Education Minister Calls for “Trendy” Ideology Classes

On the sidelines of the annual Two Sessions meetings of the legislative National People’s Congress and the advisory Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference in Beijing, China’s Minister of Chen Baosheng made a rare admission of hurdles facing key central policies on political education. At Reuters, Ben Blanchard reports on Chen’s comments:

Speaking on the sidelines of the annual meeting of parliament, Education Minister said Xi had made “important comments” on political education for students in December, but that there were problems on the ground.

“When we go and investigate at colleges and universities, attention levels at thought and political theory classes are not high. People are there in body but not in spirit,” Chen said.

“Why is this? The contents do not suit their needs. Perhaps mainly the formula is rather outdated, the tools are rather crude and the packaging is not that fashionable,” he added.

Students need to be led by the core values of Chinese socialism to ensure their healthy moral growth, and they should also study traditional Chinese culture, revolutionary culture and “advanced socialist culture”, Chen said. […] [Source]

The South China Morning Post’s Zhuang Pinghui further reports that Chen also called on the nation’s universities to make ideological education classes more “trendy”  and appealing to young students. Ideological propaganda strategies have also been updated under the Xi administration to keep up with modern media trends: see for example the 2014-launched state media startup The Paper, or any of a series of cartoons and music videos brimming with “positive energy” as they promote the Party line.

Chen’s comment comes months after President Xi Jinping called for postsecondary educational institutions to serve as communist “strongholds that adhere to party leadership” and “correct political orientation” last December, and amid an ongoing central government campaign against “Western values” in education. Last month, anti-graft watchdog the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, announced on their website plans to send inspection teams to top universities to ensure that the Party line is being correctly taught, using Xi’s December speech as a rubric. From The South China Morning Post’s Nectar Gan:

Graft busters will investigate 29 of the best universities across the mainland in the coming months, including the prestigious Peking University and Tsinghua University in Beijing, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection said on its website on Wednesday night.

[…] The anticorruption watchdog said inspectors should use Xi’s speech as a benchmark to check if the universities were following the right direction.

The checklist includes whether colleges have strong “political awareness”, the understanding to safeguard Xi’s status as “core” leader and recognition of the need to toe the party line.

Universities also need to check whether the party’s guiding principles for education have been fully implemented and whether colleges were run in the “correct direction”.

Universities’ party committee members, as well as other cadres, will be placed under special scrutiny, the discipline commission said. [Source]

Beijing’s new education initiative for Hong Kong schools also made its way into the spotlight this week. Hong Kong education secretary Eddie Ng Hak-kim defended the initiative after it was criticized by a Hong Kong lawmaker for being too political. This comes years after Beijing’s plans to universally rollout patriotic curriculum in Hong Kong were scrapped after giving rise to protest.

Ng said it was not an attempt at “brainwashing,” despite opposition from the pro-democracy education sector lawmaker, who said it represents more political interference in schools.

It came after an addition to the annual working report of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) on Monday, which voiced “firm opposition to Hong Kong independence” in addition to vowing to “assist Hong Kong CPPCC delegates to enter schools to promote national education.”

Education sector lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen said it was “a political decision and a political mission.”

“It is very likely to be a biased [education programme], focusing on a certain angle – the positive angle – this is not an appropriate education in our view,” Ip, of the 90,000-member Professional Teachers’ Union, said. […] [Source]

Earlier in the , Beijing asserted its right to intercede in the upcoming elections for Hong Kong chief executive if the election process didn’t go as planned, and Premier Li Keqiang criticized calls for Hong Kong independence. Political tensions have been on the rise in Hong Kong in recent years over Beijing’s increasing influence in the region. Months of street protests erupted in 2014 after Beijing decided to require all chief executive candidates be vetted by a panel of Beijing loyalists. Silent protesters filled the streets last year after two newly elected Legislative Council members were barred from their seats for altering words of an oath to Beijing while holding banners saying “Hong Kong is not China.”