Chinese dean gets fired for blog posting

Come on. You’re the dean at a prestigious college. Hasn’t anyone ever told you about maintaining harmony at any cost?

A prestigious Chinese university has fired one of its deans days after he complained about being sidelined for bold remarks on academic freedom and berated the country’s higher education woes on the Internet.

Zhang Ming, dean of political sciences at Renmin University of China, posted articles detailing a row with his superior and attacking the “bureaucratization of Chinese colleges” on his well-read blog last week.

Zhang was formally stripped of his post on Friday, the Southern Metropolis Daily reported on Monday.

“They told me that I should be punished for … breaking the ‘hidden rules’,” the 50-year-old was quoted as saying.

Hidden rules – right. They may be hidden but everybody knows about them. Hidden rules are the price you pay for a harmonious society. When harmony has to be ensured at any price, it means those doing the ensuring can go to whatever lengths necessary to achieve their goal. Every authoritarian system therefore has its hidden rules that sustain the status quo and keep the entrenched bureaucracy in power. It’s a tiny price to pay for all this prosperity, and it’s mind-boggling that a college dean could fail to realize this.

The Discussion: 28 Comments


Your title and comment is misleading. (Quote is correct, though.) Zhang Ming is fired because of political infighting. He lost the war and suffered the cost, just as any normal corporate politics. (His venting on his personal blog surely doesn’t help.)

Specifically, his department (political science) is sidelined in financial appropriation in school’s budget and his backing of a professor promotion was rebuffed by school’s administration. There you have it, finance and personnel. If you are, say, one of Citigroup’s divisional head, and you published lurid details of your conflict with CEO Mr. Prince on your blog, you surely will be fired. Just ask Mr. Thompson.

I personally sympathesize with Prof. Zhang. Bureaucracy in Chinese higher education is just horrible. But again, not everything in China has to do with CCP oppression of free speech. Prof. Zhang is an able scholar, but a poor player of “hidden rules” in an institution. Sadly, “hidden rules” permeate everywhere, East or West. Just a fact of life.

March 20, 2007 @ 8:22 pm | Comment

Isn’t it cute how everytime somebody in China get’s punished for saying the truth aloud, people like xueleifung find a reason why this has nothing to do with theCCP oppression of free speech. Come on, enlighten me, what are the hidden rules Professor Zhang broke.

March 20, 2007 @ 9:33 pm | Comment


Go back home and reread “How to Win Friends and Influence People”.

March 20, 2007 @ 10:07 pm | Comment


go back home and read Mor’s post again.

March 20, 2007 @ 10:19 pm | Comment

I link Prof. Zhang Min’s blog here:

Readers are invited to visit and read the whole thing themselves. If you know how to read Chinese.

March 20, 2007 @ 10:40 pm | Comment

XLF, I used the same headline as the news article. You may be right, I honestly don’t know. But there are “hidden rules.” Zhang Min is hardly the first to pay the price for breaking them. Indeed, some have had to pay a much higher price than losing their job.

March 20, 2007 @ 11:06 pm | Comment

I think he realized it all too well, how else did he get to be dean of Renminda (the nr 1 political university), but somehow he just lost his nerve.
Even Chinese people lose their nerve once in a while even though they are used to all the obstructions, detours and delays that obstruct their daily lives sometimes it even gets too much for them… most take it out on the road, others feel they can say what they want, the second option being the more dangerous one.

March 20, 2007 @ 11:24 pm | Comment

Acctually, I saw Chinese loosing there nerves quite frequently when I was in China.

Xueleifung’s comment makes me think of a professor at my university who once commented the infighting at some institutes with the words: “University is a heavily armed kindergarden”. Seems the Chinese have some of the same problems.

March 20, 2007 @ 11:42 pm | Comment

I’m still waiting for you to explain those hidden rules to me. By the way, does your name have anything to do with learning from Lei Feng? What would he have said about this case?

