Spotlight on universities' role - In China

Leading the push to promote Xi Thought

A graduation ceremony at Wuhan University in Hubei province yesterday. Mandatory ideology classes have been updated by Chinese universities in response to instruction from the leadership that President Xi Jinping's ideas must enter the textbooks, cla
A graduation ceremony at Wuhan University in Hubei province yesterday. Mandatory ideology classes have been updated by Chinese universities in response to instruction from the leadership that President Xi Jinping's ideas must enter the textbooks, classrooms and minds of students.PHOTO: REUTERS

Mobilisation a bid to return CCP ideology to pride of place in Chinese society, say experts

BEIJING • Armed with interactive online courses, generous funding and new dedicated research institutes, China's universities are on the front lines of an effort to promote the thinking of President Xi Jinping to China and the world.

Since last October, many universities across China have placed "Xi Thought" at the core of their curricula - the first time since the era of Mao Zedong that a Chinese leader has been accorded similar academic stature.

Mandatory ideology classes have been updated by the universities in response to instruction from the leadership that Mr Xi's ideas must enter the textbooks, classrooms and minds of students.

For Professor Hu Angang, an economics scholar at the prestigious Tsinghua University and an expert in the field of "Chinese exceptionalism", China's emergence on the world stage has been a long time coming.

Prof Hu, a prominent public intellectual in China, has for decades argued that China's unique political system would eventually guide the country to become a superpower on a par with the United States.

Now he is among a growing number of thinkers studying what is officially known as "Xi Jinping Thought for Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era" and disseminating it to students and officials.

  • Xi Thought: Key tenets

  • "Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era" is a smorgasbord of sayings, slogans, historical allusions and literary references. Below is a selection of some key tenets.

    CORE SOCIALIST VALUES 

    A set of 12 values to guide individuals, society and the nation: patriotism, democracy, civility, harmony, power through wealth, justice, freedom, equality, rule of law, industriousness, sincerity and friendliness.

    THE FOUR COMPREHENSIVES 

    Four aspects of political rule must be followed: strict governance by the Chinese Communist Party, rule of law, pushing forward reform, and building a moderately prosperous society.

    THE CHINESE DREAM 

    This is arguably the core of Mr Xi's thinking. It says that all people should strive to make China "prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced, harmonious and beautiful" by 2050.

    THE FIVE DEVELOPMENT CONCEPTS 

    Mr Xi's theoretical underpinning for the practical questions about how China's economy should develop - in a green, innovative, coordinated, shared and open manner. These ideas are meant to avoid a hard landing for a slowing economy, boost consumption, improve innovation and services-based growth, and tackle pollution.

    COMMUNITY OF COMMON DESTINY FOR MANKIND 

    This is the lofty concept that is meant to guide China's relations with the rest of the world. A "new style" of international relations is proposed that is "win-win" and of "mutual benefit" for all. 

    REUTERS

"Xi's proposals are all beneficial for the world; they are incomparable," Prof Hu said in his office on the Tsinghua campus in north-west Beijing.

The mobilisation by the universities, aside from securing support for Mr Xi, is an attempt to return Chinese Communist Party (CCP) ideology to pride of place in a society that has grown politically apathetic during decades of rapid economic growth, experts of Chinese politics say.

Mr Xi wants the party's values to be better accepted by Chinese people so as to foster additional legitimacy, according to Dr Michael Gow, an expert on Chinese higher-education at Xi'an Jiaotong-Liverpool University in Suzhou.

"The difference under Xi is that he is trying to expand the values of the state so that they appeal and resonate more with people whom the state wants to exert dominance over," he said.

The push to reinvigorate acceptance of party ideology comes as China's Parliament in March scrapped term limits for the presidency, clearing the way for Mr Xi to rule for life, a decision that sparked widespread unease.

Xi Thought, which is literally the collection of the President's public statements, is an all-encompassing guide for China's professed aims of becoming an economic and military power by 2050, under the CCP.

A decade ago, Prof Hu would teach his students about the work of the World Bank as a gold standard for development. "But from 2015, I began to change my classes, because China was now in front and the world was behind," he said.

Personal support for Mr Xi is nothing new, but the ideology drive goes further by attempting to build support for his ideas and leadership in elite institutions.

Since last October, at least 30 Xi Thought research institutes have been established in universities, governments and ministries. Lecture courses for students, officials and ordinary people have been organised across the country.

But not everyone shares Prof Hu's passion. An undergraduate economics student at a Beijing university with a Xi Thought institute said the theory is all about slogans and targets.

"The concepts are not objectively worked out at all, which is to say the ideas don't have internal logic," said the student, who declined to be identified.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 23, 2018, with the headline 'Leading the push to promote Xi Thought'. Print Edition | Subscribe