The Problem with Bill Mullen’s Chinese Connection

Like most American Studies professors, Bill Mullen of Purdue University claims to care about minority rights and preaches the anti-colonialist party line to us, his students, on a near-daily basis. With his specialization in ethnic studies, you would assume this is an individual whose interest in the rights of oppressed groups carries over into his personal life.

Sadly, this couldn’t be farther from the truth.

My name is Monica, and I was a student in Bill Mullen’s American Studies 601 class last semester. I received a good grade in this course, so it’s not like I have a personal vendetta against him or anything like that. But critical thinking is a crucial part of being a liberal arts student – even when it’s uncomfortable, and even when the subject of it is your own professor.

One of the things that constantly troubled me throughout my time in his class was what I see as the ultimate hypocrisy. Professor Mullen constantly condemns the perils of imperialism and systemic oppression, yet he himself supports one of the greatest violators of human rights in the world today: China. How so? Well, he was a Fulbright lecturer at China’s Wuhan University, and currently runs a student exchange program with China. His connection to the country is far from periphery.

I find this extremely problematic, speaking as a student activist who seeks to increase ties with the victims of imperialism, not its perpetrators. And before I knew more about him, I thought he did too.

Double Standards

Now I believe that on some level, Professor Mullen is little more than an opportunist when it comes to political action. For example, he visited Palestine on a USACBI delegation trip, where he connected with activists fighting against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

Yet when he was living in China, did he ever meet with Tibetan monks or pro-Tibet organizations? In fact, he enjoyed reaping the financial and academic benefits of working in China too much to take such a risk. To openly support Tibet would almost guarantee losing his cushy position at the university. It seems that he cherry-picks causes according to his convenience, ready to abandon his “belief system” when it suits him and ready to “fight for oppressed indigenous peoples” when it advances his career.

Where is the integrity in that? Where is the ideological purity he is so proud of?
If anyone on this site has any doubt about China’s egregious human rights record, read on. Remember: Bill Mullen is a huge supporter of the academic and cultural boycott of Israel because he believes that’s the best way to pressure the country to withdraw from Palestinian land. Then according to that logic, he should also be boycotting China. But it’s not just that he refuses to boycott China (admittedly a tough feat in this day and age when everything is produced there); it’s that he actively supports the Republic’s academic institutions by taking on a Chinese teaching post and heading a Chinese student exchange program. As if he doesn’t know that:

China Has Illegally Occupied Tibet Since 1950

In 1950, China decided to invade and occupy Tibet, profiting immensely from the nation’s plentiful natural resources. Besides the illegal benefit that China is continuously gaining from the status quo, Tibetans – a peaceful, deeply religious people – must live under the brutal authoritarian rule of the occupying power [watch: “Is Tibet Free? An introduction to Tibet”]
In 1959, the Tibetans rose up against the occupation. The result was “immediate and brutal oppression” and the Dalai Lama was forced to flee and live in exile. Peaceful protest and non-violent acts of defiance continue to be found in Tibet to the present day. These are a proud people, with strong roots in the land and a distinct and rich culture.

Yet China does everything within its power to suppress the Tibetans. It is illegal to fly the Tibetan flag; Mandarin, not Tibetan, is imposed as the local language; 99% of Tibet’s monasteries have been shut down; monks and spiritual leaders frequently starve to death in prisons. The Tibetan’s close connection with nature stands in stark contrast to the unsentimental Chinese attitude that views the land and human beings as mere resources to be exploited for economic gain.

By lecturing at a Chinese university, Professor Mullen supports the Chinese occupation of Tibet. By accepting the position, he was effectively saying “I am against occupation – unless the occupying power can help me further advance my career.”
As is so often the case, silence speaks louder than words. And Professor Mullen’s silence on the Chinese occupation of Tibet – not to mention China’s oppression of its own people – is deafening.