Pa­per heats up is­sues of aca­demic free­dom

China Daily (Canada) - - SHANGHAI - By LI YANG in Shang­hai liyang@chi­nadaily.com.cn

A heated dis­cus­sion on how col­lege teach­ers should ex­plain China to stu­dents in class took place in China re­cently.

Liaon­ing Daily, a news­pa­per af­fil­i­ated with the Liaon­ing provin­cial Party com­mit­tee and gov­ern­ment, con­ducted a survey on the con­tents of more than 100 lec­tures in lib­eral arts in 20 univer­si­ties, in Shenyang, Beijing, Shang­hai, Wuhan and Guangzhou over the course of two weeks.

The news­pa­per pub­lished an open let­ter to Chi­nese col­lege lib­eral arts teach­ers call­ing on them to dis­cuss China cor­rectly in class. The news­pa­per also shared the survey’s find­ings with its read­ers in the open let­ter.

The survey found that about 80 per­cent of stu­dents said their teach­ers liked com­plain­ing about so­cial prob­lems in classes. The re­porters con­cluded that many teach­ers demon­strated se­ri­ous prob­lems with their po­lit­i­cal ori­en­ta­tions in three as­pects while teach­ing the stu­dents.

First, they ex­plained po­lit­i­cal the­o­ries of Karl Marx and Mao Ze­dong in a teas­ing way. They will­fully com­mented on Chi­nese his­tory, and did not take the Party’s in­no­va­tive the­o­ries se­ri­ously. They even com­pared Mao Ze­dong to an­cient em­per­ors in Chi­nese his­tory. They at­tribute the causes of some spe­cific ques­tions in prac­tice to the failed the­o­ries of the Party.

Sec­ond, the teach­ers lack po­lit­i­cal iden­ti­fi­ca­tion with the Party and the gov­ern­ment. Some teach­ers show their su­per­fi­cial pride with their over­seas study ex­pe­ri­ences, warmly support the West’s “sep­a­ra­tion of three pow­ers”, and think China should take the Western ap­proach.

They ques­tion im­por­tant poli­cies made by the cen­tral gov­ern­ment and ex­ag­ger­ate the prob­lems of cor­rup­tion and so­cial fair­ness. They at­tribute the prob­lems in de­vel­op­ment to the ge­netic flaws of Chi­nese pol­i­tics.

Third, some teach­ers talk about their own prob­lems in class, and warn stu­dents who do not have money or good so­cial con­nec­tions that they are at a dis­ad­van­tage.

Many teach­ers ad­mit­ted it was wrong to teach in the ways men­tioned in the open let­ter of Liaon­ing Daily.

Some teach­ers hold a dif­fer­ent view. They think the re­port harms their aca­demic free­dom, that teach­ers should not shy away from dis­cussing so­cial prob­lems, and that the Party and the gov­ern­ment should heed the peo­ple’s com­plaints to help the so­ci­ety re­lease its ten­sion.

Liaon­ing Daily ar­gued that the teach­ers should ex­plain to­day’s China in a his­tor­i­cal con­text. Chi­nese char­ac­ter­is­tics and na­tional con­di­tions can­not be mea­sured by rulers from any other coun­tries, the pa­per said.

Teach­ers should talk more about China’s achieve­ment in eco­nomic growth and so­cial de­vel­op­ment, rather than only ex­ag­ger­at­ing China’s prob­lems to the young stu­dents who lack so­cial ex­pe­ri­ence, the pa­per said.

Knowl­edge is not the only gift the teach­ers can give to their stu­dents, but they can also im­part a pos­i­tive at­ti­tudes and out­looks about the na­tion, Liaon­ing Daily said.

Some in­tel­lec­tu­als support the open let­ter and called for launch­ing a na­tional cam­paign to lift col­lege teach­ers’ qual­ity and thoughts.

“The teach­ers’ one-sided pes­simism is one source of the neg­a­tive feel­ings and com­ments on China on the In­ter­net,” said one com­men­tary in China Youth Daily.

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