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China drops “freedom of thought” from top university charters

Changes to the charter of Fudan University, a prestigious Chinese university known for its liberal atmosphere, including dropping the phrase “freedom of thought” and the inclusion instead of sentences that emphasize the firm leadership of the party over the school
triggered a heated online debate and a rare act of student defiance.

The news emerged on Tuesday when the Chinese Ministry of Education announced the approval of the revision for three universities.

The new statute states that the university must “arm the minds of teachers and students using the ideology of socialism of Xi Jinping with the characteristics of China in the new era”.

In addition to that of Fudan, the charters of Shaanxi Normal and Nanjing University have been modified, according to documents published by the ministry of education.

Fudan is considered one of the most independent universities in China and is ranked 109 globally in the Times Higher Education’s 2020 world university rankings.

Within hours, the changes to the charter became one of the main trends on Weibo.

Some commentators on Weibo discussed how these revisions indicate a further interference by the Communist Party within university life.

Critical posts were promptly removed online, although the issue continued to be discussed in private groups.

Since Xi Jinping came to power in 2012, China has tightened its grip on censorship, online content control, and civil society.

A video that was released on Twitter on Wednesday showed a group of Fudan students during a lunch break singing the hymn of their university, which included the phrase “freedom of thought”.

The authenticity of the video was confirmed by Reuters, who contacted some students.

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