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China uses student spies to keep the academia on toe

Staff members monitor test venues as students take China's annual national college entrance examination, or 'gaokao,' in Xian, north-central China's Shaanxi province, June 7, 2018. (Photo courtesy; REUTERS)
Staff members monitor test venues as students take China’s annual national college entrance examination, or ‘gaokao,’ in Xian, north-central China’s Shaanxi province, June 7, 2018. (Photo courtesy: REUTERS)

(TibetanReview.net, Jun17, 2018) – China is using “student information officers” at colleges and universities across the country to punish students and teachers who make the mistake of finding fault with the communist Party of China and its governance, reported the Cantonese Service of rfa.org Jun 14. Their reports on opinions expressed by teachers and students result in classmates and teachers being sanctioned and sacked, the report said.

The report cited the case last month of associate professors Xu Chuanqing of the Beijing University of Civil Engineering and Architecture being issued an administrative demerit after she made comments in class that the authorities deemed inappropriate.

Xu was accused of having commented that the Japanese were superior to the Chinese. But she has said her remarks had been taken out of context; that she only tried to shame her students into catching up with Japan by working harder in class. She was reported by a student in her class.

The report also cited the case of Xia Yeliang, a former economics professor at Peking University (Beida). He was fired in 2013 for making “anti-Communist Party and anti-socialism” remarks in class. He has said “student information officers” played a key role in his sacking.

He has said such student spies worked in an organized manner; that there were economic benefits to becoming such an officer, as well as the prospect of a future in politics. He has said they are required to report to the party anything negative that their lecturers say in class, as well as on ideological trends among their classmates.

He has said other benefits of being a student spy included a boost to their research and development opportunities, increased access to government departments, and opportunities to go overseas on exchange programmes.

Xia has said that while student spies were nothing new in China, the extent to which the system relies on them had varies greatly, depending on who’s in charge at the top.

After the political violence of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), the system of informants in higher education was strengthened under the administration of President Hu Jintao and has now been intensified by President Xi Jinping who took over in 2012. Xi launched an unprecedented set of ideological controls and boosted the institutions needed to enforce them, Xia, a signatory of the Charter 08 document calling for constitutional government in China, has said.

The report also noted that last July, Beijing Normal University lecturer Shi Jiepeng was fired after being accused of posting “inappropriate comments” on social media, including WeChat. A copy of his termination letter posted on Twitter at the time expressly stated these grounds for his sacking.

Also, Li Mohai, a deputy professor at the Shandong Institute of Industry and Commerce, was reported to have been fired from his job after he criticized government propaganda via his social media account.

“Encouraging secret informing is a hallmark of dictatorial regimes,” Beijing constitutional scholar and political commentator Zhang Lifan has said. “The Stasi did the same in East Germany. We are all living in 1984 now,” he has added, referring to George Orwell’s classic novel 1984.

“All of this goes to show just how worried those in power are, and there are always people who are willing to stab someone in the back,” he has said. “If this was truly a self-confident regime, they wouldn’t fear criticism.”

Students studying overseas have also been reported on, to the concerned Chinese embassies, by student spies. Dissenting opinions are often characterized in spy reports as “antisocial,” “antiparty,” and “splitting the country”, the report said.

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