Beware of the Watchdogs

News has been rather disturbing since the coronavirus outbreak in China: the malfunctioning and incompetent government and Red Cross, discrimination against Chinese (or Asians in general), death of the whistleblower, you name it. And yesterday came another piece: a professor at University of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences was fired because she posted “inappropriate messages” on social media.

The official statement to fire Peiyi Zhou by the University of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Let’s get the thing straight. This professor, Peiyi Zhou (周佩仪), is originally from Hong Kong. A social worker for intellectually disabled people, she moved to Beijing in 2002 and was hired by the University of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

The social media we are talking about here is WeChat Moment/Friend Circle (微信朋友圈). Nothing like Twitter, or its Chinese equivalent, Weibo, WeChat Moment is a perfectly private space and the messages there are only shared with friends on WeChat.

And the “inappropriate message”? I’m paraphrasing here: “Problems rooted in the social system cannot be solved by attending one or two psychology classes. Every unjust death becomes hate…… I can’t stand positive vibes (正能量) anymore! Pinkies (小粉红, nationalist netizen) please unfriend me.”

Someone commented: “China cannot be perfect when it is still developing, but every Chinese loves China forever and grows with China, because this is the power of family, and this is the blood line of China that’s everlasting.” I’m at the same time disgusted and offended, but just so you understand what it means by “positive vibes” (正能量), I still made the attempt to translate it.

And this is Peiyi Zhou’s reply: “Fuck off (滚).”

Love it. Couldn’t have said it any better.

The screenshot of Peiyi Zhou’s post and comments.

This dose of absurdity might leave you speechless for a moment. First there is nothing wrong with what she said. Second if it’s wrong in any sense, it can’t be so wrong that gets someone fired. Third, it’s WeChat. Not Weibo. She’s only asking her nationalist pinkie WeChat friends to unfriend her.

But ironically, I don’t find this thing absurd at all. It fits perfectly in today’s China’s logic. The so-called whistleblower, Dr. Wenliang Li, was only trying to warn his friends and family about this coronavirus in a WeChat group. And he got called to the police, punished for “spreading rumor” (huh, rumor), and forced to sign a statement to acknowledge that he did something wrong. In that context, you will probably find this a pretty normal thing to happen: people get into trouble for what they say (in most cases, truth) in a supposedly private network.

And is this the first case a professor/instructor in Chinese higher education get reported and fired because they said something inappropriate (aka did the right thing)? Nope. Look up Shengdong You, Zhangrun Xu, Jia Lv, Yun Tang, and they are not even the only few. Professors getting reported by their students and reprimanded for whatever they said is not rare any more in today’s China, and “student information officers”, watchdogs in the classroom, are legit titles.

In comparison with this speedy punishment, it takes so long to press a charge on professors who are sexual predators. I read a comment yesterday and I’m translating it here: “it would probably be way easier to take a rapist down if you report them saying things against the CCP in bed.”

I feel so tired writing these, and I actually have no idea what I can help with this terrifying reality. If the higher education circle is not the most liberal and the most inclusive, I would expect nowhere else. And yet, more and more students are becoming Pinkies and watchdogs for the government, and more of more professors would be too afraid to speak up or teach the right thing to their students.

I saw the picture of a girl with a “freedom of speech” poster yesterday. The picture got censored and deleted several times and yet people were reposting it again and again. Many were worried about her safety and someone commented that the best way to protect her is not to let her be the only one. I guess I’m writing this down to let some people know that they are not the only one.

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