Chinese authorities have been directed to intensify ideological controls on academia and turn the universities into Communist party strongholds in a major address given by China’s president, Xi Jin ping.
Experts have described the address as the latest phase of Beijing’s bid to rein in opposition to its rule.
Described by the Guardian as echoing a 1932 speech by Joseph Stalin, the Chinese president told his audience that teachers are “engineers of the human soul” whose “sacred mission” are to help students “improve in ideological quality, political awareness, moral characteristics and humanistic quality.”
Xi said, “Party authorities should increase their contact with intellectuals in colleges, befriend them and sincerely listen to their opinions.”
Carl Minzner, an expert in Chinese law and politics from Fordham University in New York, said Xi’s speech appeared to signal the next phase of a decade-long campaign to wrest back control of areas such as the media, public interest law and academia which it feared were “getting out of control.”
Universities have been coming under increasing pressure since 2014, when a party-run newspaper sent its reporters into classrooms and accused Chinese academics of not giving enough support to the country’s political system.
Minzner predicted the brunt of Xi’s ideological offensive would be felt by social science departments, with growing self-censorship, the avoidance of politically sensitive research topics and a proliferation of academic studies into the speeches and policies of Xi.
Qiao Mu, an outspoken professor from Beijing Foreign Studies University and one of the victims of the crackdown on academia, questioned whether Xi’s commands would have a “real impact” on campus life. He said were likely to be limited to influencing Communist party officials working in universities. He remarked that Chinese students have long had “socialist values” drilled into them by teachers and are already used to it.
These days, he added, the greatest influence on China’s youth was not socialism but social media.
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