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China: Student Consultation or Thought Control?

Peking University, a major research university located in Beijing and a center for progressive thought in modern China, will introduce a consultation program in May 2011, which claims to be aimed at helping its students.

Targeted students will be those demonstrating a range of behaviors: radical thoughts, psychological fragility, eccentricity, Internet addiction, job difficulties, serious illnesses and discipline violations, as well as poverty and academic registration changes. The University has explained that the program is designed to help students, but many believe that it aims to blacklist radicals.

Peking University, Beijing, China. Image by Flickr User SimonQ (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Peking University, Beijing, China. Image by Flickr User SimonQ (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

According to the official explanation, the objective of the consultation program (會商) is:

when students encounter difficulties hard to overcome by themselves and even teachers engaged in the students’ work, the schools and departments should invite teachers from teaching and educational administration, counseling, and logistic service or even specialists off campus to make a comprehensive analysis and scientific assessment of their academic performance and prepare support programs with a clear target.

Shen Bin from, however, raises question over the categorization of the targeted students [zh]:

校方表示:會商制度是主要針對學業有困難的學生,那麼何以要「摟草打兔子」,把「思想偏激」的學生一併作為管治對象?更有意思的是,「生活獨立」也是一項 罪名。難道北大的教育目標是讓學生生活不能獨立?表面上是針對「生活獨立」,實際的靶子是「思想獨立」吧?這叫提出「兼容并包、思想自由」的蔡元培校長情 何以堪?他只能默然含淚,說一句:學工部強大!

[…] 容不得「偏激者」的北大,還是那個國人共同景仰的思想家園嗎?試問今日之北大,竟是誰人之天下?

The school explains that the consultation program is to help those with learning difficulties. However, why do they take the “radical students” as their object of governance? More interestingly, being “eccentric” has become a sin, as if the objective of Peking University's education is to make sure that students do not develop independent lifestyles. They use the term “eccentricity” but their real intention is to mentally cripple students from developing “independent thought”. I wonder how the founder of Peking University Cai Yuanpei who had devoted his life advocating “diversity and freedom of thought” would feel? If he were alive, he would probably exclaim with tear in his eyes: How great the student work section is! [The student Work Section is the Chinese Community Party's unit in the university for student political education].

[…] A Peking University that cannot include “radicals”, can it still be the garden for nurturing thinkers? Who actually rules the school nowadays?

Apart from academic freedom, many people are worried about the labeling effect of the consultation program. In Chinese history, labeling has been frequently used as an excuse for political persecution. A Peking University's alumni, Sun Yusheng, is very uneasy about the new policy [zh]:

对于我们国家来说,弱势群体在反右时期,是指那些被扣上“右派”帽子的人,在文革时期,是那些被扣上“现行反革命”的人,年纪大一些的人对这些定是不陌生 的,我们国家的朱镕基总理也是右派出身,国家主席也曾被活活虐死,不少中共的高级官僚对曾经的惨状与浩劫至今都是历历在目的。

In our country, during the anti-Rightist movement, the minorities were labeled as “Right Wing”. During the cultural revolution, they were labeled as the “anti-revolutionaries”. The older generation are familiar with such history. Our former Prime Minister Zhu Rongji has also been labeled a rightist. And one of our former Chairpersons has been tortured to death. Many senior cadres in the Chinese Communist Party still remember vividly how people were tortured in those days.

实际在我看来,会商制度就是为了你设计的——可爱的思想偏激者。…当然这是我的诛心之论,大家忽略就好。与心灵脆弱者一样,你会发现自己抱怨涨价,关心正义公平的言论不知何时便早已上达天庭,被确定为会商对象。众所周知,这 种同学在学校是比较招人恨的,吃饱没事关心公平正义,在这片土地本来就是一种罪过。对你最大极限的同情,不过是“胳膊拧不过大腿,何必呢”。所以,我相 信,对于你的任何帮扶,都不会有人同情你,等待你的,将是无可拒绝的帮扶建议。当然,我希望这仅仅是组织你学习人民日报,定期上交思想报告,或者监视周围 同学而已,不至于取消奖学金,记过或是开除。

