Helmut Wautischer: World Congress of Philosophy in Beijing

October 1, 2018
Image of Helmut Wautischer

Helmut Wautischer is a Senior Lecturer at the Philosophy Department and is known to many in the campus community from his service at the Senate, FSAC, and the Academic Freedom Subcommittee. This summer he attended the World Congress of Philosophy in Beijing and files this report:
I had previously participated in four of these quinquennial congresses, dating back to 1993 in Moscow. Apart from presenting my own research, I had additional responsibilities as president of KJSNA, which included also my attendance as a delegate at the International Federation of Philosophical Societies General Assembly meeting (https://youtu.be/W0Rd5KSpu2c). 
Beijing was different from anything I had ever experienced in an academic environment. Security was extremely tight at the Chinese National Convention Center. Nametags contained a microchip. Each day, all persons and bags got x-rayed and uniformed officials performed a full body search. I was interrogated on grounds of carrying 20 copies of an academic journal. After 20 minutes and three levels of hierarchy I got clearance. Inside the building, two policemen flanked every hallway, and in front of each conference room sat, in a super stiff posture, yet another policeman. The book display was heavily guarded; entrance and exit were equipped with nametag-chip readers. Each of the conference rooms had a surveillance camera. On the first day, hordes of "journalists" filmed everyone from all angles, holding the cameras uncomfortably close into one's face. 
At the General Assembly meeting I was astonished that 100 international delegates who represented 7,000 attendees would meet for eight hours without commenting on this odd surveillance. I had to speak out. Grave silence afterwards. The FISP president shows outrage that I used "stone-faced" for describing the officers in the hallways. Yet how should one describe such motionless figures? After the meeting, numerous delegates thanked me personally for speaking out. The next day there were still the same officers in uniforms. This time though, they talked to each other, they smiled, showed interest. Coincidence? Probably.