Chinese Communist Party targets university known for global outlook

Shantou University, which has had Pullitzer Prize winners teach at its journalism school, is under fire for not toeing ideological line

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 28 March, 2017, 7:35pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 March, 2017, 11:23pm

A university in Guangdong that is known for its international outlook has been accused by Communist Party inspectors of doing a poor job of toeing the ideological line and resisting illegal religious “infiltration”.

The criticism of Shantou University, which was founded in 1981 with donations from the Li Ka Shing Foundation, comes as colleges and universities across the country are under ideological pressure from the party.

Prominent Chinese university bans staff from criticising Communist Party in class

Every academic institution in China is controlled by a party committee answering to senior cadres.

Party secretaries in key schools such as Peking and Tsinghua University are appointed by the Central Organisation Department, while local institutions like Shantou University are subject to provincial party committees.

Guangdong provincial party discipline inspectors conducted a 50-day inspection last October and November of Shantou University. It was found to have “weak links” in its ideological work, and to have made inadequate efforts to guard against “illegal religious infiltration”, according to a statement on the university’s website.

The party committee at Shantou University was “weak in playing the role of political leadership and political correctness” and “untimely in implementing decisions from the central and provincial party leadership”, chief inspector Yang Hanjun was quoted as saying.

Communist dogma for cool cats: China tells universities to hop to and put the hip into ideology

Yang urged the school’s party committee to establish strict control of overseas programmes, seminars and academic forums on campus. It was also told to more closely monitor comments by students and teachers in class and on the internet.

In particular, the university was told to “enhance management” of foreign teachers and to select academic leaders by looking at their political backgrounds.

The ideological scrutiny is part of a nationwide campaign that does not target Shantou University specifically. But the fact that it was told publicly to suppress liberal views and increase censorship is unusual, given that the Li Ka Shing Foundation’s investment in the campus is set to reach HK$8 billion by next year.

The school has in the past had Pulitzer Prize winners like Peter Arnett and Ching-Ching Ni teach at its journalism school, and its English Language Centre has more than 20 foreign instructors.

China’s top colleges to face ideological inspections

Song Yaozhen, the party secretary at Shantou University, said it “completely accepts” the criticisms of the inspectors.

The party’s ideological control of higher education has intensified since President Xi Jinping took power in late 2012.

Colleges and universities were told the following year to steer clear of teaching about universal values, press freedom or civil rights.

Last year, Xi vowed to turn campuses into “strongholds of the party’s leadership” that ensure orthodox Marxism dominates the thinking of academics and students.