American Universities Will Use Code Names to Protect Chinese Students from Beijing’s New National Security Law

A student wears a protective mask, following the recommended precautions as students prepare for Spring Break and an extended period of online classes due to the coronavirus outbreak at Syracuse University in New York, March 13, 2020. (Maranie Staab/Reuters)

American universities are struggling to conduct certain classes this fall in a way that will protect Chinese students from prosecution under that country’s new national-security law.

China applied a law to the territory of Hong Kong in late June that gives the government broad authority to arrest any resident suspected of offenses against the “national security” of the country. The legislation states that it will apply to offenses committed against the Hong Kong administration “from outside the Region by a person who is not a permanent resident of the Region,” meaning anyone in the world can be prosecuted under the law.

American universities host thousands of students from China and Hong Kong, many of whom will be taking online courses this year. Universities and professors are now struggling to teach the courses in ways that will protect students from prosecution under the national security law.

“We cannot self-censor,” Rory Truex, assistant professor of Chinese politics at Princeton, told the Wall Street Journal. “If we, as a Chinese teaching community, out of fear stop teaching things like Tiananmen or Xinjiang or whatever sensitive topic the Chinese government doesn’t want us talking about, if we cave, then we’ve lost.”

However, Truex’s course will be presented with a warning that some material will be sensitive to the Chinese government, and students will hand in assignments with code names in order to protect their identities. A Harvard Business School course that requires students to read diaries of Uighur Muslims detained in concentration camps in Xinjiang will also attempt to minimize risk for Chinese students.

“There is no way that I can say to my students, ‘You can say whatever you want on the phone call and you are totally free and safe here,’” Meg Rithmire, the political science professor who teaches the course, told the Journal. “It’s more about harm mitigation.”

With many students learning online from their homes in China, it will be especially tricky for professors and schools to teach subjects that are censored by the Chinese government.

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Zachary Evans is a news writer for National Review Online. He is a veteran of the Israeli Defense Forces and a trained violist.


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