Chinese universities replace academic freedom in charters with dicta to follow party leadership

Graduates pose for a picture in front of the statue of late Chinese leader Mao Zedong after their graduation ceremony at Fudan University in Shanghai June 28, 2013. (Photo courtesy: REUTERS/Aly Song)

(, Dec19’19) – The Chinese government has never been known for its respect for academic freedom in the country’s higher institutions of learning. But now even the farcical mention of that freedom has been removed from the university charters to be replaced by the imperative to uphold the communist party leadership.

In Shanghai’s prestigious Fudan University, the move has provoked fierce online criticism this week from academics, alumni and students, which were swiftly deleted by China’s censors, reported Dec 19. Also, students of the university staged a rare demonstration in a cafeteria on Dec 18 to sing the university’s anthem, which included a line that academic freedoms should not be restrained by politics.

The university has released a statement on Weibo, a social media platform, on Dec 18, saying the charter revision “reflects the spirit of the 19th Party Congress” and “further stresses the party’s overall leadership of university work”. This referred to President Xi Jinping’s ideology or “Thought” which was added to the party charter at that congress two years ago.

The report said similar revisions had also been made by a handful of other universities in recent months, including Beijing’s respected Renmin University.

Xi’s ascension to power has seen higher education institutions being targeted repeatedly in an effort to strengthen party control and ensure absolute loyalty to the leadership among China’s intellectual elite.

The report noted that scholars who had been critical of Xi and the imposition of strict ideological controls had been stripped of their positions, while student Marxist activists who challenge the party’s leadership over worker rights had been detained and expelled.

“Party control has invaded every aspect of university life,” the report quoted an unnamed Fudan academic as saying. “There is a strong sense of following the party line within the academic community.”

Fudan’s previous charter, approved by the Ministry of Education in 2015, had taken four years of debate by academics and a public review before completion, the report noted, citing staff at the university.

“We are entering a new norm,” the report quoted another unnamed Fudan academic as saying. “It would be unusual [now] for a university not to stress party leadership in its charter.”


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