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Replacing Freedom of Thought, Party Control Bumps into Chinese University’s Charter

On Tuesday December 17, the Chinese Ministry of Education released a statement of its approved amendments to the school charters of Fudan University, Nanjing University, and Shaanxi Normal University. The revised charters of the three universities emphasized, “adherence to the (Chinese Communist) Party’s comprehensive leadership.” They stated that, “The School’s Party committees are the core of school leadership.” They also inserted expressions such as, “making it our mission to achieve the Chinese dream of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.” People became concerned that the CCP is further strengthening its control over universities and that academic freedom was declining again.

The amendments to the charter of Fudan University, known for its liberal arts, have attracted much attention. The BBC Chinese reporter compared the 2000 version of Fudan University’s charter with the revision that the Ministry of Education published. The new version removed expressions such as “freedom of thought,” “management of academic affairs by teachers and students,” “democratic management,” “independence,” and “the school is a community with scholarship at its core.”

The Party’s leadership stands out in the new charter. Added political expressions emphasize that the Party committee is above the school president, and that the university serves the Party. To name some specifics, it insists on “arming the minds of teachers and students with Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era,” “cultivating and practicing the core values of socialism,” “realizing the historical process of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation,” and “the new era of socialism with Chinese characteristics.”

The new charter places more emphasis on “ideological and political education.” It thus makes a change from “in undergraduate education, the school builds general education as the foundation” to “in undergraduate education, the school makes ideological and political education the key and general education as the foundation.”

The new charter strengthens the party’s leadership over universities and adds “adhering to the principle of the Party in control of cadres” and “adhering to the principle of the Party in control of talent.” Multiple texts involving the election and selection of personnel were changed to “in accordance with the principle of democratic centralism.” The Ministry of Education’s announcement attracted strong attention and concerns over cyberspace in China. Relevant content regarding the amendment of the charter of Fudan University was deleted from social network sites and accounts. On Wednesday December 18, netizens posted Fudan University’s school song on social networks as a silent protest.

In recent years, China’s disciplinary authorities have descended on university campuses to examine the “political discipline” of higher education institutions, including ideological issues and the infiltration of Western values, including democracy and freedom of speech. A Financial Times article three years ago stated that China’s president Xi Jinping called on universities to strengthen the Party’s leadership and stop using imported teaching materials that contain Western values.

Source: BBC Chinese, December 18, 2019