China’s Top Universities Get Poor Grades For Party Propaganda

The ruling party’s disciplinary arm says universities aren’t doing enough to ensure students learn Xi Jinping Thought in the ‘new era.’
By Hsia Hsiao-hwa
2021.09.07
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China’s Top Universities Get Poor Grades For Party Propaganda First-year students attend an opening ceremony at the Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan, central China's Hubei province, Sept. 23, 2020.
AFP

Political inspectors sent into universities by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) have said most higher education institutions aren't doing enough to promote the party's ideology on campus.

An inspection team sent by the CCP Central Committee found a lack of interest on the part of young people and a bureaucratic mentality in higher education were largely to blame for the failure to promote the personal ideology of CCP general secretary Xi Jinping, whose governing style is regularly compared by commentators to the personality cult around late supreme leader Mao Zedong.

The inspectors visited 31 colleges and universities across China, and found little evidence that they were implementing Beijing’s orders, according to a notice on the website of the party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI).

“Ideological and political education is relatively weak,” the notice said, after inspectors visited some of the best-known universities in the country, including Peking and Tsinghua Universities in Beijing, Nanjing University, Fudan University and Jiaotong University in Shanghai.

“There are shortcomings when it comes to building school spirit and [ideological] study ethic,” the notice said, adding, “There are prominent issues [linked to a] bureaucratic mentality. There is insufficient implementation of the party line in the new era.”

Chinese dissident Gong Yujian said the team was like an imperial-era inspection team working on behalf of an emperor.

“To put it bluntly, they are sending out a patrol to put the frighteners on officials further down the hierarchy, to give them a kick, and a warning,” Gong said. “If this doesn’t get rectified, Xi Jinping will be very unhappy.”

“The next step could be a Central Committee investigation team and taskforce,” he said. “They will make use of the CCP disciplinary system as well as the legal system.”

“This inspection team was sent by Xi Jinping as a warning to lower-ranking officials.”

Gong said the insistence on the study of Xi’s ideology was similar to the Mao era.

“We’re just going back to the Mao era now,” he said. “Xi wants to rule the CCP and the whole of China, bring them under one leader, one ideology.”

Largely uninterested

Chen Chien-fu, vice president of the Taiwan Professors Association, said it is telling that young Chinese people seem largely uninterested in Xi Jinping Thought.

“They have had contact with the West, and have come to see CCP ideological education and idols as having little to do with their own concerns,” Chen told RFA. “Xi Jinping clearly thinks there are big obstacles in Chinese society to his cult of personality.”

“So he sent in the central government inspection teams.”

Several lecturers at the universities on the list either declined to comment on Tuesday when contacted by RFA, or hung up the phone.

A lecturer who works in higher education in the southern province of Guangdong, who asked to remain anonymous, said there is a current ban on any teachers or lecturers giving interviews without prior authorization.

While universities have always had compulsory political studies for first-year undergraduates under CCP rule, the departments which ran them are gradually being repurposed as “departments of Marxism,” the lecturer said.

He said part of the current government crackdown on China’s entertainment industry is linked to a perception in Beijing that young people are too taken with celebrity culture and fandom, as well as video games.

For example, Chinese postgraduates carry out around 80 percent of global research into video game culture, with Japan trailing at around 20 percent, the lecturer said.

That is now likely to change.

“I heard that there is a ban on writing about electronic gaming in academic papers from this year,” he said.

Party tightening its grip

The CCP is in the process of tightening its ideological grip on higher education in the country, ordering structural changes that will allow a far greater degree of party control in the day-to-day running of colleges and universities.

Institutions are now required to ensure that their in-house party committee "exercises comprehensive leadership" over their teaching, scientific research, and administration, according to a revised set of rules issued on April 22.

Party branches should also be set up to guide the work of teachers, researchers on specific projects, undergraduate students, and other sub-groups within a university, it said, choosing members with "a strong party spirit."

Their job is to carry out propaganda work and implement the central party line, as decided by Beijing,

Xi's approach stems from a 2013 article titled "Improving Ideological and Political Work Among Young Teachers in Colleges and Universities," and from his reiteration of the "Seven Taboos" that mustn't be discussed in public by servants of the state, including teachers.

The seven banned topics are: universal values of human rights and democratic, constitutional government; press freedom; civil society; citizens' rights; the historical mistakes of the Chinese Communist Party; the financial and political elite; and judicial independence.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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