Wong Siu-san, Lau Siu-fung and Jia Ao | Radio Free Asia
Authorities at a university in the central Chinese province of Hubei have fired a university lecturer after her students reported her for making ideologically “incorrect” comments in class, RFA has learned.
Zhai Juhong, a former associate professor at the Zhongnan University of Economics and Law in Hubei’s provincial capital Wuhan, was reported by students for remarks she made in class on Apr. 25, leaked official documents reveal.
Zhai, 52, was reported for comments about recent changes to China’s constitution allowing President Xi Jinping to remain in post indefinitely, property rights for state-owned companies, and about the country’s rubber-stamp parliament, the National People’s Congress (NPC).
She has been expelled from the ruling Chinese Communist Party, removed from her research and teaching posts, and stripped of her status as a teacher, according to a report on the official investigation into “breaches of classroom discipline” seen by RFA.
The punishment was approved on Sunday by the university’s Communist Party committee, which found that Zhai had breached guidelines for conduct issued by the Ministry of Education.
Repeated attempts to contact Zhai were unsuccessful, and the news of her dismissal wasn’t visible on the university’s official website.
An employee who answered the phone at the university on Sunday declined to comment, saying she didn’t know about the incident.
Calls to the hotline number appended to the investigation document rang unanswered during office hours on Monday.
Academics said the administration of President Xi is extending its control over public freedom of expression into China’s universities in a manner not seen in decades.
“The central government wants ideology in the classroom now, and is requiring teachers to stick to the party line while they are teaching a class,” Cao Zhenhua, an ousted former lecturer at the Nationalities University in the southwestern province of Guizhou, told RFA.
“They must avoid ideological conflicts while they are teaching … or they will be reported by students appointed as informers,” said Cao. “One of my colleagues was an informer when I was at the Guizhou Nationalities University.”
“There are [also] one or two student informers in every class, and their job is to report dissenting opinions expressed by teachers or by their classmates,” he said.
“They could also report them to the state security police,” he said.
Cao said recent moves to install security cameras in classrooms are part of the new monitoring regime, and they are viewed by officials from local education bureaus and propaganda departments.
“These were installed several years ago, so now we have [anonymous] tip-offs from the students, video monitoring and informers placed among the students by the state security police,” he said.
Tan Song, a former lecturer who lost his job for pursuing politically sensitive research topics last September, said Zhai is the latest casualty of a renewed monitoring system in Chinese universities.
“This was the worst punishment she could have received, and it will have been made by officials higher up, not just by the university,” Tan said. “There are two possibilities here; one is that she was reported by student informants, whose identity is unknown to their classmates or even to their tutors.”
“They are recruited especially by the higher-ups to carry out this task.”
Tan said some students might have taken it upon themselves to report Zhai without having been recruited, however.
“There is a type of student who has been brainwashed to the extent that their brains have turned to red mush,” he said. “They will report any teacher they hear expressing an opinion that doesn’t match what they have been taught.”
Official media reported last week that authorities in the eastern province of Zhejiang have installed an “all-seeing eye” in a high-school classroom to spot students who aren’t paying attention or are falling asleep in class, official media reported.
The system at the Hangzhou No. 11 High School links up a surveillance camera to facial recognition software that tracks students’ movements and facial expressions, according to the Zhejiang Daily newspaper.
The technology is part of a trial of software and surveillance systems that could be rolled out elsewhere as part of the development of “smart campuses,” the paper said.
“The system … can perform statistical analysis on students’ behaviors and expressions in the classroom and provide timely feedback on abnormal behaviors,” the report said.
Commentators have also pointed to China’s recent introduction of a “social credit” scoring system using an individual’s data to grant or deny certain privileges, such as buying a plane ticket, as another example of the encroachment of the government on every area of an individual’s life.
Rules announced on March 2 mean that people who haven’t paid their taxes, who have committed any kind of fraud or defaulted on court judgments can be added to no-fly lists, along with those suspected of being a security threat.
U.S.-based economist Cheng Xiaonong said that while financial companies will share information and apply credit scoring in connection as a way to minimize lending risk, in China, the government can use a similar system to rate people’s “performance” in all areas of life.
“The situation in China seems to be different,” Cheng said. “[The social credit system] includes information from business organizations, of course, but there are far more data from government departments.”
Economist and current affairs commentator Qin Weiping said the use of data in this way could infringe on the rights of ordinary citizens.
“Certain groups could see their rights and interests damaged, such as petitioners … who are included in the system as so-called untrustworthy people, Qin”.
“There are also so-called social dissidents who may be included in the list of judgment defaulters to a greater or lesser extent.”
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