China Underground > China News > Restrictions on China’s Intellectuals Persist Despite End of Zero-COVID Policy

Restrictions on China’s Intellectuals Persist Despite End of Zero-COVID Policy

Last Updated on 2023/01/03

It has become increasingly challenging for scholars and intellectuals to openly express or exchange academic views, particularly those that differ from the views promoted by the party under Xi.

Some academics have warned of negative consequences for China due to a lack of critical thinking skills among young students. There has been a trend of growing difficulty among Chinese intellectuals to openly express and exchange their academic views, particularly if they differ from the views promoted by the Communist Party and President Xi Jinping.

Since taking power in 2012, Xi has implemented a wide-ranging initiative to shape the country’s ideological perspective. This initiative involves the suppression of platforms or spaces where views critical of the government are expressed, as well as the promotion of party-favored narratives and values in the public discourse. According to some scholars, the evaluation of professors in the social sciences at universities has become more focused on their adherence to party ideology, and those who deviate from this ideology may face scrutiny from student informants and unexpected inspections from higher authorities.

There is concern among scholars that the restrictions and controls on intellectual expression will severely hinder the ability of Chinese intellectuals to expand their knowledge in the social sciences and the ability of the next generation to think critically. Some have reported that this trend is already becoming evident. A literature teacher at a university in Guangzhou, who wished to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the subject, stated that at every faculty meeting, she is reminded not to discuss certain subjects, including universal values, press freedom, and civil rights, with students. These subjects were designated as taboo in college courses in 2013, when Xi became president, and have since been established as a strict ideological boundary in Chinese universities.

According to South China Morning Post, scholars without a clear state affiliation seeking to publish research on Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Muslim groups in China can expect to be censured by Chinese journals. Additionally, invitations for guest speakers in class must be preapproved. As a result of these restrictions on the social sciences, the country has stopped gaining new knowledge on these subjects, according to an anonymous Beijing-based political scientist.

In addition to the various restrictions on the topics that can be studied, Chinese scholars are evaluated under a system based on political indoctrination, with a focus on Marxist schools and university courses. By March, there were over 1,400 Marxist schools within China’s universities, according to the Ministry of Education. These institutes, which have rapidly proliferated in recent years and can be found in comprehensive universities, medical schools, and art academies across the country, heavily emphasize courses and the study of the party’s governance, particularly under Xi. In past speeches over the past decade, Xi has emphasized the importance of political indoctrination in “the entire process” of education in colleges and universities and stated that the ultimate purpose of education should be to train for the future of China’s political system.

Even some of the strongest supporters of the Communist Party and defenders of its policies have expressed concern about the intellectual landscape in China’s social sciences. According to Zheng Yongnian, director of the Institute for International Affairs at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shenzhen, “original ideas” in the social sciences are just as important as technology in driving innovation. He argued that official interference in academic work should be minimized to allow scholars the freedom to research and express themselves. Zheng, a respected political scientist who was invited to give a lecture to the Politburo (the highest policymaking body in China, led by Xi) on China’s five-year plan in 2020, stated that given China’s current academic environment, characterized by a rigid evaluation system heavily focused on the publication of papers, it would be “a fairy tale” to see the emergence of important thinkers in the social sciences. He commented that the evaluation system in China “is simply suffocating people’s minds” and that the country is now “big on the number of papers being published, but small on original ideas.”

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