Politics and Academics in China

Bill Bishop:

Tackling the academy was thus the next logical step. According to the January Central Committee Document, universities are to put a higher priority on teaching (research is only mentioned insofar it concerns Marxist and Socialist theory), strengthen a common ideological basis and enhance Party leadership in higher education. Political theory courses and textbooks are to be centralized, and new evaluation and performance management systems introduced, in order to standardize the curriculum. Teaching staff will be required to participate in regular ideology training and study sessions, and to spend time engaging in “social practice” outside campuses. In the weeks since this document was published, the heads of all elite education institutions have published pledges of allegiance in various Party media.

There are quite a few reasons why the academy is targeted. First, it has internationalized more than any other professional group in China. Many well-regarded Chinese professors have either been educated abroad, or have spent considerable time outside China as visiting researchers. This considerable time spent living in a different political environment has provided them with a more nuanced understanding of social and political organization in other countries than can be gained in short trips. Second, they have considerable input into policymaking processes. China’s technocratic governance mode has often valued expert input more than public participation. This, therefore, provides academics with avenues to transform imported ideas into reality. Third, “patriotic worrying” is a part of Chinese intellectual tradition, which compels academics to relentlessly search out flaws in the China of the present in order to perfect the China of the future. Fourth, as educators, they are crucial in shaping the worldview of a new generation. However, the current generation of millennials (balinghou and jiulinghou) is already seen as rebellious and hedonistic, and it seems the leadership has decided that they’d better not be further confused. Remember: political protests in China over the last century, from May Fourth to Tiananmen, have tended to originate from universities. [Editors note: Pang Xianzhi, the former Director of the CPC Central Committee Party Literature Research Center, recently said this explicitly in 关于意识形态问题的一些看法, an essay that was republished on People’s Daily Online. Pang wrote “历史经验证明,出事往往从高校而起.” ]