Since December, some of China’s top universities have been forced to edit their charters to align their views with Communist Party ideals. At Fudan University in Shanghai, officials removed all references to “freedom of thought,” triggering an intense backlash from students who are concerned about losing their free speech.
Censorship in universities
“At Fudan, students gathered in a cafeteria and joined in a rendition of Fudan’s official anthem, which includes the ‘freedom of thought’ phrase that was deleted from the school’s charter. Several professors at the university… posted messages online criticizing the decision to revise the charter, saying that the school should have consulted the faculty and the students. Many of their posts were quickly deleted by censors,” according to The New York Times.
A student at the university circulated an open letter on WeChat, asking the institution to roll back the changes. However, the university administration justified the new charter, arguing that there was nothing illegal about it and that it was only meant to “highlight” the Communist Party’s involvement in the leadership activities on campus. Rules against free speech and inquiry were always present at the university in the past. It is only now that such restrictions have been formalized.
Times Higher Education ranked Fudan at the 109th spot in its 2020 World University Rankings. As such, the current restriction will only hit the institution’s reputation globally. Instead of “freedom of thought,” the new charter refers to “patriotic education.” It states that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) committee will now be deeply involved in the decision-making process at the university while also setting its direction. Xi Jinping’s “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics” will be promoted throughout campuses.
“This is going on across the country in batches: The constitutions of all the universities are being revised… Since the Fourth Plenary Session of the 19th Party Congress … universities are being turned into strongholds of political and ideological education… Any remaining liberalism among university teachers is being completely eliminated through institutional intervention,” Wu Qiang, a former politics lecturer at Beijing’s prestigious Tsinghua University, said to Radio Free Asia.
In addition to Fudan, Shaanxi Normal University in northwestern China and Nanjing University in eastern China have also revised their charters in accordance with state policy. Both universities vowed to maintain the comprehensive leadership of the Communist Party at their institutions.
New Internet censorship
The Chinese government is also tightening the already strict Internet censorship rules in the country. A recent publication issued by the Cyberspace Administration of China outlines how Internet companies operating inside the country should manage their content.
New guidelines advocate “recommendation algorithms that promote ‘positive’ ideas [read: government policies] while excluding ‘bad’ material. The measure explicitly forbids content that ‘endangers national security, leaks state secrets, subverts state power, [and] undermines national unity.’ In other words, Internet companies can’t challenge the political status quo,” according to Engadget.
The rules will come into effect on March 1 next year. They will also enact tighter controls on who can sign up for Internet services, the management of accounts, moderation of content, and dealing with “rumors.” According to a report by Freedom House, Chinese Internet censorship hit a new low this year. The report warns that the country has become a global leader in developing, deploying, and exporting automated tools for mass surveillance on social media. China scored just 10 out of 100 points and was categorized as “not free” by the report.