In my view, the consultation program is designed for the lovely radicals…. of course you can say it is pure conspiracy and neglect what I am saying here. Similar to those who are psychologically vulnerable, one day you may complain about inflation, or make some remarks about social justice; what you have said would quickly reach the heavens [authorities] and you would be identified as the subject for consultation. These kind of students would not have the public's sympathy, after all they are those who have a full stomach and waste their time for social justice. In this land, such an act is a sin in itself. Sympathetic voices would said if the “arm is thinner than the thigh, don't enter into the wrestle”. That why I believe that no one would feel sympathy for you and you cannot reject any “suggestion of help”. I hope that [the help they offer] is as simple as learning from the People Daily, or handing in reflections, or monitoring your colleagues around you, rather than taking away your scholarship, giving you a demerit or dismissing you from the university.

Reports from state media have suggested that [zh] many Peking University students support the consultation program. However, in the Sina Weibo forum, the majority of the comments are critical of the University.

Internet criticism

Nanfeng Chuan's microblog “Who is radical, the students or Peking U?” [zh] is one of the most popular discussion threads in Weibo concerning the consultation policy. Below is a selection of comments in the thread:

微博热点新观察 CAO,在天朝呆着,闷得慌。小时候在家,大人不让随便说话;长大了上学,老师不让随便说话;走上了社会,国家不让随便说话。我就想问中国人干嘛要长嘴 啊,难道就只是为了吃吗?偏激往往与天才关联,我看北大不配,北大独立自由思想已死,基本沦为工具。不思己之过,反倒全怪学生,这叫为人师表吗?(今天 17:09)

@Weibo observation: CAO [meaning F**K], the heavenly kingdom [meaning Chinese government] is entertaining itself and killing time [by introducing the consultation]. When we were little, grown ups would not allow us to talk freely. When we entered school, teachers would not allow us to talk freely. When we entered society, the nation would not allow us to talk freely. I want to ask why Chinese people bother to have a mouth in their body? Just for the sake of eating? Only geniuses can think radically and Peking U[niversity] does not deserve to have geniuses anymore. Independent thought is dead in Peking U, the University has turned into a tool. They blame students for all the problems they are facing, how can they call themselves teachers? (4-4-2011 17:09)

爱听disco的猫 人都有一种强烈的控制欲,想把自己的价值观加在别人头上,所以,才有所谓“失足”丶“不良”丶“非主流”“荒诞”标签的出现,有所谓“挽救”(今天 14:06)

@disco cat: Everyone has a strong desire to control and impose his/her value on others. That's why labels like “non-mainstream”, “the fallen”, “the wrong”, “the ridicules” appear, so that they can be “saved”. (4-4-2011 14:06)

越夜越美丽吧 这里的用词是“思想”偏激 而不是“言论”或者“行为”偏激 现在连“思想”一下都要干涉了么~~ 呃~学生一思考 北大就会商(今天 13:17)

@night is beautiful: The term “radical thought” is used here, not radical “speech” nor “behavior”. So now they intervene into students’ thoughts. Peking U is now reduced to consultation. (4-4-2011 13:17)

晨风926 北大就是个壳!她的灵魂正在被诅咒!(今天 13:02)

@morning wind926: Peking U is just a shell. Her soul is being cursed! (4-4-2011 13:02)

散魔 不止北大有这个现象.她是社会的缩影,员工愤怒加班,学生愤怒加课,公务员愤怒不让他们蹭公家的光,总之,这个社会“愤怒”了,思想的偏激后面是经济政治的问题,其实北大要解决这个问题,只从制度下手,针对表象,我不太看好噢(说错了请您指正呐)(今天 12:33)

@dispersed demon: Such a phenomena is not limited to Peking U. It is just a reflection of society. Workers are angry about long working hours. Students are angry about their education. Civil servants are angry that they cannot gain more from serving the government. The whole of society is angry. Radical thought has economic and political bases. Peking U has to address the problem of the political and economic system rather than dealing with superficial phenomena. This is wrong (correct me if I am wrong). (4-4-2011 12:33)

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