Graffiti at the Beijing CCTV tower construction site, 2007.

When officials slated this apartment building for demolition, to make way for a monumental modern architectural project, they marked it with a huge white character enclosed in a circle. The character is 拆 and represents a powerful declaration to “demolish.” In protest of this centrally mandated decision to tear down the building and displace its residents to new locations, someone painted over the symbol of authority in blue with the two characters 保护, to “protect.”

I see teaching as an engaged form of public debate, with the scholars whose work we read and with the scholars in formation, myself included, in the classroom. It requires understanding dominant discourses and learning how to intervene in them through careful attention and critique, cultivation of generosity and respect for divergent voices, and development of meaningful ways to speak out in public contexts beyond the classroom.