A Violinist, An Emoji and A Lawsuit: Former Shanghai Quartet Member Sues Montclair State University

The Shanghai Quartet when Yi-Wen Jiang was still a member. (l-r) Nicholas Tzavaras, cello; Honggang Li, viola; Weigang Li, violin; and Yi-Wen Jiang, violin

Yi-Wen Jiang was a longtime member of the renowned Shanghai Quartet, known worldwide for melding traditional Chinese folk music, masterpieces of Western musical literature and cutting-edge contemporary works. Now Jiang is suing his former quartet members and Montclair State University, according to a report in the New York Times.

Jiang, who moved from China for the United States in 1985, made comments on the social media platform WeChat regarding China’s censorship of information. Jiang’s comments went viral, with screenshots of his message being shared widely in China and with Chinese news outlets calling his comments racist.

Soon after, Jiang was fired from his faculty position at Tianjin Juilliard School in China.

Jiang tells the Times his remarks on social media were misinterpreted as an ethnic slur and that his use of a smiley face pig emoji was not meant to liken Chinese people to pigs and that his “offhand remark was purposely distorted by those who object to his longstanding criticism of the Chinese government.”

The Shanghai Quartet have been artists in residence at Montclair State since 2002. The lawsuit, brought by Jiang in New Jersey Superior Court, also accuses Montclair State University, of unlawful termination; Jiang said the university had rescinded his position and benefits because of the fallout.

A spokesman for Montclair State tells the Times that upon learning Jiang was no longer part of the quartet, the university offered him a job as an adjunct instructor.

Read more in the New York Times.

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