Chinese academic freedom and Communist Party control
No one reading this blog will contest that for the past three decades international higher education recruitment and enrollment has been dominated by the increasing numbers of Chinese students enrolling in international colleges and universities worldwide. There also is little dispute that institutions of higher education have financially benefited from Chinese enrollment.
But there is another side to this story. Some of you reading this blog may regard my musings as China bashing. Actually, the opposite is true. Like many of you I read with a sense of awe about China’s geopolitical, economic and higher education accomplishments. But I also read with concern about the long-term implications of China’s strategies and about the bill that will soon become due.
According to a December 2, 2017 article in “The Economist, Beijing’s “Made in China 2025” strategy, modeled on Germany’s “Industry 4.0” policy, aims to transform the country into a high-tech manufacturing powerhouse in industries like artificial intelligence, aviation and robotics. The key to achieving these objectives rests with the success of China’s educated workforce.
During this month of July, I will report on why I am concerned about several recent Chinese education initiatives. This month’s blogs will focus on the issues of academic freedom, the economic and societal changes taking place on China today and the impact of Confucius Institutes on colleges and universities.
Let’s begin with the issue of academic freedom.
According to an article printed last year in The South China Morning Post, a group of China’s top universities have set up Communist Party Departments to oversee the political thinking of their teaching staff. Universities will be closely scrutinized and professors will be evaluated for ideological purity to Communist party ideals. The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the party’s powerful watchdog, recently published rectification reports on eight of China’s most prestigious universities.
Self-censorship is encouraged. Exile abroad is a very real threat.
In 2015 China’s Minister of Education urged Chinese universities to ban the use of textbooks promoting Western ideals. Last year the Chinese government prohibited foreign student participation in political activities and created new controls for international student support services.
Efforts to control universities are not restricted to Chinese schools. On October 19, 2017, Reuters and The Guardian reported on an attempt by Chinese officials to partially restrict access to the American Political Science Review, a journal published by Cambridge University Press.
This was not the first time that China imposed restrictions on Cambridge University Press.
In August 2017 Beijing demanded that Cambridge University Press withdrew 315 articles and book reviews from China Quarterly, produced by the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies. The articles covered topics considered too sensitive by the Chinese government, including Tiananmen Square protests and Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution.
Initially, Cambridge University Press authorities complied with China’s request and withdrew the articles. But three days after this decision was made, the editors reversed their earlier decision and the 315 articles were once again made available.
New York University’s campus in Shanghai and Duke University’s campus in Kunshan will now be required to give vice chancellor status or seats on boards of trustees to party secretaries.
Chinese students who studied abroad, upon returning to China are required to meet with education officials and report on any anti-party activities they experienced while abroad. Chinese students at the University of Science and Technology in Dalian have set up discussion groups to combat any negative influences on their thinking while overseas. Chinese students studying in colleges and universities in Connecticut, North Dakota and West Virginia also have similar discussion groups.
Xi Jinping’s control over the Communist Party of China and all aspects of Chinese life is indisputable. His famous Document # 9, a handbook of subversive ideas, bans topics from public discussion including the nature of human rights and the empowerment of civil society. College and university activities are not immune from Document #9.
Academic freedom or academic control?