CPIFC Briefing Series* Oct. 20, 2018
(Eileen, a college teacher in China, is a reporter for Yibao,an online magazine run by Citizen Power Initiatives for China)
Since 2013, cameras had been installed gradually in each classroom of my university, and even five or six cameras in larger classrooms. We were told that the cameras would be mainly used for exam invigilation to release the burden of teachers. We hadn’t had time to jump for joy before we found that the invigilator task has not been reduced at all. Instead, there was a bad news from the Academic Affairs Office: “they will randomly check the teachers’ late arrival or early dismissal, and observe any teacher’s lecture/class in the surveillance room of the cameras.” Doesn’t this mean that the school can monitor our words and deeds through the cameras? We had been fooled again!
Since then, I have consciously and unconsciously started self-censorship in class. In fact, even before the installation of cameras, I couldn’t talk as I wanted. Since 2008, the school has arranged one student reporter in each class. We were told that the student reporters were only responsible for recording attendance and absenteeism of students. But I have a well-connected colleague who once inadvertently revealed that a teacher criticized the Communist Party in class, and this was recorded and reported by the student reporter and thus the teacher was warned by the school leaders. But my popularity among the students is quite good, and I am very confident that the student reporter will not report my words. But since the cameras are installed, teaching has become more and more boring and scary, because no one knows if the leaders who never teach are sitting in the monitoring room to monitor us, so for many words, I dare not speak. “Big Brother is watching you.” This sentence is often hovering in my mind.
I remember when I taught the word “demonstration”, I mentioned that “demonstration is legal in the United States.” This sentence even made me worried for a few days, because if the student reporter reported or the leaders heard it, it is very likely that I would be sentenced for “inciting students.” In fact, I would like to tell the students: “In a country where people can vote, people can go to the streets if they are dissatisfied with something, especially the dissatisfaction with the government. The government must give a reasonable solution and the people will stop. In China, although the Constitution stipulates that we have the right to march, but as long as you go to the streets, you would be put in jail for “pocket crimes” such as “inciting subversion of the country.” What is waiting for you would be torture, confessions on TV, or even loss of your life”. However, I did not dare to speak at all.
Another time when the word “republic” (共和国) was taught, the English explanation in the book was: a political system in which the supreme power lies in a body of citizens who can elect people to represent them. I only dared to explain this in Chinese: 共和国或共和政体是指人民可以选举产生代表自己的政治体制. In fact, I would like to tell the students: “Our country is also called “Republic,” but we have never had the right to vote and never seen the votes of our country, so the People’s Republic of China is a fake. Only in the nations where the people have the right to vote, is the republic real. The fake republic is actually an authoritarian dictatorship, and we have the right to overthrow it. We should work hard for us and our descendants to fight for the votes that should belong to us.” Once again, I did not dare to speak anything.
The list goes on. As an old teacher who has worked in college for 14 years, it is obvious that the gradual tightening of freedom of speech has become almost suffocating. In the years when I first started teaching, I could still cautiously criticize the government in class. I remember that there were many commentary programs on the TV that criticized the government. Later, the appearance of student reporters made the teachers slightly scrupulous. Since the cameras were installed in classrooms, most college teachers have conducted self-censorship and controlled the boundaries of classroom speech like me. Most of our college teachers have parents and children to take care of, and have heavy mortgages to pay. Therefore, we have no choice but to surrender. Where is our freedom of speech? No one knows!
Talking about the Chinese Communist Party’s Control of Colleges and Universities from “the Confessions of College English Teachers under Cameras”
(Wander, a University Lecturer in China, is a research fellow of Citizen Power Institute-the research arm of Citizen Power Initiatives for China)
As a Chinese living in the mainland, you will easily find that there are more and more cameras around us, from the city, the suburbs to the countryside, from the streets, the community to the campus. Walking on the street, you will find that you are being “protected” by the cameras, 360 degrees without a dead end. There are many kinds of cameras in various styles beyond your imagination. The crossbars on the intersections are full of various cameras like sparrows’ meeting.
