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Princeton in Beijing draws censorship

In response to demands by Beijing Normal University officials, faculty from this year's Princeton in Beijing program were recently forced to eliminate a substantial amount of course material considered to be critical of Chinese domestic policies.

Officials at Beijing Normal University — which hosts the Princeton in Beijing program — demanded the removal of several textbook chapters, including those referring to China's population control policy and press restrictions, according to East Asian studies professor C.P. Chou, who heads Princeton in Beijing.


Chou was visiting the country in March to finalize arrangements for this year's program when he was informed that the offending passages would have to be removed before the Princeton in Beijing program would be allowed to continue.

In an interview yesterday, Chou said that though Beijing Normal University officials have censored his program's teaching materials before, the recent request involved the most extreme alterations.

The university officials' demands come in the wake of a controversial article written by a former Princeton in Beijing professor that appeared in the Beijing Social Science journal earlier this year.

The article — titled "The Infiltration of American Ideology Through Language, Through the Material of Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language" — prompted criticism in the Chinese academic community, likely leading the university to prohibit the circulation of other potentially controversial material, Chou said.

He said he did not know who directed Beijing Normal University officials to order the removal of critical material. "They were obviously under certain kinds of pressure, and they requested that we should make revisions of the textbook that was prepared by us," he said.

In the past, Chou has been asked to delete passages and to remove an entire book from the course syllabus when the content reflected negatively on China or the Chinese government.


Chou recently wrote a new textbook titled "All Things Considered" to replace one of the books he was forced to eliminate. Several of the lessons in this new book had to be deleted as well, Chou said. One of these passages explored the role e-mail in increasing freedom of speech.

"We tried to treat this issue as a pedagogical issue. We don't look at this as a political issue," Chou said.

"We don't really care what American students think about China. That's the students' business," Chou said. "My underlying theme for writing all these texts is to make it as fun as possible, as interesting as possible, as controversial as possible, so when students look at these lessons they would like to express themselves."

Carrie Gordon, director of Princeton in Asia, which administers Princeton in Beijing, said professors had to compromise on the textbook discussions to preserve the program.

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"We recognize by having an education program in China that we have to be very open to compromise," she said. "But at the same time it is extremely important that we maintain our academic integrity."

Gordon pointed out that some of the textbooks under attack have been used by the program for several years. "For some reason last year they had no problem with it, and this year they do," she said.

Princeton in Beijing, which was founded in 1993, is one of the top language programs in China, Gordon said. "It is not for the faint of heart. It is a very demanding academic program," she noted.

One hundred-twenty students — both undergraduates and graduates — are enrolled in this year's eight-week summer program.