Strict control over the minds of university students in the mainland has been imposed to prevent them from being influenced by democratic beliefs and ideals.
by Jiang Tao
Violent clashes between the police and pro-democracy protestors on the campuses of Hong Kong universities have caused resentment against the government among students from mainland China studying both at home and abroad. To show their solidarity, they created an online version of the so-called Lennon wall, where they post their student IDs and diplomas with messages of support to fellow student protestors in Hong Kong.
Such expression of solidarity from people living on the mainland, especially the young, is causing considerable concerns for the Chinese authorities. Students from universities in the central province of Henan revealed to Bitter Winter that their schools’ administrations had launched educational campaigns “on the origin and nature of Hong Kong’s current situation and university students’ mission and responsibility” to curb the sentiments of camaraderie with the protestors. Testimonies from the students reveal that the content is basically the same, although lectures are given by different teachers and in different schools.
The teachers hired for such classes usually come from the School of Marxism, an institution responsible for teaching political ideology. With support from the CCP’s Central Committee, the teaching staff in this field have been strengthened increasingly. Therefore, the classes are presented through a one-sided ideological angle, omitting the truth and painting protestors as “rioters.”
“Look how cruel these Hong Kong rioters are,” one of the students recalled a comment by a teacher who was showing a propaganda video about the protests in class. Unsurprisingly, the teacher didn’t mention the protesters’ five demands; neither did he explain why the tension in Hong Kong continues to build up. He only emphasized that behaviors “separating the country are unforgivable” and denounced a “dirty plan” by the US and Taiwan in regards to Hong Kong.
Propaganda teachers usually explain to students that the support for the so-called “rioters” is growing because of the money. One of the examples they provide is that protestors give each student 100 Hong Kong dollars (about $ 13) to form a human chain or besiege a police station.
The teachers define “the mission of university students in contemporary China” as “staunchly opposing the riot in Hong Kong, never showing sympathy or support for the rioters in any form, and having a high level of uniformity with the central government.” They add that it is essential to “study hard and be the most loyal patriots forever.” Students are also warned not to take part in any political events and demonstrations which are not supported by the government.
A teacher from a university in the eastern province of Shandong commented during a class that the state is entitled “to take violent measures to deal with the riots.” He gave some examples to demonstrate that mainland China has a good social security index under the CCP’s rule, and ascribed the “failure” of Hong Kong to the lack of patriotic education.
The propaganda seems to be having an effect on some students: they started organizing patriotic groups on their own. Those students and teachers who disapprove of this or support the pro-democracy protestors don’t dare to say anything.
One of the interviewed students recalled an incident in the class when a classmate expressed his dissatisfaction with Xi Jinping’s iron fist rule in dealing with the protests in Hong Kong, and the teacher immediately interrupted him, warning him “not to make political mistakes.” Otherwise, he will have problems when the time comes for him to join the CCP, which is regarded as a significant advantage in finding a good job in China.
“The school has planted informants in each class. Teachers and students alike have no idea who among them is a snitch, and may report on them,” revealed a teacher from a university in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. “Nowadays, not only the criticism of the CCP has been banned: remarks about the issues that are causing concerns, such as environmental pollution, are also not allowed. Even speaking about social problems in class will result in being branded as ‘ideologically problematic.’ Besides, there are surveillance cameras installed in classrooms, and we don’t know if someone is watching us. It evokes terror just seeing them.”
The teacher added that his school administration assesses the “wrong ideological tendencies” of the teaching staff by implementing random inspections during their classes. His colleagues who are Party members are required to stop those around them from saying anything deemed unfavorable to the Party, be it in public or private situations.
The teacher has been interrupted and warned by his colleagues when he privately criticized Xi Jinping’s words in a slogan and mentioned the Tiananmen Square massacre in June 1989.