Intelligentsia in the Crosshairs: Xi Jinping’s Ideological Rectification of Higher Education in China

Carl Minzer:

China is in the midst of an ambitious rectification campaign. Since 2014, Xi Jinping has launched an aggressive effort to reassert party ideological controls over art, culture, and higher education that had partially slipped during the more relaxed atmosphere of China’s post-1978 reform era. Within Chinese universities, intellectuals are facing intensified pressures for political conformity —through political education, funding pressures, and direct repression. Such efforts resemble the early stages of the campaign to re-establish party dominance over the bar and legal profession in the early 2000s. These pressures are likely to steadily worsen in the near future, with significant negative implications for intellectual life in China.

Within the party, Xi has been elevated ideologically to a level far exceeding that of his predecessors and approaching that once reserved for Mao. Constitutional limits on his tenure as state president have been removed; tacit limits on his role as general secretary of the CCP have been toppled. Within society at large, party power is steadily flowing back into areas from which it had retreated. Religion is one example. As Richard Madsen notes in the September 2019 issue of the China Leadership Monitor, party authorities have adopted a much more aggressive policy aimed at “Sinicizing” religion in China—with Islam and Christianity as key targets.[1] After Xi’s 2016 speech to the party conference on religious affairs stressing the need for tighter controls, a flurry of actions followed: absorption of the State Administration of Religious Affairs by the party’s United Front Work Department, tough new controls over religious expression, heightened efforts to “Sinicize” religious buildings (for instance, by removing Arabic lettering or motifs from Islamic mosques or removing crosses from Christian churches), and escalated repression of individual congregations.