By Hu Shaojiang, published: February 10, 2015
Bring back thought policing……
Yesterday [January 29], the Chinese Minister of Education Yuan Guiren (袁贵仁) called in a conference for the implementation of “The Opinions on Further Strengthening and Improving Propaganda and Ideological Work in Higher Education under the New Circumstances,” a document recently issued by the General Office of the Communist Party of China and the State Council. Leaders of Education Bureaus in Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu as well as leaders of Peking University, Tsinghua University, Wuhan University, Shandong University, and Xiamen University attended the conference. Yuan Guiren’s speech is part of the Chinese government’s effort to re-ideologize Chinese higher education.
In China, there was a time when universities were little more than the ideological mouthpieces of the CCP, diminishing their original purpose to disseminate knowledge and foster personal growth. Following the Party’s ideological bankruptcy in the 1980s, independent thoughts flourished on college campuses. However, the party has always resented the loss of its absolute monopoly on ideology on campuses and has held deep-rooted hostility towards Western ideas popular among university students and professors. Since Xi came to power, the re-ideologization of Chinese higher education has become what they call a “new normal” in education.
The campaign to re-ideologize Chinese universities draws on three points. The first is to demonstrate support for the party’s leadership. Reporting this conference, the mouthpiece media claimed that Chinese university professors and students “wholeheartedly support the party’s leadership, fully trust the CCP with comrade Xi Jinping as its General Secretary, and confidently believe in socialism with Chinese characteristics and the great revival of the Chinese nation through the Chinese Dream.” This glorification of Xi Jinping is aimed at legitimizing support for the party leadership in university education.
Following practices from the Mao era, administrative organs of education announced that they will take concrete measures to spread ideologies espoused by Chinese political leaders. This is the so-called “Three Into-es” requirement: “rigorously introduce the words of the General Secretary Xi Jinping into our teaching materials, into classrooms and into minds.” In other words, education bureaus in China will spare no efforts to use public resources and classroom podiums to advocates Mr. Xi’s ideology.
I believe it won’t be difficult at all to adapt Xi Jinping’s words “into teaching materials” and “into classrooms;” the education bureaus and the university authorities will only need to impose an administrative order to force the implementation. However, it is a completely different question as to whether these intellectually vapid and logically absurd ideologies can be implanted “into the minds” of the students. The history of China, or elsewhere, has proved that forced political indoctrination of young people with words of political leaders rarely achieves the goal of the indoctrinators. Instead, it fosters detestation.
The second measure to re-ideologize universities is to tighten control over teaching through executive commands. This has been specifically spelled out as the Four Nevers: “Never allow textbooks that promote western values into our classrooms; never allow any remarks that attack, defame or discredit the party’s leadership or socialism to appear in college classrooms; never allow any kind of speech in violation of the Constitution or laws to spread in college classrooms; and never allow teachers to make complaints, vent grievances in classrooms that would affect the students.”
The purpose of the “Four Nevers” is to prevent college students to gain knowledge about the evolution of human societies, suppressing any thought or speech that shows the deficiency of ideologies promoted by Chinese leaders. This is rather similar to orders given by Chinese imperial courts to “depose the hundred schools of thoughts and promote only Confucianism.”
The truth becomes clearer the more an issue is debated; only a heated debate with different points of views can test the validity of an idea. Ideologies that cannot withstand the heat of argument and are in need of administrative protection are often shallow, absurd and vulnerable.
The third measure to re-ideologize higher education in China is to restore and strengthen thought policing on college campuses. When an orthodox ideology has to be implemented through administrative enforcement and when it is sustainable only by eradicating competing ideologies, this ideology is bound to contravene human nature in fundamental ways. Such lifeless ideas cannot gain popularity, cannot sustain for long, let alone thrive. In this battle with the state and its leaders on one side and the people and the humanity on the other, a system of thought policing is inevitable.
On university campuses in China, there are two groups of people who carry out the thought policing. One group is the university staff in charge of propaganda, consisting of Party cadres, Youth League cadres, and full-time student counselors. The other group are faculty who teach the thought education classes. They are teachers but they are also thought police. They are long on political orthodoxy and short on any convincing scholarship. Yuan Guiren, in his speech, voiced clear support for these people and vowed to increase their ranks. One can anticipate that these “thought police” will once again be monitoring professors and students alike on campuses.
Hu Shaojiang (胡少江) is a commentator for Radio Free Asia.
China Education Minister Demands Rejection of Western Values, Associated Press, January 29, 2015.
China Tells Schools to Suppress Western Ideas, With One Big Exception, the New York Times, February 10, 2015.
China Is Not A Normal Country, by Chang Ping, December 22, 2014.
(Translated by Diana Zhang)