George Washington University president Mark Wrighton this week apologized for condemning posters that criticized China for human rights abuses and promising to "undertake an effort" to determine who hung the posters on campus.
In an email to the student body Monday, Wrighton said he "responded hastily" to a student who raised concerns about the prints of the posters by the Chinese-Australian artist Badiucao. On Sunday, Badiucao tweeted a screenshot of Wrighton's email, sent to a George Washington student, alongside pictures of his art. In the email, Wr ighton said he received complaints about the posters through "university reporting channels," and that he would work to have the posters removed. Wrighton now claims his early response was a "mistake."
China's long history of human rights abuses sparked protests against the ongoing Beijing Games. The United States, Japan, and the United Kingdom declined to send political representatives to the Olympics in protest of China's genocide against Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang province. The International Olympic Committee refuses to criticize Beijing or acknowledge the mistreatment of Uyghurs.
Badiucao, who describes himself as a "Chinese artist hated by the CCP," designed the graphics featured on the posters to protest the 2022 Winter Olympics. The series of posters depict cartoons of athletes wearing the CCP symbol attacking victims.
One poster depicts a Chinese biathlete shooting a Uyghur, while another shows a hockey player attacking a Tibetan monk. In another image, a Chinese figure skater is seen gliding through an orchid, a symbol for Hong Kong. The posters also critique the Chinese surveillance state and the nation's role in beginning the coronavirus pandemic.
The school's Chinese Cultural Association and the Chinese Student and Scholars Association blasted the posters online, saying the images "insulted China." In his leaked response to a concerned student, Wrighton said he was "personally offended" by the posters and "deeply saddened by this terrible event."
The president changed course on Monday, saying that he supports "freedom of speech" and "the many students and faculty at our university who are engaged in researching, and actively advocating against, all forms of discrimination, marginalization, and oppression."
But Wrighton has an extensive history of working with China. While under Wrighton's chancellorship, Washington University in St. Louis became the first North American school to partner with the University Alliance of the Silk Road—an academic branch of China's global infrastructure plan, the Belt and Road initiative.
Wrighton also holds an honorary doctorate from Fudan University in Shanghai, and two honorary professorships at Shandong University and Xidian University.
Wrighton did not respond to a Washington Free Beacon request for comment.
American universities are reckoning with their ties to China as tensions escalate between Washington and Beijing. Over a dozen universities closed their Confucius Institutes after the State Department labeled them a propaganda arm of the Chinese Communist Party in 2020.