Chinese links land Notts in hot water

October 1, 2004

Nottingham University's links with China were criticised this week after it emerged that the university gave an honorary degree to a former Chinese education minister who is the subject of criminal charges over the unlawful torture and killing of teachers and students.

Chen Zhili, who remains a member of China's state council, faced the criminal allegations in the Tanzanian High Court made by practitioners of Falun Gong (or Falun Dafa).

Falun Gong is a traditional Chinese spiritual discipline practised by more than 100 million people. In 1999, it was banned by the president of the People's Republic of China, who was then Jiang Zemin.

In a case that could cause Nottingham embarrassment and raise wider questions about the British government's enthusiastic push to expand higher education into China, human rights groups claim that Ms Chen "saturated" the Chinese education system with anti-Falun Gong propaganda.

They claim that she presided over a system in which practitioners of the faith were persecuted by being sacked, sent to labour campus and, sometimes, unlawfully killed.

Ms Chen was subpoenaed by the Tanzanian High Court while she was in the country on a visit. It is understood that she denied all charges. It is unlikely that Ms Chen will ever face prosecution in Tanzania.

Levi Browde, a spokesman for the Falun Dafa Information Centre in New York, said that by honouring Ms Chen, Nottingham was "obviously very much sending out the wrong signal".

"Chen Zhili made her position against Falun Gong practitioners very public, there is documentary evidence of exam and course material saturated with hate propaganda, and her close associations with Jiang Zemin, the main driver of the persecution is very public," Mr Browde said.

Ms Chen was awarded an honourary doctor of laws degree by Nottingham in October last year when she formally opened the university's China Policy Institute, a major part of the university's China strategy.

The strategy, backed by Tony Blair, includes a £40 million project to set up the first UK university in China for a planned 4,000 students.

Philip Dalling, Nottingham's director of communications, said he would not comment on allegations against individuals for legal reasons.

But he said that Ms Chen, "in addition to being an outstanding education minister, also enjoyed a distinguished career as a research scientist".

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