Differentiating risks to academic freedom in the globalised university in China

Sophia Woodman, Tim Pringle*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Academic freedom in China is unquestionably under threat from various quarters. Yet the assumption that only the logics of authoritarian Communist Party power shape the terrain in which scholars operate provides us with a limited perspective on these threats. The Chinese academy has become deeply entangled with transnational forces, and is increasingly driven by similar business logics to those in play in universities around the world. We argue that these forces too contribute to the context for the exercise of academic freedom and its restriction. As is the case elsewhere, discourses around developing the national ‘knowledge economy’ and related logics of securitisation around knowledge production create conditions in which some forms of academic research are prioritised over others. Echoing the ‘culture wars’ plaguing the academy in many other countries, the research agendas most under threat in China are ones that connect to transnational movements and struggles, especially those focussed on labour and class, gender and feminism, race and ethnicity and human rights. In this article, we outline what we see as the key forces shaping the landscape for academic freedom in China, with a concentration on areas of research and teaching in the social sciences and humanities that are most at risk in the current conjuncture.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)642–651
JournalPhilosophy and Social Criticism
Issue number4
Early online date5 Apr 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2022


  • academic freedom
  • China
  • higher education
  • marketisation
  • transnational


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