The Chinese government claims that these cameras are for public safety. If this is still the case, then it is inexplicable to interpret the cameras in the university classrooms as supervising the students’ study and examinations, or supervising the teacher’s late arrival and early departure. If the interaction between teachers and students in the universities needs a third party to supervise, who will supervise the third party? As a university teacher, I have never had a logical explanation for the cameras from leaders of the school. Of course, no one dares to question the school.
The university teachers are not only hard-working gardeners, but also pioneers in the political propaganda of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). It is of vital importance to cultivate the “screws” that the CCP needs. It is the best example of the recent conviction and dismissal of college teachers for their critical comments on the CCP. Under the cameras, every teacher must watch their mouths, and they should not talk about anything “sensitive”. Of course, if you sing for the CCP, you can still talk about it aloud.
The CCP’s special attention to colleges and universities is probably due to a period of love and hate between them and intellectuals. On May 4, 1919, a group of well-educated Chinese youth took to the streets and launched a vigorous new cultural movement. This movement fits the rebellious spirit of the CCP’s bottom revolution. The CCP has also declared that it has inherited the “May 4th” spirit and designated May 4th of each year as “Youth Day”.
70 years later, in 1989, a group of well-educated Chinese youth took to the streets and urged the government to fight corruption and promote democracy. Ironically, the Chinese Communist government, which claims to inherit the spirit of the May Fourth Movement, did not show their sympathy and tolerance but used tanks to press the body of college students. Excuses for college students were manipulated by foreign forces, and in addition to arresting participants, all college graduates in 1989 were basically “exiled” to some extent. The democratic movement that was characterized as the “June 4th Incident” has been going on for nearly 30 years, and the Chinese authorities still keep this as a forbidden zone.
After the “June 4th Incident”, the CCP probably carried out a profound reflection and thought of a famous saying by Chairman Mao Zedong, “more knowledge leads to more rebellious thoughts,” strengthening the control of colleges and universities. For college teachers, the CCP began to adopt the policy of carrots and sticks, through improving their salaries, promoting titles and advocating research projects, etc. All the intellectuals in colleges and universities are bought in all directions. The disobedient teachers can only serve with the big sticks. For college students, there are many mandatory political courses at each stage, from undergraduate to the doctoral level, to strengthen the brainwashing education, such as Mao Zedong Thought, Deng Xiaoping Theory, Socialist Policies, and so on. They attempt to strengthen students’ recognition and worship of the CCP through political education. The CCP calls this patriotic education, and they confuse “patriotism” and “love to the CCP” intentionally.
Since Xi Jinping came to power, the limited freedom of speech in China has been greatly reduced, and it can be seen from the political work of colleges and universities. In 2013, the CCP issued the No. 9 Document (or “Seven No-Speak Rules”) requires that university teachers cannot talk about universal values, freedom of the press, civil society, civil rights, historical errors of the CCP, the bourgeoisie and the independence of the judiciary. Subsequently, the Central Organization Ministry, the Propaganda Ministry and the Ministry of Education of the CPC Central Committee jointly issued the “Instructions on Strengthening and Improving the Ideological and Political Work of Young Teachers in Colleges and Universities.” The “16 Articles” issued by the CCP further highlights Xi Jinping’s intention to strengthen the ideological management of colleges and universities. In the past years, the “Two Studies, One Action” learning and education campaign has been carried out in full swing, raising the political work in colleges and universities to an unprecedented height in the past 40 years.
A few months ago, under the call of Xi Jinping, organizations at all levels in colleges and universities were required to hold a series of meetings of “further emancipating the mind and inspiring the new generations to take on new actions.” I want to say that the university classroom under cameras can only unify thoughts, not liberate thoughts!
1984, Big Brother is watching you.
* Citizen Power Initiatives for China’s research arm Citizen Power Institute publishesCPIFC Briefing Series and CPIFC Monograph Series. The former are short essays or succinct scholarly articles that spontaneously reflect the realities of China while the latter are research reports on China’s politics, economics, culture, ethnicity, religion, civil society, human rights and strategies for its transition to democracy.