US author Peter Hessler will leave China at the end of the semester after his contract at the Sichuan University-Pittsburgh Institute in Chengdu was not renewed.
Hessler, who has written popular books on China such as River Town, Oracle Bones, Strange Stones and Country Driving, has been teaching non-fiction writing in Chengdu since 2019. He is the China correspondent at The New Yorker, a role he also held between 2000 and 2007.
On May 30 a friend of Hessler’s, He Yujia, posted a statement on Chinese social media Douban on his behalf, confirming that he would leave the country. The post later appears to have been deleted without He Yujia’s knowledge. The statement read:
Recently somebody posted a quote from me on Douban, regarding the end of my teaching position here at Sichuan University. I want to note that this quote was from a private correspondence and was not intended as a public statement. But the information is accurate: I had hoped to continue teaching at the Sichuan University Pittsburgh Institute, but I was not offered a contract for the coming academic year. As a result, I will return to Colorado with my family after the current semester, because our visas expire this summer.
I want to emphasize that I have greatly enjoyed being back in the classroom after more than twenty years. I have been impressed with my students at Sichuan University, and I have also been fortunate to work with great instructors and staff at the Sichuan University-Pittsburgh Institute. Our family has also greatly appreciated the support and kindness of the administration and teachers at the Chengdu elementary school where our daughters have studied for the past two years. We hope to return to China in the future. Regardless, we will have very fond memories of Chengdu and of our experiences here.
Hessler is widely considered a “moderate” and “nuanced” voice on China, i.e. he has not put anti-regime rhetoric at the centre of his work. The refusal by Sichuan University to renew his contract has been viewed as another sign of the ever diminishing space for free debate under Xi Jinping.
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