March 21, 2007 @ 5:54 am | Comment

“Hidden rules”

No one knows what they are – apart from the authorities – so few will risk crossing them and thus not go as far as they could if they knew where the line was.

This often happens on Chinese forums. Your posts are deleted but the mods never say why. If they did, you would find a way to get around their controls.

March 21, 2007 @ 6:38 am | Comment

Just like certain movies or books are banned for no obvious reason. xueleifung still has to explain why he/she thinks that this has nothing to do with the CCP oppression of free speech.

I re-edited your post for you. Raj

March 21, 2007 @ 7:18 am | Comment

I kinda have to back xueleifeng here, to me it seems like he got fired for blogging about a fight with his boss, and probably has nothing to do at all with the CCP. If it happened in the states (which it does), we wouldn’t be saying anything. I’d fire somebody for talking smack about me on the web too, why is this so surprising?

March 21, 2007 @ 10:14 am | Comment

Ting, please don’t use the comment section to post crazy randomness. The administrators deal with user-related issues. Raj

March 21, 2007 @ 3:16 pm | Comment

I see the writing on the wall. but who..I ask you who calls himself chip? Good question.

March 21, 2007 @ 3:20 pm | Comment

That’s my nickname, my friends and family have called me that for years, I don’t see what’s wrong with it. I also don’t see what’s wrong with me having a slightly different opinion on an issue.

By the way, really mature of you to attack my name rather than simply reply to my arguement. Perhaps your name is a reference to your inability to understand a conflicting point of view?

March 21, 2007 @ 5:34 pm | Comment

This professor’s blog says exactly what many chinese PhD students say in the US. Chinese universities don’t teach you to think, they teach you to memorize facts to make better gloriousness for CCP. That’s why a year of political classes are included in chinese grad schools.

March 22, 2007 @ 12:14 am | Comment

Also be sure to not fall into the old trap of ‘even though you criticize the deeds of the party you still use their propaganda language in the way you say things’ This is something very common, the party is soooo bad that its unimaginable…

For example in your commentary you wrote that “harmony” is to be maintained at any cost but what does “harmony” mean according to communist mandate? It means PERCEIVED HARMONY , it means that things have to look harmonious on the surface but within the realm of the HIDDEN RULES there is violent oppression and terror in the minds of the people and on the surface such quivering terror can have the affect of perceived harmony by the international community.

Another example: “Anything that exposes corruption or reflects the MISTAKES THE COMMUNIST PARTY HAS MADE in history cannot be published,” said Li Datong, former chief editor for a weekly supplement of the China Youth Daily who was demoted for publishing an article that disagreed with official versions of history.

This poor terrorized man is forced to propagandize (knowingly or unknowingly) even while seeming to appear critical (a tactic used by the party to make it seem like there is criticism but actually the facts have been deeply distorted) The mistakes the Communist Party has made???!!! I DONT THINK SO! Those bloody evil terrorist slaughters were no mistakes. Why are they doing the same thing to the falun Gong people today? Why dont they redress the 1989 massacre? Why are people not allowed to publish books and talk freely about the cultural revolution the great leaf forward and other so callled “mistakes” Because they were not mistakes but the foundation of what the CCP stands upon today: TERRORISM AND SUPRESSION OF TRUTH

March 22, 2007 @ 12:44 am | Comment

And he got fired for that. And that has nothing to do with the CCP’s oppression of free speech, right? Still waiting for xueleifung’s answer.

March 22, 2007 @ 12:46 am | Comment

Others already said that answer several times. I guess somebody just chose to ignore it.

Hidden rule in this case: If you openly challege your boss, you probably will be kicked out.

Is this too complicated to understand?

March 22, 2007 @ 5:04 am | Comment

“Chinese universities don’t teach you to think, they teach you to memorize facts to make better gloriousness for CCP.”

Oh this comment is pretty funny.

