Waldron quoted James Lilley to me. Do you remember Lilley? He was a fascinating guy, a lifelong East Asia hand who ended his diplomatic career as our ambassador to China. Lilley used to say, “You won’t get anything from them unless you squeeze them” — “them” being the ChiComs (to use an antique word).
And that’s what Westerners are never willing to do: squeeze. Scholars, businessmen, the State Department, other government officials, in America and elsewhere — they just won’t.
Perry Link is the co-founder of Princeton’s Chinese-language program in Beijing. He was the director of that program. China banned him in the mid-1990s. And Princeton said, “Okay!” Waldron suggested to me there was an alternative: Princeton could have said, “Professor Link is our director. If you don’t want him, fine. We’ll move our program to Taiwan. It’s up to you. Have a nice day.”
But Americans — Westerners — never, ever act that way. We can do more than we know. China scholar after China scholar said this to me: We can do more than we know, individually and collectively (especially collectively). We just don’t do it. We are ruled by our fear — often a baseless fear. “We’re our own policemen,” as Link says.
Princeton has more leverage than it knows! Princeton wants Beijing’s good will. Princeton does not seem to appreciate how much Beijing wants Princeton’s good will — the good will, the cooperation, of a prestigious American university.
Waldron recalls an earlier instance. It happens to involve Princeton.
In the 1970s, many scholars who had known China in the 1940s returned to China for “one last time.” One group scheduled to make a trip included Fritz Mote of Princeton, “arguably the best scholar of the lot,” says Waldron. We’re talking about Frederick W. Mote (1922-2005).
The PRC said no to Mote. Today, people would respond just as Princeton responded when Link was banned: “Okay, no problem!” But then it was different: The others refused to go if Mote were not included. The PRC relented. Mote went, along with everyone else — and made a glorious nuisance of himself, asking about people he had known well who were no longer in evidence (because they were bumped off).
The World War II generation was different, suggests Waldron. Probably so. We now wet our pants. “Feed those others to the tiger, and maybe you’ll eat me last, sweet cat.”
Toward the end of my NR piece, I write,
It is not the job of a scholar to help a dissident, you could say (although we might hope the scholar is not hostile). Scholars are not human-rights activists or heroes. But they should probably tell the truth, and the full truth, to the extent they can ascertain it. And we are constantly told how important China is to the world, and that this importance will only grow in the future. Shouldn’t we, the “world,” have solid and complete information? Even, or especially, on the verboten subjects?
Along these same lines, let me quote again from Sarah Cook (Freedom House):
Among the important roles that scholars play in our society is truthfully and comprehensively documenting the reality in the country they study. When scholars deliberately avoid topics like Tibet, Xinjiang [the province of the Uighurs], Falun Gong, forced abortions, reeducation-through-labor camps, or secret police—which affect millions of Chinese citizens and offer profound lessons on how the Chinese Communist Party rules China—all of us are deprived of information critical for determining how to view and respond to the world’s second largest economy, and the people who run it.
I can’t tell you how much I admire the scholars with spine. I just can’t. There ought to be monuments to them, somewhere.
After the NR article came out, one of these scholars joked, “A distinctly pro-Beijing piece. Some people will do anything to get a visa.” I said, “I understand my visa’s in the mail. Plus, I want a driver and hookers.”
He said, “Some hookers also drive. Thus the Chinese saying ‘One effort, two happinesses.’”
Friends, I haven’t done much writing about the presidential campaign in Impromptus lately. I’ve been writing about it on The Corner, chiefly. I expect this will continue till Election Day (with Impromptus sprinkled here and there, of course). If you’d like to follow what I’m doing — and heaven help you if you do — try my “archive,” here. (What a grandiose word, “archive” — but it’s entrenched now.)
Do I have any music for you? Well, let’s see. Have you seen my “New York Chronicle” in the September New Criterion? It’s here.
And I’ll check you later.
To order Jay Nordlinger’s new book, Peace, They Say: A History of the Nobel Peace Prize, the Most Famous and Controversial Prize in the World, go here. To order his collection Here, There & Everywhere, go here.