Chinese universities race to embrace Xi Jinping thought

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At least 20 Chinese universities and colleges have announced plans to launch research institutes dedicated to “Xi Jinping thought”, following the enshrinement of the president’s theories in the Communist party’s constitution.

The plans come as China’s education ministry revealed guidelines that children’s education must emphasise love for the Communist party, in the latest sign of ideological tightening under Mr Xi.

Beijing’s Renmin University, one of the country’s most prestigious, was first to set up a research centre dedicated to “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era” last week, hours after it was written into the party constitution.

The theory’s elevation made Mr Xi the first leader since Mao Zedong to be honoured with an eponymous reference in the document while still in power.

The Renmin institute aims to ensure the theory “enters class materials, classrooms and brains”, according to state media. Other institutions, including Hebei University and Tianjin Normal University, have vowed to follow suit.

Analysts said more would follow as universities demonstrated political loyalty. “More will probably open unless Chairman Xi calls for them to stop,” said Sun Wenguang, a retired professor at Shandong University. “There is something of a herd mentality.” 

Mr Sun added that the content of “theories” associated with top leaders in China was vague. “We need political reform most, but Xi Jinping’s comments on this topic are not clear,” he said.

The emphasis on politics is also clear at the lowest levels of compulsory education. On Monday China’s ministry of education released guidelines requiring schools to devote time to practical activities such as group play and hands-on design as part of a drive to reduce desk-bound learning.

But such activities should induce “affection” for the party among primary school students, it said, while children of middle-school age and older should cultivate “love” for the party.

China’s education ministry has revealed guidelines for children’s education emphasising love for the Communist party © AFP

University students in China have for decades been required to study Communist doctrine but ideological controls have tightened since Mr Xi took the party’s top post in 2012.

China’s education minister has called for a ban on textbooks that promote “western values”, while inspectors from the party’s feared anti-graft commission have been sent to top universities to seek out ideological infractions. 

References to Mr Xi’s ideas have gained prominence, with the Chinese Academy of social sciences, China’s largest funder of humanities research, featuring Mr Xi’s thought at the top of its list of approved topics for several consecutive years. Local officials have been ordered to lecture university students on Mr Xi’s ideas. 

China has more than doubled its total number of universities and colleges in the past decade as it seeks to boost its scientific and technological research, although children of the country’s political and business elite often prefer to study at institutions in the US and Europe. Mr Xi’s daughter, for example, attended Harvard University.

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