By now, of course, we’re used to college students who don’t get the idea of free speech trying to cancel lectures by people they disagree with. But even we were surprised to read a recent article in Quartz about student outrage at the University of California at San Diego over plans to have the Dalai Lama, of all people, deliver the keynote at the commencement ceremony this June.
Which students were outraged? Why, those from Communist China, who, like their government back home, consider the Dalai Lama – the exiled spiritual leader of Tibet – a terrorist. “Just hours after the announcement” of the Dalai Lama’s big gig, reported Quartz’s Josh Horwitz, the campus’s Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA) did what any good little subject of a totalitarian regime would do: they passed the news on to their consulate. They also posted a statement online saying that the invitation to the Dalai Lama
contravened the spirit of respect, tolerance, equality, and earnestness— the ethos upon which the university is built. These actions have also dampened the academic enthusiasm of Chinese students and scholars. If the university insists on acting unilaterally and inviting the Dalai Lama to give a speech at the graduation ceremony, our association vows to take further measures to firmly resist the university’s unreasonable behavior. Specific details of these measures will be outlined in our future statements.
“Comments from Chinese students on Facebook,” noted Horwitz, were “couched in rhetoric commonly used to rally for inclusivity on campus.” The Dalai Lama was denounced as “oppressive,” the invitation as racist and an affront to “diversity.” A Chinese alumni group wrote a letter to the university chancellor insisting that UCSD should
spread a message that brings people together, rather than split them apart. During the campus commencement, there will be over a thousand Chinese students, families, and friends celebrating this precious moment with their loved ones. If Tenzin Gyatso [the Dalai Lama’s real name] expresses his political views under the guise of “spirituality and compassion,” the Chinese segment of this community will feel extremely offended and disrespected during this special occasion.
This from obedient subjects of a Communist country whose leaders, going back to Mao Zedong, have not only “offended and disrespected” more than a few people but killed more human beings than any other regime in recorded history.
Horwitz pointed out that this dust-up wasn’t a first. In 2008, Chinese students at the University of Washington protested the awarding of an honorary degree to the Dalai Lama. The difference this time was the canny use by protesters of the language of inclusion and diversity. Another important factor here is the fact that, as China’s international status has risen, Chinese students at American universities, who used to behave themselves and keep a low profile, have found their voices and sought to throw their weight around. According to Horwitz, it’s widely believed that branches of the CSSA serve as conduits “for Chinese consulates to promulgate Communist Party orthodoxy” at non-Chinese universities. Only a week before the UCSD protest, a Chinese diplomat in London urged the cancellation of a Durham University talk by a Chinese-Canadian human-rights activist.
Dr. Tsering Topgyal, a Tibetan UCSD alumnus told Horwitz, observed that “If the Chinese students wish to exploit diversity, they would come across as more convincing if they were more committed and supportive of this principle back home.” It would certainly be nice if one of the things they learned during their years of study in the United States is the value of freedom and the need to resist tyranny.