March 22, 2007 @ 5:10 am | Comment

It’s not that funny, really. This is the sad truth. And it’s not going to change in the nearby future, because people who try to do something about it loose their jobs or worse. The “hidden rule” is: In order to maintain a harmonious society, critical minds are expected to shut up and keep their heretic views to themselves.

March 22, 2007 @ 7:53 pm | Comment

Isn’t is cute how whenever somebody posts a perfectly rational explanation for a chain of events in China, people like mor feel the need to elaborate wild conspiracy theories about the CCP and freedom of speech?

having read all the available texts (without having some biased predetermined judgement) it seems to me that the professor was the victim of political (small p) infighting. can’t see where the ccp comes into it. most companies and academic institutions have ‘hidden rules’ – why the hysteria here?

and kebab, while chinese universities have big room to improve, your comments are, as usual, a little immature and a lot ignorant.

March 23, 2007 @ 2:37 pm | Comment

Who’s hysterical? And why is nanheyangrouchuan’s comment “immature and a lot ignorant”?

March 23, 2007 @ 4:56 pm | Comment

I have no idea what happened in this case (nor can I), but i will say as the son of a retired tenured professor, that academia in the US is indeed intensely political in ways corporations typically do not allow.

March 24, 2007 @ 2:01 am | Comment

Yet again, another story where the responses say much about the mentality of those commenting (here’s looking at you, mor) than the situation at hand.

There have been a series of open letters and blog posts from everyone involved, now. The story is pretty clear, even though it remains a he said/she said type of scenario.

Professor Zhang didn’t get fired he posted about it on his blog. He was about to get fired, and therefore he posted on his blog. Apparently the wheels for his firing include:

– he threw a tantrum (or: was merely passionate) at a tenure meeting last fall while discussing possible tenure for fellow untenured faculty. I don’t think anyone disagrees that he cut-off the Dean repeatedly. Sounds like things became very heated.

– he spoke to the media last summer, backing students who claimed the school was late with promised stipends.

I think the Dean behind the firing sounds like an ass. I think Dr. Zhang is probably also an ass. It takes a great deal of ego to succeed in academia.

March 24, 2007 @ 8:15 am | Comment

Okay…somebody call the Devil and tell him to jack up the thermostat, ’cause hell is about to freeze over.

CCT: I think you’re right. There, I said it.

Having looked at this situation (and also being an egotistical academic), this smacks of small “p” departmental politics.
That said, Richard’s larger point here is still key: big “P” politics plays a role in hiring/firing/tenure decisions in China far too often. It stifles good research from being done on sensitive subjects that need an objective Chinese point of view and undermines the international credibility of mainland research.

March 24, 2007 @ 7:14 pm | Comment

Exactly right, Jeremiah, “big ‘P’ politics plays a role in hiring/firing/tenure decisions far too often” and I want to ad, far more than some people are able or willing to believe, especially at a top political university. The big “P” is also involved in establishing those “hidden rules”. Zhang Ming said among other things that Chinese universities have become officialdoms and “all positions are appointed by higher authorities”. The big question is, was he only “removed from his post” for openly challenging a superior or also for pointing out the flaws of the educational system. Am I really just “elaborating wild conspiracy theories”?

March 24, 2007 @ 10:54 pm | Comment

Yes Mor, you are just elaborating wild conspiracy theories borne of your over-fertile imagination.

Do you know anything about Zhang Ming’s published research? Is he a leftist? Is he a rightist? Is he in favor of political/economic reforms while the dean is in opposition? What sort of administrative changes in guoguan’s tenure system is he actually proposing?

You really have no idea, do you?

But you’ll certainly assume that there must be such a divide between these two men; after all, people in Westerns only wear white or black cowboy hats… no one walks around with a gray hat.

99% of the content of the rantings of these two men are focused strictly on the personal failings of the other individual. That says everything.

March 25, 2007 @ 9:27 am | Comment

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