Smog monitors of the world unite! Marxism meets ozone science in awkward Chinese academic paper

Thesis by environmental science students raises concerns over ideological controls on campus

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 August, 2017, 4:02pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 August, 2017, 4:56am

The Communist Manifesto is silent on greenhouse gases but that hasn’t stopped a group of Chinese students from linking Marxist theory to ozone pollution standards.

In an academic paper published in state-run journal Environment and Sustainable Development, the doctoral candidates from Beijing Normal University said Marxism could be used to set ozone standards, build monitoring stations and cut air pollution in China.

“Marxism tells us practice is the source of all knowledge,” the environmental science students wrote.

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“In reducing ozone pollution, practice is the sole criterion for testing truth.

“Air pollution is a problem that concerns people’s lives … the Communist Party has always respected the role of people in history and society.”

The paper, “Application of Marxism in Environmental Monitoring and Analysis of Ozone in Beijing”, was first written for a compulsory ideology class, a source said.

The students had been asked to submit a thesis on how Marxism applied to their own research area and from there the paper made its way into the journal.

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The paper states it was sponsored by the governments of Beijing and Guangdong as well as the ministries of science and technology and environmental protection.

The awkward mix of ideological and scientific language prompted online ridicule and concerns about ideological control but the comments were quickly pulled from news sites.

Yuan Lanfeng, a researcher at the Chinese University of Science and Technology, said on his microblog that the paper reminded him of the ideological zealotry of the Cultural Revolution.

“I was shocked to see a scientific paper like that in an academic journal,” Yuan said. “It feels like being back in a time of political fanaticism that is too painful to remember.”

Ideology classes are compulsory for all students in China and they have become a higher priority under President Xi Jinping, who said in December the classes were a key way for students to understand China and the world “in a correct way”.

Even today PhD students cannot get their doctorate without passing a course on “Chinese Marxism and the Contemporary World”.

One biology graduate said she spent two to three hours every week attending lectures on Marxism or Maoism during her undergraduate studies at Shanghai Jiao Tong University.

“Most of my classmates were sleeping, studying other subjects or playing with their phones,” the 22-year-old said. “I remember nothing from those classes.”

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The authorities admit the courses are not capturing students’ enthusiasm.

Education Minister Chen Baosheng said in March that the ideology classes were not interesting enough.

“Students are in the classroom but their hearts are not,” Chen said. “This year, we need to have a tough battle to improve the quality of ideo-political classes.”