The Honor of a Ban

by Jay Nordlinger

Two summers ago, we published a piece called “Scholars with Spine: Notes from the field of China studies.” To see it, go here. It lauded scholars who have sought and expressed the truth about China, even though such honesty carries a risk: the risk of being expelled from, or denied admission to, China. Not to be able to visit China can be a serious handicap for a China scholar. And, of course, many of them pull punches (to put it as gently as possible).

My colleague Patrick Brennan alerted me to this interesting report in the New York Times — which tells us that a professor from Indiana University, Elliot Sperling, has been banned. His offense: to have supported a Uighur professor of economics, who has been arrested.

Not every Western scholar who is allowed to visit China is toadying or dishonest. And not every bold and honest scholar is banned. (Is the CCP sleeping at the switch?) But I can’t help seeing a ban as a badge of honor. And to those free to work in China, I’m tempted to say a variation on what Thoreau said to Emerson: What are you doing in there?