Strengthened Communist Party Role at China’s Colleges Creates Backlash

(Bloomberg) -- Changes to the charters of three universities in China to refer to the absolute leadership of the Communist Party has sparked intense debate among the nation’s social media users this week.

The phrase “freedom of thought” went missing from the charter of Fudan University in Shanghai, one of China’s top schools, with the college’s authorities strengthening references to the party’s leadership. Fudan is one of the more liberal of China’s higher education institutions, and the phrase “academic independence and freedom of thought” is a line from the school song.

The changes provoked a substantial reaction on Weibo, China’s equivalent to Twitter. A hashtag on Weibo on the changes at Fudan had been seen more than 1.4 million times, and was referred to in more than 800 separate discussions.

Qu Weiguo, professor at Fudan University’s foreign languages school, said on Weibo that the amendment is against the university’s rules and ministry regulations as no discussions occurred at staff meetings. That post was later deleted.

Referring to Fudan, a Weibo user said “the Young Werther has turned into someone actively applying for Communist Party membership.” Werther is a reference to the title character from an 18th century German novel about a young, idealistic man.

The charter of Nanjing University, also one of China’s top schools, now says the institution will “maintain the comprehensive leadership of the Communist Party,” before listing its other missions. Shaanxi Normal University also added the same phrase to its charter.

China’s Ministry of Education said it had approved the three amendments in statements dated Dec. 2. After the debate flared, the ministry removed the original statements on the changes to the charters of Fudan and Shaanxi, which showed what had been deleted and added. These were replaced with simpler statements which only showed the additions. It was unknown whether the statement on Nanjing had changed.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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