— on the Essay “the Confessions of College English Teachers under Cameras”
Confessions of a College English Teacher Under Cameras
(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.