Hundreds chip in to support sacked Xi critic

Beijing (AFP) –


Hundreds of former students have come to the support of a law professor fired from an elite Chinese university for his outspoken criticism of President Xi Jinping, raising more than 100,000 yuan ($14,300) in donations.

Xu Zhangrun, who taught at Tsinghua University for over 20 years, wrote an open letter to thank almost 600 alumni of the Beijing institution for their backing.

But Xu -- abruptly detained by police for nearly a week in early June before being sacked -- wrote that the money should be sent instead to those in greater need.

"I'm nearing 60 years of age, and although my eyesight is dim, my body remains in good health and I can work to earn money for food," Xu said.

"My scholarship is restricted but my thinking will not cease, and I plan to sell essays to feed myself."

The letter, dated Sunday, was widely shared on social media and confirmed as real to AFP by one of Xu's friends, who did not wish to be named.

Xu, 57, was fired from Tsinghua on the grounds that his essays violated a staff code of conduct issued by the education ministry, according to an official letter dated Wednesday seen by AFP.

It also referred to a police allegation that Xu had solicited prostitutes during a trip to Chengdu last year, which his friends previously dismissed as "ridiculous and shameless".

Beijing has faced criticism in the past for accusing dissidents or activists of sex crimes.

Xu was released on July 12 after spending nearly a week in detention related to the police charge, two of his friends previously told AFP.

The sudden detention of a rare government critic in the heavily censored world of Chinese academia alarmed activists and intellectuals. Critics said it illustrated the narrowing space for dissent under Xi's tight control of Chinese public discourse.

In the open letter Xu was still critical of the regime and vowed to carry on writing.

"The evil nature of the political system will not change," he wrote.

"For each day that we remain alive, we will keep calling out, for this is our responsibility and also our destiny."

Xu had argued in his essays that Beijing's lack of openness contributed to the outbreak of the coronavirus, and criticised the 2018 abolition of presidential term limits, which left Xi free to rule for life.

Multiple calls to Tsinghua University were not answered, and Xu could not be reached for comment.