Universities Turn to Battlefields of Ideology

by    /  March 18, 2015  / No comments

A statue of Miguel de Cervantes at Peking University, in China. Photo via Flickr user: Jens Schott Knudsen.

Officials in President Xi’s administration caution against the West influencing Chinese universities, even though they have no problem sending their own families to North American schools.

On January 24, the CCP-operated website Qiushi published an article by a writer named Xu Lan from the propaganda bureau in Ningbo, Zhejiang province. Xu criticized He Weifang, a Peking University law professor who is famous for taking a disobedient stance towards pressure from above and claiming academic freedom in his research. In his article, Xu Lan blamed Professor He Weifang for using the classroom to promote constitutionalism, an echo of the “big party or large law” discussion which has been inflaming the Chinese Internet for months.

  1. Blind Chess, a column by Tienchi Martin-Liao
  2. During the Cultural Revolution, people were sentenced to death or outright murdered because of one wrong sentence. In China today writers do not lose their lives over their poems or articles; however, they are jailed for years. My friend Liu Xiaobo for example will stay in prison til 2020; even winning the Nobel Peace Prize could not help him. In prison those lucky enough not to be sentenced to hard labor play “blind chess” to kill time AND TO TRAIN THE BRAIN NOT TO RUST. Freedom of expression is still a luxury in China. The firewall is everywhere, yet words can fly above it and so can our thoughts. My column, like the blind chess played by prisoners, is an exercise to keep our brains from rusting and the situation in China from indifference.
  3. Tienchi Martin-Liao
  4. Tienchi Martin-Liao is the president of the Independent Chinese PEN Center. Previously she worked at the Institute for Asian Affairs in Hamburg, Germany, and lectured at the Ruhr-University Bochum from 1985 to 1991. She became head of the Richard-Wilhelm Research Center for Translation in 1991 until she took a job in 2001 as director of the Laogai Research Foundation (LRF) to work on human rights issues. She was at LRF until 2009. Martin-Liao has served as deputy director of the affiliated China Information Center and was responsible for updating the Laogai Handbook and working on the Black Series, autobiographies of Chinese political prisoners, and other human rights books. She was elected president of the Independent Chinese PEN Center in October 2009 and has daily contact with online journalists in China.

In the article, Xu Lan also criticized Chen Danqing, the former art professor of Qinghua University, who idealized the United States in one of his recent publications. According to Xu, these two professors are the typical example of populist blusterers: spouting criticisms as soon as they open their mouths. Xu’s article might be the prelude to a new wave of cleaning up the high education institutes, which have recently again become the battlefield for China’s ideological discourse.

Several days later, the education minister Yuan Guiren gave a speech as a part of a conference “on further enhancing and improving the situation of ideological propaganda in universities and colleges.” Many principals participated in the conference, where the minister warned educators about Western “dangers.” Yuan, a former student and later professor of philosophy and Marxism, showed his loyalty to president Xi Jinping, who spoke at the conference in December about “Party work in the universities and colleges.” Xi demanded that the Party improve its role in the university and take a leading role in building up a “socialist university with Chinese characteristics.”

Following Xi’s example, Yuan said even more decisively: “We can use Western materials, but need to have strict control over the values they teach. Materials that spread Western values by no means have a place in our classrooms; never allow any attack upon or defamation of our party’s leadership or discrediting remarks against socialism; never allow any violation against the constitution and laws in front of the class; it is forbidden for teachers to complain in the classroom, vent grievances, or impart negative emotions to students.”

However, it is not clear at all what Mr. Yuan means by “Western values,” as the last 300 years of Chinese modernization – not to mention science, medicine, technology, philosophy, and art – has been based on Western civilization. European thinkers fatally infect even the Chinese Communist Party’s philosophy: Marx, Lenin, Hegel, and so on. With a slavish submissiveness, Yuan deferred to his boss, regardless of common sense and dignity. Is Yuan so poorly informed that he did not know that Xi sent his daughter to Harvard to learn Western knowledge and values? (However, when he became the ruler of China in 2014, he ordered his daughter to return home.) What’s more, Xi’s sister and brother are Canadian and Australian citizens. Sycophant Yuan should hope that his kiss-ass performance will not boomerang back to him.

The new term “naked officials” is being used to describe the servants of the Chinese government, who stay in mainland China but send their wives, concubines, and children abroad with assets of $50 billion. The men stay behind, continuing to collect wealth and conjure public money into private pockets. In 2012, a scholar of the Central Party School said that the government authority is convinced, that on the whole, there are 1.18 million “naked officials” in China.

In fact, most of the Central Committee members have family members in foreign countries. It is said that 76.77% of the representatives of the Political Consultative Conference and 56.47% of the People’s Congress are foreign citizens. “A wily hare has three holes to his burrows,” to quote a Chinese proverb. When the boat is sinking, these officials are the first to know where to flee. Since one of president Xi Jinping’s important political achievements is fighting against corruption, could he lock half of Congress behind bars?

The rich and powerful cadres send their children out to US and Europe, allowing their kids to be spoiled or “degenerated” in the capitalist world. At the same time, they worry about the youngsters being polluted by bad Western ideas through teachers in their home country. These are a schizophrenic cluster of authorities indeed. And these are the officials that the Xi administration wants to use to build up a “socialist country with Chinese characteristics”?!

About the Author

Tienchi Martin-Liao is the president of the Independent Chinese PEN Center. Previously she worked at the Institute for Asian Affairs in Hamburg, Germany, and lectured at the Ruhr-University Bochum from 1985 to 1991. She became head of the Richard-Wilhelm Research Center for Translation in 1991 until she took a job in 2001 as director of the Laogai Research Foundation (LRF) to work on human rights issues. She was at LRF until 2009. Martin-Liao has served as deputy director of the affiliated China Information Center and was responsible for updating the Laogai Handbook and working on the Black Series, autobiographies of Chinese political prisoners and other human rights books. She was elected president of the Independent Chinese PEN Center in October 2009 and has daily contact with online journalists in China.

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