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Beijing bans inter-college debates on 1911 revolution

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 April, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 April, 2011, 12:00am


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Beijing authorities banned an inter-university debate competition on the 1911 revolution scheduled to open last night.

The first ban in the event's history comes at a sensitive time - with still no word from prominent artist Ai Weiwei a week after he was detained at Beijing airport, and amid a broad crackdown on dissidents and mass gatherings following calls for a 'jasmine revolution' on the mainland.

Renmin University politics professor Zhang Ming, who was to be one of the competition's judges, said the Beijing Municipal Committee of the Communist Youth League suddenly ordered organisers to cancel the competition on Friday, a day before the opening ceremony.

The debates, held annually since 2002, were to focus on 'The Three Principles of the People - nationalism, democracy, and livelihood', the guiding political philosophy for the 1911 revolution developed by Dr Sun Yat-sen, the founding father of modern China.

The organisers, from the Beijing Institute of Technology, said the competition aimed to encourage students to review the 1911 revolution and reflect on today's China.

'Let us reassess this part of the history [the 1911 revolution] against the backdrop of its 100th anniversary,' a statement on the competition's website said.

'We should not only look at those exciting victories of the revolution, but what is hidden beneath - the awakening of people's awareness in this country and the spread of democracy.'

A total of 16 universities, including the elite Peking University, Renmin University, and Tianjin University, were to take part in the event.

The central government has hoped to use the centenary of the revolution - hailed by the Communist Party as a heroic act to overturn feudalism - to engage Taiwan and to stir up public patriotism. But any reference to revolution and democracy now seems to touch a raw nerve in the Communist Party, analysts say.

Wen Yunchao, a prominent mainland writer, said the timing, the participants and the topics for debate were sensitive in the eyes of the authorities.

'The competition was to take place on weekends and a group of university students were going to debate on topics related to democracy and revolution,' he said.

Beijing has been on high alert for gatherings in public areas following recent anonymous online calls urging mainlanders to stage 'jasmine' rallies every Sunday - an attempt to copy the recent popular uprisings in the Middle East.

Wen said he believed the authorities would still commemorate the 1911 revolution because many official activities had already been planned in the run-up to the centenary in October. '[But] I think the authorities will avoid all sensitive issues such as democracy and revolution and turn it into a purely patriotic movement,' he said.

During the centenary of the May Fourth Movement in 2009, President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao highlighted the importance of patriotic education in talks to university students, omitting the movement's original spirit of 'democracy and science'.

Zhang said students were angry and disappointed about the authorities' last-minute ban.

'In order to maintain social stability, the authorities are afraid of every sensitive topic. They are even willing to sacrifice the engagement with Taiwan,' he said.

Both the mainland and Taiwan honour Sun as a national father.

The cancellation follows a controversial programme at Peking University to identify 'radical students' and send them to meetings with campus administrators. The authorities have also tightened up control in university areas in Beijing last month to prevent students from responding to the rally calls.

In the Peking university campaign, administrators from each faculty will screen students who need 'special help' from the university and report the cases to relevant university departments.

A trial programme started quietly in the university's medical faculty and its elite Yuanpei college in November. The programme would be extended to the entire university from May.