China syndromeChina-Sensitive Topics at US Universities Draw More Online Harassment

By Lin Yang

Published 21 November 2020

Last week, students at Brandeis University hosted an online discussion about China’s controversial Xinjiang policies, hearing experts discuss the detention, abuse and political indoctrination of more than 1 million Uighurs and other Muslim minorities. But as Uighur attorney and advocate Rayhan Asat appeared before the student group last Friday, her screen was taken over as hackers wrote “fake news” and “liar” on it. Experts said it fits with an increase in more organized harassment against topics on American campuses seen as objectionable by the Chinese government.

Last week, students at Brandeis University hosted an online discussion about China’s controversial Xinjiang policies, hearing experts discuss the detention, abuse and political indoctrination of more than 1 million Uighurs and other Muslim minorities.

But as Uighur attorney and advocate Rayhan Asat appeared before the student group last Friday, her screen was taken over as hackers wrote “fake news” and “liar” on it.

For some participants, the hacking was unwelcome but unsurprising.

James Millward, a professor at Georgetown University and a prominent Xinjiang scholar, told VOA that the group had been warned about a potential interruption beforehand.

He said some letters had been written to the Brandeis president, the faculty adviser of the student who organized the panel, and the Office of Diversity Equity and Inclusion to shut down the panel.

“The letter said that it was damaging or disturbing to Chinese students to discuss issues going on in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region,” Millward said.

Still, other experts said it fits with an increase in more organized harassment against topics on American campuses seen as objectionable by the Chinese government.

Chinese Students and Scholars Association
The Chinese Communist Party’s crackdown on the Muslim minorities in Xinjiang has attracted intense scrutiny and polarized the international community. At least 1 million Uighurs have been detained in a large network of recently constructed camps to undergo reeducation and political indoctrination.

China rejects criticism of the camps, saying they are aimed at eliminating extremism and teaching job skills. China has also criticized scholars, advocates and others who speak out on the Xinjiang issue, and its overseas, Chinese Communist Party-supported citizen groups echo the government’s criticism.

VOA has confirmed that the template of the letter sent to Brandeis appears to be the same as one distributed by the school’s Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA).

CSSAs are Beijing-supported overseas groups that provide support for visiting students and scholars, but also at times take up political issues on campuses. The Brandeis CSSA issued a statement on WeChat saying that the word “Cultural Genocide” was offensive, that the event was “a one-sided academic event targeting China” and that it would “make all Chinese students feel insecure.”

It then provided a template and encouraged Chinese students to write to school management to cancel the event

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