China’s communist regime implements drastic censorship and ideological control measures to ensure that educators follow the Party line.
by Han Sheng
The CCP has been enforcing strict measures to warrant absolute loyalty from teachers in China’s schools and universities, ensuring that they are exposed as little as possible to democracy, religion, and criticism about the government. Numerous educators have been punished for “improper” speech and other “ideological failures” since President Xi Jinping took office in 2013, and censorship and control measures continue to intensify.
Among them are stringent travel restrictions imposed on teachers, who are demanded to relinquish their passports after each trip abroad and are otherwise prevented from leaving China, even to take a vacation in Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan. Those who disobey are punished and may even lose their jobs.
In December 2019, the Education Bureau of Ruian, a county-level city in the eastern province of Zhejiang, publicly criticized three local teachers for traveling abroad without prior approval or extending their visits.
A primary school teacher in Inner Mongolia confirmed to Bitter Winter that it had become increasingly difficult to take a trip abroad. “We must undergo an approval process composed of several levels and encompassing a conversation on our understanding of foreign and domestic affairs, and must hand in our passports after each trip,” the teacher explained. “Those who fail to submit their passports within a set deadline are criticized publicly, and their passports are revoked for five years.”
A college teacher in Inner Mongolia told Bitter Winter that a central government inspection team came to the school last October to investigate teachers’ ideological standing in regard to pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. They interviewed all educators individually and monitored their classes to ascertain if they had “reactionary thoughts.” Those uttering “improper remarks” were punished.
“We were observed during every class,” the teacher said. She added that the Chinese Ministry of Education adopted Opinions on Building and Improving a Long-term Effective Mechanism for College Teachers’ Ethics Construction in 2016, demanding teachers “not say or do anything against the Party line in their educational or teaching activities.” Student informants planted in classes by authorities help ensure that teachers implement this order.
A primary school teacher from the northern province of Henan told Bitter Winter that the provincial Education Bureau held a meeting in June to ascertain “the dangers and potential risks in the field of ideology.” Subsequently, each school was demanded to set up an “ideological control team” to safeguard that teachers don’t make remarks criticizing the government or socialist system. The team is also assigned to scrutinize teachers’ religious beliefs.
“The government believes that religious teachers are hostile to the Party, even if they don’t evangelize,” a middle-aged teacher of English from the eastern province of Shandong said. “The CCP is afraid that they would integrate faith into teaching. That’s why they strictly control teachers and want them to follow its ideological system and eventually become puppets that cannot think independently.”
A simple remark about religion in class may land teachers in trouble.
In June last year, a primary school teacher in Shandong invited a Hui Muslim student to introduce his ethnic customs and traditions and posted the presentation’s video on WeChat, China’s most popular messaging app. The move was interpreted as “public evangelism” because the student mentioned Iftar, an evening meal to break the fast during Ramadan. The teacher was investigated by various government departments and was forced to resign. The director of the city’s Education Bureau and CCP Committee secretary had to undergo public self-criticism procedures.
Another English teacher from Shandong shared with Bitter Winter how the provincial Education Bureau criticized her for uttering words like “God” and “prayer” during a class on Jane Eyre, the famous novel by the English writer Charlotte Brontë. Anything religion-related should not enter classrooms, she was warned. One more teacher was sharply criticized for mentioning mealtime prayers while discussing dining traditions in various countries.