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House committee launches probe into Chinese influence at Harvard

When Chinese Ambassador Xie Feng spoke April 20 at the Harvard Kennedy School, student Cosette Wu shouted slogans in protest of the “Chinese government’s human rights abuses,” according to the letter signed by committee Chair John Moolenaar, a Michigan Republican who completed a master’s degree in public administration at Harvard University in 1989.
“This incident raises serious questions regarding possible transnational repression by the Chinese government and the involvement of international students from China at Harvard in acts of harassment and intimidation condoned by the Chinese government against its critics,” the July 1 letter to interim President Alan Gerber from the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party said.
A US House committee has launched a probe into Chinese government influence at Harvard University after two students who shouted slogans during an April speech by the Chinese ambassador were “forcibly removed” from the event and harassed, according to a letter to the Ivy League school’s interim president.
Wu was “promptly dragged out of the event” by someone in a dark suit, later identified as a Harvard student from China, the letter said.
Video recordings of Wu’s “forcible removal” have been widely circulated online, causing an “uproar in the Chinese community in the United States,” according to the letter.
Another student, Tsering Yangchen, was removed from the event after Wu. She said a student from China, who appeared to be an event organizer, approached her, asked her for names of protesters, followed her, and made her “feel scared,” the letter said.
The Harvard Crimson reported that six people disrupted the ambassador’s address to protest China’s stances on Tibet, Hong Kong, East Turkestan, and Taiwan. They stood up one by one, shouting and holding Tibetan flags and banners reading “China Lies, People Die.” Xie’s speech was delayed by 45 minutes, according to the student newspaper.
Harvard officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday night. Wu and Yangchen could not be reached for comment.
Wu, a co-founder of Coalition of Students Resisting the CCP, told the Crimson that Xie’s past actions stand “in direct contradiction to our values and Harvard’s values.”
“These types of viewpoints should not have any place in the Harvard community,” Wu told the Crimson. “We are not going to allow somebody who has had such a huge goal in advocating for a genocidal government and enacting such significant human rights abuses.”
Yangchen, co-president of the Boston chapter of Students for a Free Tibet, said in a statement quoted by the Crimson that her “family escaped Tibet because China had massacred tens of thousands of Tibetans during the CCP’s military invasion and colonization of my homeland.”
“Xie Feng is an advocate for the genocide of my people and, as a Tibetan Harvard student, it’s my duty to show the world the truth,” Yangchen said.
The letter from the House committee requested a briefing on the incident from Harvard officials by July 26, along with responses to a list of 13 questions. The questions included whether any faculty worked with the Chinese government on security policy for the event, whether any students were disciplined, and whether Harvard has used federal funding to support student groups associated with the Chinese government.
The letter referenced a recent court conviction of a former student from China at Berklee College of Music who threatened and harassed a fellow Chinese student for posting pro-democracy fliers on campus.
“Repeated incidents involving some students from China infringing on their fellow students’ freedom of expression also call into question whether our universities are doing enough to educate students about civil liberty and ensure students’ safety for freedom of expression,” the letter said.
The letter went on to say that since 2009, when the number of students from China attending US universities “skyrocketed,” so have the Chinese government’s efforts to “monitor, control, and manipulate them.”
The Chinese government often uses Chinese student organizations to harass and intimidate Chinese students who are openly critical of the Chinese government, the letter said.
“Universities should be bastions of freedom, and prestigious institutions like Harvard should hold themselves to an even higher standard to ensure a safe environment for students’ freedom of expression and push back against any foreign government effort to silence their critics on campus,” the letter said.
Globe correspondent Adam Sennott contributed to this report.
Tonya Alanez can be reached at Follow her @talanez.



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