(RESEND PART 1)Putting Anne-Marie Brady's and Adrian Zenz's characterization of Gao Wei into context



This is a lengthy piece divided into one introduction to the case, and then five parts looking at it closely.

This newsletter is highly-opinionated (of course based on facts), and this is different from previous pieces where your Pekingnologist tried his best to keep his opinions out. This is an exception, because

1) despite the heavy press reports of the case, NOBODY has been able to come to the defense of the renowned, now 75-year-old New Zealand professor of Chinese heritage in great detail IN ENGLISH;

2) The people making and amplifying the highly personal, damaging accusation in effect has a big microphone in the English-language world and on Twitter, whereas the other side doesn’t, so the whole narrative needs a balance;

2) this piece could HOPEFULLY be a textbook, badly-needed tit-for-tat against what your Pekingnologist views as unfairly targeting, if not smearing, slandering or witch-hunting scholars of Chinese heritage nowadays, but the arguments made in this newsletter applies strictly only to this particular case;

If your subscription to this newsletter was for Alibaba, fintech, or something alone those lines, you are kindly advised to skip it.



In a July 2020 submission to the New Zealand Parliament that was also published on the web site of the Wilson Center, University of Canterbury Professor Anne-Marie Brady, together with Jichang Lulu and Sam Theloung, authored the report Holding a Pen in One Hand, Gripping a Gun in the Other, mapping out what the report says, in its subtitle, is China’s Exploitation of Civilian Channels for Military Purposes in New Zealand.

Brady commands great respect in the China-watching community and her works have influenced the United States’ policy against China. Just last week, Axios quoted “one senior U.S. official” as saying “a 2017 report on Chinese influence operations by New Zealand-based scholar Anne-Marie Brady had also influenced the U.S. strategy.”

One of the biggest public fallout from the 2020 report was the “assertions and inferences” against Gao Wei, a University of Auckland professor of materials science and engineering who was named Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2016 and a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand.

The Financial Times reported four complaints were made to the University of Canterbury, including one from the Office of the Vice-Chancellor, as cited by Adrian Zenz on Twitter

In the complaint, Jennifer Dixon of the University of Auckland, complained several “assertions and inferences” made about Gao were inaccurate, including

Professor Gao has never conducted military research in or for New Zealand, China, or any other country. He has never been involved in any research activities related to the military. Professor Brady’s paper implies that through his research links with Chinese universities, and perhaps the fact that he is originally from mainland China, he has aided Chinese military research. This is totally untrue and no evidence of it is referred to in the report.

Professor Gao has not undertaken any research on quantum computing, now or in the past. Professor Brady’s assertion that he is involved in quantum computing research is factually incorrect.

Furthermore, any titles conferred on Professor Gao by Chinese universities are honorary in nature, reflecting the academic esteem in which he is held by his peers. Again, this is perfectly normal academic interaction and it is entirely inappropriate for Professor Brady to use them in support of specious claims made in the report. Reference to Professor Gao’s honorary appointments is followed by two paragraphs which make claims about control of staff members exercised by NUDT and the CCP. Given the nature of Professor Gao’s connections with NUDT, the inference is grossly misleading.

As a result of the complaints, the University of Canterbury initiated an internal review, and concluded in December 2020:

that Professor Brady and her co-authors met the responsibilities of UC’s policy and the Education Act 1989. The committee noted that Professor Brady’s work was based on a lengthy period of research and cites extensively from other sources. However, given that it was intended for parliamentary submission and succinct, they recommended that some phrases could be amended to provide clarity.

The incident received many press reports in its process, including The TelegraphSouth China Morning Post, Times Higher EducationAustralian Financial Review, and others.

After the review, the University of Auckland released a statement saying:

The University of Auckland strongly upholds the principles of academic freedom, however it is noted that the Committee’s terms of reference did not cover the University of Auckland’s specific complaint about inaccuracies and misleading information in the Brady Publication. We stand by our original complaint, and are concerned that the review did not address the issues raised.

The University notes specific feedback to Professor Brady and her co-authors by the Academic Freedom Committee about the University of Auckland complaint relating to assertions and implications made about Professor Wei Gao. This feedback advises the inclusion of an endnote linking to Professor Gao’s profile on the University of Auckland website and says this information was likely omitted due to a need to condense relevant information.

Your Pekingnologist intentionally waited for the conclusion of the review to publish this newsletter, so as not to be characterized as “China state-affiliated media” meddling in the case. Please, again, allow your Pekingnologist to reaffirm that this newsletter is his own PERSONAL, UNPAID initiative, that everything here has nothing to do with his day-job employer.

This newsletter, based on totally open-sourced info and zero inside knowledge, intends to contextualize key assertions and inferences made by Brady’s report - and later Zenz -against Gao.



From Brady’s report

In 2014, Gao Wei was appointed as a distinguished professor at the National University of Defence Technology.

The original text in Chinese can be seen

transcribing the title of the Chinese article:


translated in Brady’s report and Zenz’ quote as

Gao Wei was appointed as a distinguished professor

The Chinese phrase 特聘教授 can mean three things, IN THE CHINESE CONTEXT:

1) Distinguished Professor, as translated above, to suggest the professor is among the best in the university’s full-time professors, as in its common English usage.

