Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - In a strange move, a Communist Party-run newspaper over two weeks sent reporters to sit in on dozens of university lectures all over the country looking for what the paper said were professors "being scornful of China."
During visits to more than 20 schools, the regional paper Liaoning Daily wrote last week, it found exactly what it said it was looking for: some professors compared Mao Zedong to ancient emperors, a blasphemy to party ideology upholding Mao as a break from the country's feudal past.
Other scholars were caught pointing out the party's failures after taking power in 1949. Some repeatedly praised "Western" ideas such as a separation of powers in government.
"Dear teachers, because your profession demands something higher of you, and because of the solemnity and particularity of the university classroom, please do not speak this way about China!" implored the article, since widely distributed on social media throughout China.
Chinese professors have long endured monitoring and some degree of political interference, but this kind of public shaming was unprecedented in China's recent history, said Zhang Wen, who teaches journalism at the Huazhong University of Science and Technology. For some, it evokes memories of the political purges of the Cultural Revolution 40 years ago.
Since taking power last year, President Xi Jinping's government has tightened controls over a wide range of society, from artists to churches. And while academics have traditionally been held up as respected voices of authority in Chinese society, many view the public investigation as an order to watch what they say in classrooms, Zhang said.
"I think this is a very bad thing," he said. "Teachers need some freedom to interpret facts. If not, why have teachers then? Students can just read books. I think this is definitely a warning to us."