University president calls out Chinese students he says 'harassed' their dissident peer

A Chinese student at Purdue University spoke out against the Chinese Communist Party.

Fellow Chinese students school allegedly threatened to report him for espionage.


After a Chinese student at Purdue University spoke out against the Chinese Communist Party, fellow Chinese students at the American school allegedly threatened to report him to China for espionage. 

Zhihao Kong told ProPublica that after he posted a letter condemning the Tiananmen Square Massacre, China’s Ministry of State Security began threatening him and his family. 

“His family back home, in this case China, was visited and threatened by agents of that nation’s secret police,” President Mitch Daniels said in an email published by the Purdue Exponent. 

Daniels explained that Ministry of State Security officers ordered Kong’s family to stop him from speaking against the regime. If Kong refused, his family said they knew they would get “in trouble,” according to ProPublica.

These threats didn’t only come from the Chinese government. After Kong criticized the Chinese Communist Party, his American peers allegedly began harassing him as well.

“One of our students, after speaking out on behalf of freedom and others martyred for advocating for it, was harassed and threatened by other students from his home country,” Daniels said in a statement.

According to the Purdue Exponent, certain students threatened to report Kong to the Chinese National Security Agency. One asked, “Can we earn money by reporting him to 12339?” Another wrote, “He is subject to attending espionage organization to subvert the government. You guys can call 12339.”

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According to Purdue junior Danielle Ferrante, a member of the Network of Enlightened Women, the school’s administration is currently handling the situation.

“I think that a lot of it is being handled at an administrative level, at the office of the dean of students or something similar,” Ferrante said.

In his statement, Daniels threatened disciplinary action for the students that allegedly harassed Kong.

“Any student found to have reported another student to any foreign entity for exercising their freedom of speech or belief will be subject to significant sanction,” Daniels wrote.

Few students had heard about this incident prior to Daniels’ email, Ferrante said. After word began to spread, however, Ferrante said the campus generally seemed supportive of Kong.

“The majority of what I heard was positive, in the sense of in favor of defending and protecting the student who was speaking out in the name of freedom,” Ferrante said.

Not everyone agreed, however. Students posted two different petitions about this issue to Change.org, one supporting Kong, and the other criticizing Daniels’ statement as being politically biased.

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The first petition, started by Purdue student Jonathan Schwartz, calls for the school’s administration to expel the students that threatened Kong. He cited the institution’s anti-harassment policy, and said that lovers of freedom should stand with Kong.

“It’s all too easy to say that action is going to be taken and then simply let the matter drop. This petition was made to ensure that doesn’t happen,” Schwartz said. “Threatening someone over their political views, especially when that threat involves being reported to a hostile foreign government, has no place at Purdue or in the United States.”

The second petition, started by an anonymous user called “Chinese Student At Purdue,” called on Daniels to revise his statement.

“It is disturbing to see a school president publicly imply Chinese students are ‘colluding with foreign governments’ without thorough investigations,” the user wrote in the petition. “We urge President Daniels to do a thorough investigation, perform his duty based on fact, rather than opinions from a newspaper.”

More recently, a user claiming to be Kong responded to this controversy with a statement on the website Reddit

Any students on campus should enjoy freedom of expression, including the Pro-CCP Chinese students and Pro-Democracy Chinese students,” the user claiming to be Kong wrote. “However, weaponizing foreign government's agency, which itself is ‘collusion,’ is crossing the line.”

Ferrante agrees with this statement. 

The act of foreign entities or individuals attempting to subvert the values of America, specifically on American soil, should not be tolerated,” Ferrante said. “That doesn’t just go on American soil in general, but also on college campuses.”

While Daniels takes pride in regularly hosting Purdue students from China, he said, he also takes pride in the value of free inquiry. 

“No value is more central to our institution or to higher education generally than the freedom of inquiry and expression,” Daniels wrote in a statement. “Those seeking to deny those rights to others, let alone to collude with foreign governments in repressing them, will need to pursue their education elsewhere.”

Campus Reform reached out to Purdue University and Kong, but has not received a response at the time of publication. The user “Chinese Student at Purdue” was anonymous, and could not be reached for comment.