As Chinese leader Xi Jinping continues to consolidate power, the Chinese Communist Party is working to include more of his writings and opinions as a mandatory part of country’s university curriculum.
Beginning in the fall 2020 semester, 37 key colleges and universities across the country offered a course, “An Overview of Socialist Thought with Chinese Characteristics in Xi Jinping’s New Era,” according to the CCP’s theoretical journal, Seeking Truth. These institutions include top universities such as Peking University and Tsinghua University.
Smaller universities across China have since echoed the call. A local news website reported on November 10 that Yantai Vocational College in Shandong province has built three teams for adding the readings to its curriculum (teaching Xi’s theory).
In many cases, the new content, commonly called “Xi Jinping Thought,” are being added to courses that already study his writings on “the four self-confidences” that he proposed in 2016. They outline core beliefs in Xi’s socialist theory, social system, culture and road, which refers to “socialist road with Chinese characteristics.”
For decades, China’s Communist Party emphasized collective leadership as power changed hands from one chosen Communist Party leader to the next. Xi has changed this approach since becoming China’s paramount leader in 2012, concentrating power and encouraging a personality cult around himself by inserting his political writings into Communist Party and government constitutions. The government even released a smartphone app teaching “Xi Jinping Thought” that it claims is one of the most popular in China.
Along with the focus on more ideological education, western news organizations are reporting that internal documents from Chinese universities show there are new efforts to track public opinion on university campuses.
In one set of documents, the Heilongjiang Institute of Architecture and Vocational Technology summarized “eight risks” for political education in universities. These eight risks include foreign non-governmental organizations stepping up contacts with students, foreign “hostile elements” promoting “street politics” activities, as well as what it called weaknesses in students’ ideology and difficulties in controlling the content of teachers’ training outside the school.
Qin Weiping, a political analyst, told VOA that taken together, these measures show how the Communist Party lacks self-confidence, and students and teachers on these campuses are not firm believers of the Communist Party’s doctrines.
“In a sense, if the CCP is really confident, it won’t spread the four confidences in the form of documents and movements across the country,” Qin said. “It reflects the deep insecurity, the urgent crisis of governance within the ruling party’s high-level ruling group. There is also doubt within the party and in society about the party’s policies and the future direction of the country.”
New curriculum for liberal arts degrees
Another new Communist Party initiative at Chinese universities is aimed at modifying the current liberal arts curriculum to spread more “Xi Jinping Thought” and to “improve students’ ideological awareness and moral standards.”
On November 3, the Ministry of Education issued a Declaration on the Construction of New Liberal Arts. The declaration proposed creating a new approach for teaching philosophy and social sciences that it argues would enhance the country’s cultural soft power. This includes incorporating more of Xi’s writings and ideology into the liberal arts curriculum.
In recent years, Chinese Communist Party officials have emphasized removing “western values” from Chinese curriculum, without explicitly defining which foreign writers or ideas are objectionable.
In China’s universities, this has led some school administrators to say that some entire departments need to be restructured.
According to Chinese media reports, Xu Xianming, an official at the Ministry of Education, stressed that “liberal arts should be shifted to be under the leadership of the Chinese discourse system and out from under the leadership of the western discourse system. China’s new liberal arts doesn’t exist if the shift is not completed.”
Jia Huixuan, a retired liberal arts professor at Peking University, disagrees with this guidance.
“We at Peking University have always advocated inclusiveness and science and academic freedom,” Jia said. “Trying to put restrictions on academic activities is not wise.”
Others are more critical of the proposed changes.
“Strengthening liberal arts education may be a kind of political propaganda because the Communist Party of China’s liberal arts has been used by the regime … to strengthen the loyalty of the king’s (leadership’s) thought,” Qin said.
Adrianna Zhang contributed to this report.