Stop ‘vilifying’ China, Beijing tells social scientists

Ministry warns researchers against ‘degrading’ nation in pursuit of international journal publication

January 4, 2021
A Chinese paramilitary policeman gestures towards a photographer to stop taking pictures while standing guard at the Great Hall of the People, Beijing
Source: Reuters

China’s education authorities have warned philosophy and social science researchers that they should not “degrade or vilify” the country in order to get their studies published in a global journal.

The notice, issued in December by the Ministry of Education, aims to reverse the article publishing trend in philosophy and social sciences, primarily by reinforcing official efforts to reform academic evaluation and move academics and administrators away from an “over-reliance” on Clarivate Analytics’ Social Sciences Citation Index.

“Do not degrade or vilify China intentionally in pursuit of international publication” was among 10 “bottom-line” requirements for researchers in these areas, the ministry said.

Universities were told to review their policies and to take “educational actions” to ensure that the latest requirements are followed. However, no further details about the criteria or how they should be implemented were revealed in the document.

“The implementation of the guideline itself implies that more restrictive measures have been taken to affect individual academics’ research,” Futao Huang, a professor at the Research Institute for Higher Education at Hiroshima University, told Times Higher Education. “This is especially true in the fields of humanities and social sciences.”

He questioned whether the announcement signalled increasing state control of political and ideological perspectives in Chinese academics’ research topics and content.

Chen Shuangye, a professor in the Faculty of Eduction at East China Normal University (ECNU), said the use of the word “intentionally” might imply a belief in the ministry that some studies in international journals have simplified China’s social issues and mechanisms.

A previous study published in the ECNU Review of Education warned that Chinese academics who were chasing after “popular topics” that they felt might interest Western journal editors might not be fulfilling their domestic development roles.

“One question here is how to promote bibliodiversity in global academia, instead of catering to or reproducing certain stereotypes and value judgements,” Professor Chen said.

Universities have to be responsible for shaping a research agenda that benefits society while also protecting academic freedom, Professor Huang said.

“Maintaining this autonomy is indispensable for Chinese universities to protect the freedom to study, teach, research and publish from the pressure of the state and government,” Professor Huang said. “But in reality, it is difficult for Chinese universities to achieve the same level of institutional autonomy compared with universities, such as Harvard and Oxbridge, in the Western systems.”

karen.liu@timeshighereducation.com

POSTSCRIPT:

Print headline: Stop ‘vilifying’ China in overseas journals, Beijing tells its social scientists

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