Examples include this from Fudan University, where the 特聘教授 - in this scenario, properly translated as Distinguished Professors - top its list of full professors and above other full professors not afforded the Distinguished title

2) 特聘教授 is used following a specific name, mostly an endowment, like 长江 Cheung Kong/Chang Jiang/Yangtze River.

For example, 长江特聘教授 are part of the Cheung Kong Scholars Program, funded by Hong Kong billionaire Li Kai-shing, where 长江 Cheung Kong is the name of his business.

Also, in the case of Peking University, there is a category of 博雅 Bo Ya - not sure where this actually came from but could be just an adjective saying these guys are very good.

In this scenario, usually because the benefactor aims, understandably, at sponsoring the best professors, so 特聘教授 could also be properly translated as Distinguished Professor, which leads to 长江特聘教授 Cheung Kong/Chang Jiang/Bo Ya Distinguished Professors, as raised by Bill Bishop in a tweet. (Can’t import the tweet here because Bill has “protected” his tweets and consequently a screenshot won’t be posted here, out of respect for his choice.)

3) HOWEVER, there is a completely different scenario, where 特聘教授 should be translated literally: 特 means specially/unusually/differently and 聘 means hired/contracted - so Specially/Unusually/Differently Hired/Contracted Professor, rather than Distinguished Professor.

The point is that this proper translation denotes the nature of the relationship: he or she is an “OUTSIDER” to the university despite the title - he or she is NOT one of the university’s formal/full-time/commonly-salaried faculty/staff, whereas the inaccurate and translation of Distinguished Professor subtly conveys the sense that he or she is an “INSIDER”, in the meaning as one of the university’s formal/full-time/commonly-salaried faculty/staff.

For example, in the case of ShanghaiTech University,

The university translates 特聘教授 as Distinguished Adjunct Professor and separates them from Professor.

In Tsinghua PBSCF - Tsinghua University People’s Bank of China School of Finance:

In the orange box, professors are in one of the four categories: 全职师资 full-time faculty, 兼职教授 part-time faculty, 特聘教授 (in red) Specially/Unusually/Differently Hired/Contracted Professor, and 访问学者 visiting scholars.

That in fact means 特聘教授 is even less associated with the school than part-time faculty.

One catch here is that the professors in this scenario are usually also the very best - otherwise, why would a university award such a title to him or her? Most likely it’s because he or she is very good - by common sense, a university wouldn’t afford association/links with some outside mediocre professor, would it?

So in this scenario, one part of the meaning in Distinguished Professor in the English context remains (he or she is very good), but the other part (he or she is one of the university’s formal/full-time/commonly-salaried faculty/staff) is gone.

As laid out above, sometimes 特聘教授 equals Adjunct Professor in its English meaning, and sometimes it means the professor is even less associated than an Adjunct Professor, and the usage of the term varies from university to university in China, which means one has to make a judgment on a case by case basis of what it actually entails.

It could entail an honorary title doing largely nothing, or giving a one-time talk, or teaching a course in a week/month/semester, or anything in between them, or outside them.

The problem, in the view of your Pekingnologist, is that both Brady’s report and Zenz made a brush stroke and dismissing all other possibilities based on very thin/circumstantial evidence - just one or two vaguely-worded statements that described Gao’s title in a Chinese term that is vague, but giving zero detail of what his portfolio under that title.

Another angle of looking at Gao is, so as to contrast Zenz’ claim “distinguished professors are not typically merely honorary”: how many similar engagement/associations does Gao have with other Chinese universities?

Chengdu University says on its website it hired Gao as 特聘教授, exactly the term used in the case of PLA’s NDUT

Changzhou Institute of Technology calls Gao 特聘教授, exactly the term used in the case of NDUT

Research Center of Sichuan Advanced Welding and Surface Engineering calls Gao 特聘专家 which, following Brady’s report and Zenz, could be translated as Distinguished Expert

Chongqing University calls Gao 客座教授 Guest Professor.

Northwestern Polytechnic University calls Gao 顾问教授 Counselor Professor

China University of Petrolum (East China) calls him 客座教授 Guest Professor

Hubei University of Technology calls Gao 名誉教授 Honorary Professor

Gao has also been called 海外院长 overseas Dean of Southwestern Jiaotong University’s School of Materials Science and Engineering

Dalian Maritime University calls Gao 共享院士 Shared Academician

Your Pekingnology could keep Googling and Baiduing but he feels this is enough. The fact is that Gao has been afforded so many titles from different Chinese universities, but there is not one word about that from Brady’s report, which SELECTIVELY mentioned Gao’s 特聘教授 “Distinguished Professor” title with NUDT, a PLA university.

Even if strictly considering the title 特聘教授 “Distinguished Professor”, as listed above, the report should have at least mentioned the instances in Chengdu University and Changzhou Institute of Technology.

Cutting edge scientific research takes long time and big efforts, it’s implausible that Gao, being a genius he apparently is, could deliver under so many titles to different universities. So if all of Gao’s titles from all those Chinese universities have been disclosed in Brady’s report, it’s not implausible that readers would ask: is Gao’s one title from PLA’s NDUT that significant?

But Brady’s report didn’t. It just highlighted Gao’s one title with PLA’s NUDT, depriving readers of the opportunity.