Ideology: Class struggle | The Economist

IN THE first week of March university students in China will return from a break of six weeks or more. They will find a new chill in the air. While they have been away, officials have been speaking stridently—indeed, in the harshest terms heard in years—about the danger of “harmful Western influences” on campuses, and the need to tighten ideological control over students and academic staff.

Universities have always been worrisome to the Communist Party; they have a long history in China as wellsprings of anti-government unrest. The party appoints university presidents. Its committees on campuses vet the appointment of teaching staff. Students are required to study Marxist theory and socialism. They are not allowed to study politically sensitive topics such as the grievances of Tibetans or the army’s crushing of the student-led protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

There is no sign of an anti-party campaign developing on campuses (students are signing up for party membership in droves, believing it to be a path to career success). But since Xi Jinping took over as China’s leader in 2012, the party has been trying to reinforce its control in numerous areas. In the army it appears that Mr Xi has been leading the effort personally (see article). In the academic realm, his involvement in the crackdown now unfolding is less certain. But he has shown no sign of resisting it, and some of the rhetoric warning of the dangers of Western values echoes his own. Mr Xi is certainly no liberal. In his rule he has tightened controls over the media, and there have been numerous arrests and trials of civil-society activists.

That officials have begun to turn their attention to campuses became evident on January 19th, when Xinhua, a state-controlled news agency, published a summary of a document issued secretly by the central authorities in October. It directed universities to “strengthen” their efforts to spread the party’s propaganda and promote its ideology. It told them to educate students better in the history of the party, as well as about the “Chinese dream” (a pet idea of Mr Xi’s). The document also urged educators “firmly to resist infiltration by hostile forces”. It was suffused with the same sense of a party under assault by Western liberal thinking that permeated a secret directive issued in 2013, known as Document Number Nine. That spoke of the threat posed by ideas such as universal values, civil society and press freedom—positive mention of which had occasionally surfaced in some Chinese newspapers and still occurs frequently in university classrooms.

An old-style propaganda campaign is now unfolding. On January 29th Yuan Guiren, the education minister, declared at a conference that “textbooks promoting Western values” would not be allowed in classrooms, nor would “slandering” of the party leadership. Officials at the same meeting echoed his views, including the party chiefs of Peking University and Tsinghua University, the country’s most prestigious colleges. On February 6th a commentary in the People’s Daily, the party’s main mouthpiece, quoted the party chief of Renmin University in Beijing as saying that Marxist thinking must “enter textbooks, enter classrooms and enter brains”.

via Ideology: Class struggle | The Economist.

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