Tsinghua law professor detained after outspoken criticism

Friends say Xu Zhangrun was taken from his home, months after he was suspended by his university  

July 7, 2020
Students biking in front of the main entrance of the famous Tsinghua University building in Beijing
Source: iStock

Xu Zhangrun, a constitutional law scholar at Tsinghua University, has been detained by Chinese authorities, according to reports.

Media sources cited online posts and Professor Xu’s friends, who said that more than a dozen police officers had removed the outspoken critic from his home, along with his computer and papers.  

Tsinghua did not respond to queries about Professor Xu’s current standing at the institution, when asked most recently or in the spring, when he was suspended and put under investigation. 

Professor Xu has been in the authorities’ crosshairs since 2018-2019, when he continued publishing essays critical of the government after he had been advised to stop. His commentary grew more pointed after Covid-19 began to spread. 

In February, an essay by Professor Xu titled “Angry People are no Longer Afraid” appeared in the China Digital Times, a website founded by Xiao Qiang, a research scientist at the University of California, Berkeley. An English version of the essay, “Viral Alarm: When Fury Overcomes Fear”, was published on the China File website, translated by Geremie Barmé.

According to Professor Barmé’s introduction to that essay, Professor Xu “remained defiant” despite being removed from teaching duties in 2019. 

Professor Xu was also one of the signatories of an open letter in February calling on China to honour Li Wenliang , the late whistleblower physician who had warned of a mysterious Sars-like disease but was not heeded by the authorities. Soon after, Professor Xu was placed under house arrest and suspended by Tsinghua.  

A translation of Professor Xu’s works, Six Chapters from the 2018 Year of the Dog, was to be published by a university press in Hong Kong earlier this year, but appears to have been delayed.

joyce.lau@timeshighereducation.com 

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