interview PKU students before drawing conclusions. I even wrote that I welcomed Professor Xia Yeliang to campus. In fact, I share similar views with him on many issues.
Instead of debating these issues, Mr. Cushman and so-called “freedom fighters” resorted to a McCarthy-style witch hunt. They couldn’t find anything, so they went after my hometown connection (Changzhou, a city most Americans have never heard of) and wrote a bogus story about me. In particular, it fabricated a “Communist Commissioner” position for me, which I don’t even qualify.
Among other things, they found an online picture of me with China’s ambassador to the U.S. and tried to implicate my “close tie” to the Chinese regime. Never mind that the picture was taken at the welcome banquet for Chinese premier Zhu Rongji in Boston and I was invited by then-Massachusetts governor Paul Cellucci.
Their tactic is no different from those of Mao’s Communists. I am quite familiar with these types of smear campaigns and political character assassinations. I suffered in the Cultural Revolution and was sent to a tire factory for hard labor. My 85-year-old dad used to tell me that those communists were ruthless and mean. I never imagined that I would experience the same in America. What makes it most fascinating is that Mr. Cushman has a “Freedom Project” and studies dissidents under persecution in the USSR.
I was not alone. Eric Fish, an American journalist in Beijing, interviewed PKU students and wrote a story in the Atlantic. Mr. Cushman accused him trying to win favor with the Communist regime. Mr. Fish’s response to Mr. Cushman in his Sinostand blog “On Xia Yeliang” is quite illuminating:
“You pretend to fight for freedom, but that’s a complete joke. People like you and Communist Party propagandists are just opposite sides of the same coin. When someone reports information that challenges your worldview, you go after the messenger and try to portray him as a lackey for your opponent. That’s been the most disillusioning part of this whole brouhaha, because you’re not the only ‘academic’ that’s tried this.”
It is most appalling that Mr. Cushman launched an open assault on Wellesley’s entire ethnic Chinese group. He repeatedly claimed that some “Chinese nationals” who are alumnae and members of our faculty have deep ties to the Chinese regime, that some “Chinese nationals” are openly affiliated to the Chinese Communist Party organization and are PRC nationalists. (Watch this video of his speech at the Cato Institute.)
For the first time in the 140-year history of the College, an entire ethnic group has been singled out, targeted and under attack. Where is the outrage?
Wellesley College has some of the finest faculty America can offer, champions of academic freedom and civil rights. It is most shocking and downright frightening that the administration and the community (including 130 colleagues who signed the open letter) remain silent when academic freedom and civil rights are blatantly violated.
During World War II, between 100,000 and 120,000 Japanese Americans were sent to concentration camps. Millions of Jews were persecuted and murdered. People were silent. Today, “Chinese nationals” at Wellesley College have been accused as some sort of Communist allies. Yet the entire campus remains indifferent. This is scary.
In 1989, I supported the student pro-democracy movement in Beijing and wrote for The Christian Science Monitor: “For over a half-century the world has looked to the U.S. as the beacon of freedom, a refuge for the oppressed.” Today, as the accused man on campus with a scarlet letter “C” (read: Communist), I find my statement 25 years ago extremely ironic.
Photo by Jessica Fan ’14
Editor’s Note: Professor Cushman has responded to this piece with his article “On Charles Bu’s Falsehoods.”